23 year old me, meet 33 year old me

26 Mar

My new Facebook friend Gabi Moskowitz just had a birthday, and commemorated the occasion with a new blog post entitled “a letter to my 22 year old self”. Such a simple, beautiful idea, and since my birthday is coming up…in a matter of minutes, I thought I would reflect on how far I have come in the last ten years.

One reason I still unabashedly like birthdays and look forward to them with glee is that they are good moments to mark how far we may or may not have come in life. Over the last few days, I have been waging an all-out battle against a coming cold. Having a cold is always awful, but god forbid you have one on your day of days, your birthday. The feeling of dread at getting sick at this time of year makes me recall a birthday when I was younger, perhaps my 10th birthday. The birthday is a marker of time. This year I was sick, that year I was homesick. You think about friends who were present some years, absent in other years. Two years ago when I turned 31 I celebrated with a new friend who I was convinced was going to be my partner in crime. Two single ladies in the city! And yet not long after that birthday, she began dating a guy who she is with to this day. We haven’t remained close. So the people I celebrate the day with also mark the time. Friendships lost and gained. The temporal nature of friendship as seen through one day over the years.

So what was I doing ten years ago when I turned 23? I was living in France, and trying to survive my way through the worst year of my life. At the time I just wanted to blink my eyes and transport myself, Spock-like, to mid-April, when I would return home and leave my life of alienation in the French countryside (that year, Lost in Translation came out. It deeply resonated with the cultural isolation I was living through). But as I look back on that year and mostly cringe- the weight gain, the pimply skin, the crippling social anxiety, the even more crippling homesickness- I see the silver linings in that awful year abroad after college. I learned what anxiety, depression, fear, and shame feel like. They’re pretty awful. But empathy is only learned by living one’s own life. You can read about grief all you want, but can’t know another’s grief until you have felt it yourself.  After my year of profound loneliness and self-doubt in the village, I came out the other side, another person. With a newfound empathy for those who suffer (not long after returning home I struck up a close friendship with a friend serving in Iraq, who also was feeling isolated and alone. Our situations were different, but nevertheless I related), I emerged from the other side of my 23rd birthday with the first hints of the strength adn independence that guide me through my 33rd year.

On that sunny Saturday in Paris ten years ago that I celebrated my birthday, I did so alongside my friend from Barcelona. Ten years later, we remain the closest of friends, and I am still grateful for the gift of her friendship. At the time I couldn’t believe that someone could be friends with someone like me who was obviously going through a tough time. And yet our resulting friendship is proof that the best people in your life will be those who get to know you and stay by your side when you are not necessarily at your best. So on my 23rd birthday, as I strolled the streets of Paris with Ana and other foreign friends, counting the days til I got home, I had no idea that in ten years I would be infinitely stronger, more resilient, as a result of that long ago year. And, as always, a work in progress.





Should You Learn French?

19 Mar


I could be a little show off and roll my r’s in that pronounced, Alex Trebek way. Say Paris in that way that hides the ‘r’ in Paris? Yes, I speak French, as a third language. I have few occasions to use it, but I have found my knowledge of the language to be useful primarily as a means of reading. Enjoying Jean Paul Sartre, Amelie Nothomb and Bernard Henri Levy in the original has been greatly rewarding for me. But would I encourage others to learn French? Sadly, the answer is non.

Yet I have always had a tough time understanding learning a new language with utilitarian ends. I initially chose to study Spanish because I had always spoken it, so there was little question. I studied Spanish for the same reason every other bilingual Mexican kid studies it: it’s easy. Of course, the first two years of Spanish are easy. You smirk as other kids struggle with the fact that the double ‘ll’ is said as an English ‘y’ sound (instead of like the English llama). But then, as you progress in your Spanish study (because it allows you to be immersed in Spanish for an hour a day at school, yay!), it gets harder. It’s not just a matter of imitating what you hear at home, the grammar gets more complex. So if you’re like me, you start studying French, as a challenge.

