What are you looking for?

1 Jan

I started the day off with a first date, a breakfast date. A bold move for a new year. It’s comforting, as I get older, to embark on a date and call it that, to not act like we have something extremely casual with zero pressure, just two buddies meeting. So while it’s refreshing to jump right into the important stuff, I still stumble when asked “What are you looking for”?

My instinct, as always, is to answer with humor. To deflect. But what am I looking for? It’s certainly not what I was looking for ten years ago. Also, I’m not looking, at least not actively. I’m waiting for love to show up, announce itself, ready, easy (though it’s never easy). I told my companion that I’m looking for a man with whom I’m compatible. Compatible is one of those words that’s hard to define. I think of it as comfort. Comfort in someone’s presence. Feeling at ease, sharing a worldview. Not having to explain yourself, being able to just be. Now put that in a dating profile.

Were the gentleman from this morning’s coffee date and I compatible? Somewhat. It’s hard to say. Another date is in order. With him, and with others. And the beat goes on.

Advertisements

Top 5 Movies of 2018

21 Dec
Sorry to bother you

Sorry to bother you

It’s December, the Golden Globe nominations are out, and oh, I still can’t get the song “Shallow” out of my head. It’s a time to reflect on the past year, and that includes looking back on a particularly great group of movies that I saw this year. Before reading my very eclectic list below, check out my picks from previous years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Sorry to Bother You: What a weird, wonderful movie this was. I imagine that watching Pulp Fiction in 1994 was a little bit like watching this, knowing that you’re watching a fresh, original voice express a bold vision onscreen. Boots Riley, of Oakland rap group The Coup, directed this story of Cash Green, a young telemarketer who finds success using his “white” voice. The vision of a not-so-distant future where people opt in to slavery is bold, but the struggle of whether to stand by one’s friends or sell out and make money? That is timeless.

Crazy Rich Asians: This romantic comedy was like many others- money and family threatens to tear apart two lovers. But Crazy Rich Asians was groundbreaking in several ways: an all-star Asian cast, including a charismatic performance by the Cary Grant-esque Henry Golding, a lush Singaporean setting, and clever, sure direction by Jon Chu. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Place Publique: In-flight movies do two things for me-they either lull me to sleep or keep me awake. As I flew over the Atlantic this summer, Air France gave me the opportunity to watch a plethora of French movies. Place Publique, directed by Agnes Jaoui, was exactly my kind of light, breezy summer movie- the entire film takes place during a party populated by producers, TV weather girls, YouTube celebrities, and starstruck yokels, among others. It’s both very funny and very insightful about the nature of fame and celebrity.

A Star is Born: Some people scoff at anything that is popular and successful. They figure only obscure art with limited appeal can be good. A Star is Born is a remake of a remake of a remake; a timeless story about fame, addiction and love. I can’t compare this version to any of the previous ones. But to me, the music- country, pop ballad and dance pop-along with expert pacing and direction by Bradley Cooper make the story sing. That, and phenomenal acting by Cooper and Lady Gaga, at whose altar I worship.

Roma: Alfonso Cuarón has directed two masterpieces- Children of Men and now Roma. Though named after the Mexico City neighborhood where Cuarón grew up (and which I know well), the movie title evokes the languid cinema of Italian directors. Based on the director’s memories of childhood, the story unfolds more as a series of remembered moments than as a traditional, linear narrative. The roar of planes flying overhead. The panic of losing sight of a child on a crowded street. The clunky old car that never quite fit in the garage. These moments are told with arresting visuals. But more than the sights and sounds of 1970’s urban Mexico, Roma is about the intersecting lives of two women, Sofía and Cleo, but more specifically Cleo, as both are abandoned by men. Roma is a story about gender, class, the startling brutality of political violence, and the way we remember the past, both personal and political. I thought it was stunning.

