Monday, December 27, 2010

How I got the news

How do you imagine you'd learn you're pregnant?

I had always envisioned this scenario: some 6 weeks after my last period, in the privacy of my bathroom, with a store bought test. I figured the anxiety of having to wait those 3 minutes, exchanging looks with my husband and speaking aloud the what if's that would cross my mind, and then maybe celebrating the positive result with a hug and a kiss.

Needless to say it didn't happen that way.

I hadn't had the chance to miss the missing period when I started feeling odd, on Christmas day last year. It was like a bubble on my left side which I hoped it would just go. It didn't go but got worse and when I couldn't move any longer (including deep breath or filling my stomach), I gave up and let my husband take me (haul me) to the emergency room. Given the fact it was cold - we were in Minnesota and last time I had experienced a similar symptom it was a mega kidney infection in the making, it just made sense.

Like every other time I went to the ER I got tested for a slew of conditions including pregnancy, and unlike every other time they made us wait like for two hours in those dirty seats, looking either at an aquarium with monster sized fish or a TV with awful programming.

It seemed forever but they finally called my name and we were taken to one examination room, where two people in a row asked exactly the same questions I had been asked already. One senior female nurse asked me repeatedly if I thought I might be pregnant and if there were chances of it, and how would I take it, and then broke the news.

I was stunned. I didn't celebrate, I didn't kiss or hug. I didn't do or say anything, maybe said, oh.

Then, they started trying to find out what was causing that bubble thing. They ran a lot of tests I don't remember, except for the sonogram to see if the embyro was nested in the right place. It was hardly noticeable, just two weeks old, and yes, it was in the right place. We didn't have to wait the 3 minutes to see if the test gave positive, but those seconds searching for the tiny spot were stressful. Later that night I was discharged with a "come back in 24 hours if you don't get well", which I did because I didn't get well. There, 36 hours after the first sonogram, I had a second one done... the difference was remarkable.


I'll never know what was wrong with me. After a painkiller's effect wore off I got a little woozy (as been told), threw up and got well. Miraculously.

A belated Christmas present if I ever got one.

Monday, December 20, 2010


The best unexpected thing about parenthood is wanting to be best possible person, just because the child deserves it.

The worst, making loved people feel questioned by making other parenting choices.

Would you still believe I had a happy childhood even if I don't want the same things for my child?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Daily glamor

Often, it feels like maybe too often, I struggle with dinner. Planning it and cooking it seems like an impossible task, and it feels like we're having soup again. Or dang, another overpriced cold delivered pizza. It used to feel so good and now it feels crappy, that delivered pizza.

In order to solve my predicament, I turned to my ever friendly Google and I ask it (though "begging" is more like it) how I can, once and for all, plan our dinners. Just once a week, or less, once every few days. I've subscribed to plenty websites, I've read plenty cookbooks, but it's of no help.

And you know why is that? Because food is ingrained to the very core of who I turn out to be and where I happen to live. What to eat, how to do it and when to stuff our mouths with it in this global era, is still pretty much a business of where we live and who we are. I love meat but I find organs disgusting. I don't eat seafood. Poultry and chicken are synonyms to me. I can't eat hot spicy ingredients, or I feel my teeth are falling off. I find green vegetables boring (sigh), and I need extra encouragement in the form of mayo or mustard to plow through potatoes and other roots (double sigh). Touching raw food is unpleasant to me, and I work with spoons and spatulas and forks so I can avoid it as much as possible. Things that require many steps, like moussaka, I might adore but are way off my patience's league. I'm a grown up picky eater who would like to break the old habits, but is unsure of how to.

Reading cookbooks and recipes is exciting, but the ingredients (kale, anyone?), the proportions (is that butter?), the required accoutrements (some as silly as an oven thermometer) make most of the reading pretty close to science fiction. Or it is that I'm overwhelmed?

In the end it's just me complaining. The department of health has issued a cookbook with simple, cheap and healthy recipes with nutritional information, and in spite of the general lack of glamor and disgusting measuring terms like "1/2 package of...", it should fit my bill. But it still feels so... hard. Is it so for everybody else out there?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Irony on the news

Wikileaks is on the news again and I can't help admiring the irony of the Internet being used to betray its own creator.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In Thanksgiving mood

Next Thursday Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, one holiday I did like when I lived in Minnesota, so I'm in the mood for thankfulness.