I also studied Arabic for three weeks during grad school, as a way of learning about my Lebanese roots (pet peeve: when people say, “Do you speak Lebanese?” That’s not a language, dummy!). In the class were young professionals looking to get ahead in their political/intelligence/foreign service careers. I was possibly the only person there with an interest in Arab civilization. It was jarring to encounter people who studied a language not for the fun of it, but because of its perceived utility. I have friends who have proclaimed their intention to teach their young child Chinese, because it is so useful. You see, in the 80′s that useful language was Japanese, and before that, any aspiring young diplomat learned Russian. So the language du jour changes. But our culture and intersts do not. I could have grown up in a time when speaking Spanish was not considered an asset. So I don’t speak Spanish, or French, because they’re useful. I speak them because I like them. They’re now a part of me. Let your culture and interests guide you in choosing which language to study.

Through a Google Glass Darkly

26 Feb
Protesting a Google bus

Protesting a Google bus

Well, now tensions between the tech haves and the non-tech have-nots in San Francisco have really come to a head. A young woman walked into a punk bar in the Lower Haight wearing Google Glass and was promptly mugged. Or at least that is what the enterprising young woman has told the local press, who have used the non-story to fuel their hot narrative about the two San Franciscos (presumably, those who wear Google Glass and those who don’t). Although I usually empathize with crime victims (as a slightly built single woman, I always feel that I am one wrong turn down Eddy Street away from becoming the next one), I have to admit that in this case, I stand with the bold patrons of Molotov’s. I’ve never seen Google Glass in real life, but boy would I love to smack them off a user’s face.

Why? Because it is a computer that you wear on your face. Iphones are commonly stolen items because, as police officers like to remind us, they are the equivalent of walking around with a computer worth several hundred dollars in our pockets. They are the most valuable thing most of us own. If you keep it in your purse or pocket you’ll be safe. But advanced technology that you wear on your face? That allows the user to surreptitiously identify passersby, take their picture and record them? It has douchebag written all over it.

My own Luddite tendencies aside, the incident illustrates the culture clash that is taking place here in Baghdad by the Bay. There is nothing so bourgeois as wanting to take a brief walk on the wild side only to retreat afterwards to one’s comfortable home. I’m sure the girl with the Google Glass thought it would be great fun to take a peek inside Molotov’s, a very divey bar indeed. I’ve never been inside, but have often walked past and noted the surly, sullen patrons and all of their leather and tattoos.  I’m sure the people who stole her pricey device are annoyed at the influx of young, wealthy types and their inane conversations. I am far from the average patron at Molotov’s, and I know I am. So I couldn’t help but feel a slight thrill at hearing of this “crime”. They tossed the device off of her head? Good for them!

Have fun with your gadgets, sure, but learn to let your hair down a little. Put the phone down and take the glass off when you’re out on a Saturday night. You might actually, I don’t know, meet some cool Lower Haight residents.

My Own Reasons to Love Mexico City

24 Feb
Palacio de Bellas Artes, as soon from Correos

Palacio de Bellas Artes, as soon from Correos

Just as I have been harboring fantasies about moving back to Mexico City (it’s the daydream that keeps me going), I see Global Post’s new listicle, 27 reasons to love Mexico City. I lived in Mexico City in the summer of 2006, and have been back on business trips in 2012 and 2013. What do I love about Mexico City, and why would I even dream of leaving San Francisco for the Mexican capital?

- Culture. You have Librerías Gandhi. The new Museo Jumex.  Palacio de Bellas Artes, as seen at left, where I saw the Ballet Folklórico de México. Art both classical and modern, a thriving intellectual and music scene.

- Food. Mushroom empanadas at El Bipo. Quesadillas de huitlacoche. Sipping on palomas (tequila with pineapple juice). All the sweet, fresh juices only found in country. The food in Mexico is worth gaining a few pounds.

- Green space. Yes, even in Mexico City. Parque de Chapultepec is the lungs of the city, with lakes, museums, a castle, music, street vendors, and people watching that never gets old.

- History. Within the central city plaza you have a cathedral, a presidential palace, art deco galleries and restaurants, and an ancient temple. Where else do you experience such a comingling of history?

- People. Mexicans are warm, welcoming, witty, easy to laugh, and the reason to come to the city and stay in the city. Without its residents, a city is just monuments and museums. It is the chilangos that give Mexico City its vibrance.