Croatian vacation

23 Sep
Trsteno Arboretum

Trsteno Arboretum

I’ve just returned from a beautiful place. You can see it in the photo. The morning after my return from Croatia, as I walked through the cold, windy streets of San Francisco to work, I could still see that brilliant blue sea in my mind. I hadn’t gazed upon it since leaving the coastal city of Split several days prior. My Mom and I had a long trek home- Friday heading north to the Croatian capital, Saturday west to Paris, and Sunday morning we left Paris, and after 12 hours in suspended animation, we were in San Francisco, technically only 2 hours after we’d left Western Europe that same morning.

The details from the last days of our trip are more in focus than those from our earliest days. When asked to talk about Croatia, I initially felt unprepared. Which was my favorite place in Croatia? I wasn’t sure I had a favorite. Would I go back? No. I loved the country, but I feel like I have seen it now, so I don’t need to see it again. I did love the country, more and more each day, so that as our plane departed Zagreb, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew I was leaving an enchanted little place I’d likely never see again.

Why do I love Croatia? What were my impressions? Why did I even go? I admit some embarrassment over my initial interest in Croatia. It’s because I learned that many of the most scenic parts of Game of Thrones are filmed there. That was what lit the spark for me and prompted me to learn more about the country. I wanted to travel to Europe this year, but somewhere in Europe I’d never been. Northern Europe? I wasn’t particularly interested in the efficient countries of Scandinavia. I didn’t want frigid waters. I wanted the blue Mediterranean, terra cotta roofs, medieval lanes. Including Zagreb in the itinerary would give me the taste of Central Europe I craved. I bought Lonely Planet Croatia. I had the whole summer to plan, and research, and daydream.

Walking the streets of Zagreb on our first night, I felt giddy. Back in Europe for the first time in six years, I strolled among street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, musicians playing traditional tunes, students at bars, families with babies. We witnessed people in a beautiful, peaceful city halfway around the world living their lives, one of the joys of travel. And then, the next day, we headed to Dubrovnik, the walled city jutting out into the Adriatic that I had been envisioning for so long.

The physical setting around Dubrovnik is breathtaking. Shimmering blue ocean dotted with islands; my Mom and I had to take a 15 minute bus ride from our hotel into the Old Town every day, and we’ve both confessed that that scenic ride, rumbling past beaches and resorts and banks and supermarkets and sweeping ocean views, was one of the highlights of Dubrovnik for us. Seeing how locals live amidst the beauty of that town. It was also nice to get this window into local life before entering Old Town Dubrovnik which, while picturesque and lovely, was very, very touristy. Not many locals live there any more, both due to high rents and the fact that no one would want to live in a place that was all souvenir shops and mediocre pizzerias and bumbling tourists toting cameras. I focused on the beauty of the place- the many alleys, the stone carvings etched into the sides of ancient churches, the evening light over the cobblestones.

Next we headed north to Split, the second biggest city in Croatia and the major hub of the Dalmatian coast. I was curious to experience Diocletian’s Palace, the ancient heart of the city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhoods in the world. For three days and four nights we made our corner of Diocletian’s Palace our home, greeting the restaurateurs and shopkeepers with “Dobar Dan”, the Croatian “Good Afternoon” which we heard so often during our stay. We marveled at the confluence of Egyptian, Greek and Roman influence in the quarter, we strolled along the Riva, the city’s waterfront promenade, watching the passing scene, playing “Tourist or local?” as we peoplewatched. We took a day trip to the mountains and traipsed around the Upper Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is studded with turquoise lakes and rushing waterfalls. We ate local prosciutto, local cheese, drank local wine. Those last days in Split were languid and low-key. I smell the sulphur of the main harbor (this is supposedly what drew Diocletian to the city), I hear the commotion of people walking by under our window early in the morning. I recall the warmth and humor of the woman who owned a restaurant near our hotel- I had a wonderful lunch there our first day, and we chatted with her for the rest of our time in Split.

For after all, a country is more than its castles and churches and museums and national parks. The impressions that last, the memories that linger after we fly home, are the people we meet. So yes, I think of the owner of that restaurant. I think of Marija, the bubbly young Dubrovnik local who lead our Game of Thrones tour (from which the photo above was taken). I think of Bari, our guide through Plitvice Lakes, and his wry sense of humor and easy smile. I think of Dabor, the Zagreb native who drove us from Split to Zagreb and shared with us stories about life in Croatia and discussed the travails of raising a teenage daughter. Towards the end of our trip to Plitvice Lakes, Bari gave us some parting tips for enjoying the rest of our stay in Croatia and humbly asked us to “tell people back home about our country”. The Croatians that I met were proud people who were happy to share their lovely country with us, and I think they’re pleased that the country’s profile has been elevated so much in recent years. Mentioning their national soccer team doesn’t hurt either. All in all, I took home wonderful memories from the jewel of the Adriatic. Hvala, Croatia.

Going Viral

8 Jul

I wrote a viral post on this blog years ago about the encroachment of social media on our very minds- the notion that we were beginning to mold our thoughts and observations according to what would garner the most likes once shared. The whole post, now that I reread it, seems quaint- it was before I owned a smartphone, when I would wait to get home to log in to Facebook from my laptop. Now, social media apps are a click away, in our purses, pockets, and within reach at all times. You can share your thoughts, your photos, your life as it unfolds. You can even share other people’s lives as they unfold. Who needs privacy when real life drama is all around you?

I refer of course to the viral hit of a few days ago, known as planebae. A woman and her boyfriend sat behind two attractive strangers on a plane and livetweeted their flirtation to an audience of thousands. People loved the story- who hasn’t wished to sit next to the love of their lives on a plane- and it blew up. I admit, I followed it. And then, I felt guilty. When I heard that the “pretty plane girl” was refusing to go public with her identity, I thought, good for her! She didn’t ask for her private conversation to go very public. And now, her wish for privacy has been violated, since some committed internet sleuths have doxxed her, and she’s shut down all of her social media accounts.

It seems that to some young, extremely online people, life is one big Instagram story. Pics or it didn’t happen. We’ve all gleefully agreed to make ourselves famous for 15 minutes, or try. Add the filter to your selfie that will get you to 1,000 followers, to 1000 likes. Each new notification from social media is like a little hit of dopamine. I’m liked. I’m loved. More, more. I don’t think the woman who livetweeted the budding plane romance did so maliciously. But she did so without any concern to the privacy of those two people. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I would not want my private moments unknowingly shared with thousands. Yes, there is face recognition technology out there that captures us virtually anywhere we go. Hackers across the globe can monitor your actions online keystroke by keystroke. Is it too much to ask that we have some privacy when we’re in public spaces? Or will our lives inevitably become someone else’s content? If your dream is to end up on Today and Good Morning America, super. If not, brace yourself.

 

 

Top 6 Movies of 2017

19 Dec
Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

Although I haven’t seen many movies this year, what my moviegoing lacked in quantity was made up for in quality. Both early in the year and later on, there were a handful of movies in several genres that were exciting, well-made, funny, and touching. Before diving right in, let’s review my best of the year lists for the last 7 years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Get Out: This movie was, remarkably, a first-time effort by writer-director Jordan Peele, so not only is he extremely funny, but also a prodigiously talented filmmaker. In college I had a professor who said, about the movie Traffic, “Steven Soderbergh could have written 1000 letters to the editor about the failed war on drugs. Instead he made one 2 hour movie”. I always remember this quote when I think of how the best movies treat serious social issues in fresh, original, and thought-provoking ways. “Get Out” is one of those movies. It is a terrifying, unpredictable thriller that illustrates the white fetish for and disregard of black bodies. A damning indictment of benign racism.