The Late, Great Philip Seymour Hoffman

2 Feb
Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Is there any movie where Philip Seymour Hoffman’s presence didn’t make the movie better? I don’t think so. Both character actor and movie star, he is one of those actors whose breadth is hard to conceive of. In a 25 year career, he appeared in over 50 films. He was the Smithers to Lebowski’s Mr. Burns in “The Big Lebowski”, he was so smooth and cunning as Tom Cruise’s nemesis in Mission Impossible: III; he was a no-nonsense CIA officer in “Charlie Wilson’s War”. Was “Capote” his best role? Probably not. Yet in “Capote”, he delivers a truly chameleonic performance, showing the famously narcissistic Truman Capote in both flamboyant and quiet moments.

For me, two roles stand out as the most memorable by Philip Seymour Hoffman: first, Father Flynn in Doubt. The central conceit of the movie is that, just as the nuns at the heart of the film played by Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, we are doubtful as to whether Father Flynn has molested a young boy or not. Are you any clearer on the truth after watching the young priest’s face in this pivotal scene?

The other role is as Andy, one of two brothers who conspires to rob his parents’ jewelry store, in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Things go badly. Hoffman plays a a bully who manipulates a weak brother. He is one of the best things about this taut, suspenseful, criminally underrated thriller.

What a shame that we won’t see him in more movies. Rest in peace.

2013 in review

31 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top 5 Movies of 2013

11 Dec


Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! The streets are adorned with lights, passersby are wrapped head to toe in wool, and thoughts turn to the year that is about to pass us by. Favorite memories, trips I took, and of course, the movies I saw! I can pinpoint five movies that I saw this year that I truly, thoroughly enjoyed. Herewith, it’s the third annual (you loved the 2010 edition, the 2011 edition and the 2012 edition) top movies of the year list!

To the Wonder. Critics were pretty divided on this most recent Terrence Malick film. I think that Malick conveys the high of being in love, as well as the low of falling out of love, masterfully in this movie. I was well aware, as I sat watching the movie, that others may hate it. The constant narration. The lack of plot. The lack of dialogue. But one must go into a Malick film knowing that it is primarily about mood and visuals. The interplay between the beautiful Olga Kurylenko and the stoic Ben Affleck is almost like modern dance. We see them dance towards each other and then eventually dance away from each other. It is a wondrous, beautiful film.

Star Trek Into Darkness. I love a good action film- but only a good action film. Meaning that there are plenty of bad ones out there. I have no need for catchphrases such as “Yippie ky ay motherfucker”. Just give me a tightly-plotted, well-directed, well-acted, fast-paced story with visual effects that are impressive but that don’t overpower the story or verge on the ridiculous. I am not a big fan of Chris Pine, but I understand that he has to act within the confines of a character first played by the Dean of overacting, William Shatner. But Zachary Quinto to me is great as the logical Spock. J.J. Abrams is a skilled storyteller, and he directed the best action movie of the year.

Much Ado About Nothing. Speaking of skilled action movie directors, this is the first Joss Whedon movie that I had ever seen. I have never seen The Avengers, or Firefly, and was not into Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in the day. But I do have great fondness for Much Ado About Nothing, a Shakespearean comedy that I participated in when I was an adolescent. So I was very curious to see this modern adaptation. It was a wonderful adaptation, preserving the rambunctious spirit of Shakespeare’s play, honoring the dialogue, while making the modern update relevant. The whole movie was filmed at Whedon’s beautiful Hollywood Hills home, and the whole film has the air of a breezy, fun weekend with friends. If those friends included Nathan Filion!

The Heat. This is the funniest movie I saw this year. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy complement each other perfectly as cops cracking a big case. This movie also gets big points for featuring Bill Burr and Demian Bichir in supporting roles, both actors I like. Melissa McCarthy should star in every new comedy, since she is a big ball of energy who is also blessed with perfect comedic timing. Couple that with Sandra Bullock playing uptight, which she does well, and you have a pretty awesome comedy.

Blue Jasmine. What can I say about this movie that I didn’t already say in my praise of Cate Blanchett? She does what she does best, ably guided by Woody Allen’s direction. We get to see several shots of San Francisco, both the famous postcard views and the lesser-known areas. We get to see an actress lead an ensemble cast that includes Louis C.K. in a semi-dramatic role and Alec Baldwin at his smarmy best. We get to see what happens when a woman bases her self-worth on how the men in her life value her. All in all, highly recommended.


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