Blade Runner 2049: “Blade Runner 2049” blew me away with one of the most visually appealing, thoroughly original cinematic worlds of any recent movie I can recall. The reflection of shimmering water in the villain’s hideout; the gloomy, rainy streets of Los Angeles, reminiscent of the original 1982 movie; the post-apocalyptic wasteland of an empty Las Vegas: all of these elements came together to create a future where artificial intelligence, environmental degradation, and urban isolation are the norm. Into this universe steps my perennial favorite Ryan Gosling, who is perfectly cast as Officer K. Who’s the robot? Who’s the human? It’s all a blur in this dystopia.

The Florida Project: Any good movie stays with you for days afterwards, but wow, this movie alternately left me mesmerized and haunted. I have always noticed that children in both TV and movies aren’t portrayed like real, everyday kids, but rather as precocious automatons. “The Florida Project” is that rare movie that gets childhood right- the wonder, the delight, the awareness of boundaries between kid world and grown-up world. But this movie is so much more. During its second act, we see just how important little Moonee is to her desperate mother. And we see the effect of instability on a child’s life. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful.

Lady Bird: Like “The Florida Project”, “Lady Bird” focuses on a mother-daughter relationship, and how that relationship affects a young girl and her sense of self. But unlike that film, this one shows how a mother’s love can serve as her daughter’s anchor. Taking place during the title character’s senior year of high school, we witness the coming of age of a teenaged girl who is at once unremarkable in her yearning and rebellion and remarkable in her individuality (just take her self-given moniker). This movie felt very personal for me: Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, her ambition far exceeding her talents, her flair for drama, her selfishness but also her tendency to do the right thing in the end. One quibble: the use of Alanis Morrissette, whose popularity peaked at least 7 years before this film’s 2002-2003 setting.

Honorable Mentions:

Everybody Loves Somebody/Treintona, Soltera y Fantástica These two movies get honorable mentions NOT because they are artistic achievements like the four previous films. They are simply noteworthy this year because they tell stories about young Mexican women living their lives and looking for love. It’s the kind of movie Hollywood just got around to making about 10 years ago, when they realized there are many successful, attractive women in their 30’s who search for love but have concerns beyond dating. So, although these films are predictable and “cursi” (sappy in Spanish), they are still breaking new ground for Mexican movies, so they were still a real pleasure to watch. Also, “Everybody Loves Somebody” featured Jorge María Yazpik, which doesn’t hurt.

 

Para México, Indomable

26 Sep
Chaibar

Chaibar

Mi querido pedacito de la Ciudad de México, la Condesa, está de duelo. Mis amigos me dicen que no reconocería mi colonia. Que mi hogar fuera del hogar, el Chaibar, ya no reabrirá. El País ha publicado un video detallando los cambios en la calle donde vivía, Avenida Amsterdam. Hay cuadras donde sigue mas o menos la vida normal, y hay cuadras donde se ven camionetas de mudanza, porque los vecinos se ven obligados a mudarse, por la inseguridad de los edificios. Hay grietas y huecos en las fachadas de muchos edificios, y en la esquina de Amsterdam con Laredo, hay los escombros de un edificio que se tumbó, y los restos de la gente que vivía allí. Esta imagen horrorosa se repite en la Condesa, en la Colonia Del Valle, en Xochimilco, y en los estados de Puebla y Morelos, que fueron muy impactados por el sismo del 19 de septiembre. Sí, la misma fecha del sismo del 1985. Dios tiene un sentido de humor bastante morboso.

Aunque sí hay mucha tristeza al ver mi ciudad en una situación desesperada, me alienta tanto el amor al prójimo que están en las calles de México. Ha habido tantos voluntarios que han tenido que decir a la gente que se vayan a casa, que ya hay demasiados presente. Los que pueden ayudar con el rescate de cuerpos, sean vivos o no, han ayudado, durante horas y horas sin descansar. Los niños han donado juguetes y dulces a los damnificados. He visto una foto de un joven que se vestía de payaso para entretener a los niños en un albergue. Yo tengo amigos que han organizado colecciones de comida, medicamentos, y víveres. Los mexicanos se están dando la mano a sus conciudadanos, con humor, a pesar de mucho cansancio, y con mucho amor. La grandeza del pueblo mexicano está a la vista para que todo el mundo lo vea.

También he leído sobre psicólogas que prestan sus servicios a gente que lo necesita, y todos lo necesitarán. La adrenalina se irá disipando, y después quedará el trauma. Toda la ciudad ha vivido un trauma, y eso también seguirá en los meses venideros. Lo importante, lo esencial, es que los chilangos guarden los lazos que han creado durante esta última semana.

Dejo esta reflexión sobre mi ciudad y su gente con mi publicación sobre mis lugares favoritos en la Ciudad de México, y con las palabras del escritor Juan Villoro. Adelante, México.

“El puño en alto”

Eres del lugar donde recoges
la basura.
Donde dos rayos caen
en el mismo sitio.
Porque viste el primero,
esperas el segundo.
Y aquí sigues.
Donde la tierra se abre
y la gente se junta.

Otra vez llegaste tarde:
estás vivo por impuntual,
por no asistir a la cita que
a las 13:14 te había
dado la muerte,
treinta y dos años después
de la otra cita, a la que
tampoco llegaste
a tiempo.
Eres la víctima omitida.
El edificio se cimbró y no
viste pasar la vida ante
tus ojos, como sucede
en las películas.
Te dolió una parte del cuerpo
que no sabías que existía:
La piel de la memoria,
que no traía escenas
de tu vida, sino del
animal que oye crujir
a la materia.
También el agua recordó
lo que fue cuando
era dueña de este sitio.
Tembló en los ríos.
Tembló en las casas
que inventamos en los ríos.
Recogiste los libros de otro
tiempo, el que fuiste
hace mucho ante
esas páginas.

Llovió sobre mojado
después de las fiestas
de la patria,
Más cercanas al jolgorio
que a la grandeza.
¿Queda cupo para los héroes
en septiembre?
Tienes miedo.
Tienes el valor de tener miedo.
No sabes qué hacer,
pero haces algo.
No fundaste la ciudad
ni la defendiste de invasores.

Eres, si acaso, un pordiosero
de la historia.
El que recoge desperdicios
después de la tragedia.
El que acomoda ladrillos,
junta piedras,
encuentra un peine,
dos zapatos que no hacen juego,
una cartera con fotografías.
El que ordena partes sueltas,
trozos de trozos,
restos, sólo restos.
Lo que cabe en las manos.

El que no tiene guantes.
El que reparte agua.
El que regala sus medicinas
porque ya se curó de espanto.
El que vio la luna y soñó
cosas raras, pero no
supo interpretarlas.
El que oyó maullar a su gato
media hora antes y sólo
lo entendió con la primera
sacudida, cuando el agua
salía del excusado.
El que rezó en una lengua
extraña porque olvidó
cómo se reza.
El que recordó quién estaba
en qué lugar.
El que fue por sus hijos
a la escuela.
El que pensó en los que
tenían hijos en la escuela.
El que se quedó sin pila.
El que salió a la calle a ofrecer
su celular.
El que entró a robar a un
comercio abandonado
y se arrepintió en
un centro de acopio.
El que supo que salía sobrando.
El que estuvo despierto para
que los demás durmieran.

El que es de aquí.
El que acaba de llegar
y ya es de aquí.
El que dice “ciudad” por decir
tú y yo y Pedro y Marta
y Francisco y Guadalupe.
El que lleva dos días sin luz
ni agua.
El que todavía respira.
El que levantó un puño
para pedir silencio.
Los que le hicieron caso.
Los que levantaron el puño.
Los que levantaron el puño
para escuchar
si alguien vivía.
Los que levantaron el puño para
escuchar si alguien
vivía y oyeron
un murmullo.
Los que no dejan de escuchar.

 

A Post of Ice and Fire: The Dragon and the Wolf

28 Aug

Although I had some complaints about last week’s episode, “Beyond the Wall”, I was completely satisfied with the season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf”. The three main plot points of the season- the Lannisters, the Starks and the White Walker menac,- featured great action pieces, compelling character development, or some combination thereof. I shrieked, I cheered, I was thrilled. And now I am just disappointed that there may be a wait of 18 long months until season 8.

Lena Headey deserves all the acting awards for her portrayal of Cersei Lannister. She had two scenes in this episode where she showed her fine acting skills, one with Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, and one with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as her brother Jaime. She digs her feet in and becomes more ruthless, and more isolated, than ever, to the point where her brother/lover Jaime is finally repelled by her duplicity and the callousness with which she orders Sandor Clegane to kill him. Jaime walking out on Cersei wasa relief, showing one character’s long evolution from servility at his sister’s side to honoring his knightly ideals of nobility and honesty. One of many things I’m looking forward to in the final season is seeing how he meshes with the Northern/Targaryen alliance, and with his brother Tyrion.

Another character who had a truly satisfying transformation was poor Theon Greyjoy. In a scene reminiscent of “Fight Club”, he received blow after blow, but as he kept rising to his feet after each one, he left fearful Reek behind and finally reclaimed his identity as Theon. We also haven’t seen Alfie Allen flex his acting muscles in a while, since he’s been playing a scared, tortured soul for a while now, but when he finally learned to be brave for the first time in a long time, he reminded us why this minor character can still be compelling. I hope he succeeds in rescuing his sister Yara from the prison under the Red Keep.

I previously wondered why Sansa and Arya seemed to be acting uncharacteristically throughout the season, with Sansa distrusting Petyr Baelish one moment then trusting him the next, and Arya going from brave, cheerful girl to cruel, distrusting sister killer in the blink of an eye. It didn’t make sense. And yet we learned in one well-crafted trial scene that it was all a ruse to manipulate the master manipulator. I thought Bran had been spending his time at Winterfell just being morose and sulking, but no, he was sharing his visions with his sisters. It is especially satisfying that Littlefinger, former brothel keeper, who murdered Lysa Stark and sold Sansa to Ramsey Bolton, got his comeuppance from two formidable women whom he underestimated. I told friends I didn’t want to see him die because he is so deliciously diabolical and fun to watch. Well, I didn’t realize how delightful it would be to see Arya murder him with one expert slice of her blade.

Perhaps most enjoyable seeing the King in the North, Jon Snow and the Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryen, consummate their growing love for one another. New York Magazine noted that season 7 has not only featured fewer sex scenes than in the past, but rather than be gratuitous and only serve to titillate the audience, the sex scenes were infused with tenderness, first with Missandei and Grey Worm, and then with Jon and Dany. I was not disgusted by the incestuous nature of the scene. They don’t know they’re related, which is important. But I foresee a future where Jon, always bound by honor and never hungry for power, cedes the throne to his wife Daenerys, who has become quite a good leader over time. And actor Kit Harington looks a-okay in his birthday suit!

So what threats loom in season 8? Dany and Jon finding out that their budding romance is with a family member (ick); Dany finding out that Jon has a more legitimate claim to the throne than she does; Cersei unleashing the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company on southern Westeros; Theon’s rescue mission to King’s Landing; Jaime integrating himself with the Northern forces; the Stark children running Winterfell, and of course learning if Beric Dondarrion (he of the mellifluous speaking voice) and Tormund survived the wall’s collapse. Oh yes, the wall collapsed when the Night King breathed icy blue fire on it, sending it crashing to the ground. It was scary. Either Dany will need to incinerate the army of the dead with her remaining two dragons, or the dragonglass mining operation at Dragonstone needs to speed up significantly. The monsters are within reach. “The Dragon and the Wolf” was a thrilling conclusion to a thrilling season. I can’t wait for season 8.