Blogger stats indicate someone in Ukraine visits this blog often. I'm not surprised that someone from that faraway land with an exotic name starting in U reads my blog, though I'm a little surprised by it happening so regularly. Surprised, and a bit pleased too.

To my readership in Ukraine, whoever you are and whyever you come here... thank you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The wealth of books

More than once in the past few years, I've been hired to make an inventory of a personal library with views to sell it. What I had to do was to write down the information of the book (title, author, and a note of its state), and then did some research in order to find out how much could be its asking price.

Going through those books (thousands, actually) gave me the eerie feeling of having a conversation with their original owners.

One of the libraries belonged to the late husband of a relative, a man who after so many years I've come to the conclusion he was just very shy, and though I had been close to those books all my life I had never, not once, perused their spine, let alone open them. My relative wanted to do some renovating in her house, and 20 years after the passing of her husband thought it was time to let them go. He was an historian of architecture and the books were, fittingly, on history of architecture.

What impressed me, aside the fabulous prices asked for the same volumes in specialized internet bookstores, was how well curated that collection was. There were four or five subjects, and only a few books strayed from them. Most of the books had been bound in similar style, with leather and hardcover, and gilded letters, sometimes with some ornamental little designs too. The man I knew couldn't have been the first owner of many of the books, because most of them had been published in the 19th century (he wasn't THAT old, you know?), but they were in prime condition - for books that age, anyways.

My relative's husband was a very quiet man, and consistent with his style the annotations on the pages were illegible. Almost imperceptible too, because they were made in pencil. That was an intimate muttering that, as when he was alive, wasn't for me to decipher. Marga couldn't read them either, but they brought memories of him she hadn't revisited in a long time, and that was when I heard how she had fallen in love and married her former teacher and then boss... a great story that must have earned the reprieve of more than one genteel, back in 1955.

I got that same feeling of a conversation with another library, that belonged to a lawyer who had passed away only a year before. The widow wanted to move and she didn't want to move that huge library with her (a wise decision if you ask me), so they hired me. There weren't any law books in this collection - those had already been removed, and I saw mostly literature, philosophy, history and political science books. Some of the books had been read and reread, but most had the musty smell of a dead book, unopened since the day it was first brought. I saw many bestsellers - the man wanted to read what was hot, and those had clear annotations in ink, which made me think that he liked to have his voice heard. There were a few gems in that library too, obviously he wasn't superficial and knew what he was buying, but that library wasn't made out of love, not completely at least. There were a few duplicates (a book shopaholic, maybe?), and during the wrapping up of my task I couldn't shake that feeling of showing off.

I really don't know how many of those books were finally sold, and how much money they got from them. What I do know is that they were a second burial and a second mourning for someone long gone. Pointlessly painful, I thought. So, if you find yourselves in that situation, act quickly.


Monday, November 8, 2010

On house hunting and soul searching

We've spent most of the ending year in active house hunting. With a new member of the family on the way - and new roles to that, our studio kitchen, one bedroom, 36 sq mt (380 sq ft) apartment doesn't fit the bill anymore.

So we started our search. We had the help of real estate agents, but we conducted our independent searching too. We thought we knew what we wanted in terms of budget, total area and neighborhood, but soon we realized that it was just a little part of it.

With regards to a possible mortgage, we needed to ask ourselves about our professional prospective for the next two decades. Are we so sure we'll be able to spare the money for the payment every month of every year, from now to the next ten or twenty years? What if's? Is it worth the effort?

We thought it would be worth it only if we knew, which we don't, how many people are going to be in our family and what are going to be their needs. If we're going to have more children and if they're going to be more girls or there are going to be boys too. Should our needs change dramatically, we'd be facing the difficulties of selling with a mortgage, which as we're finding out is definitely something to avoid as much as possible.

We visited newer buildings (from 1975 on), designed in the logic of modern life - smaller bedrooms and baths, larger common areas, but the ratio price / total area is ridiculously high. And far too often they are made of poor building materials, so we left feeling a little depressed.

We visited older buildings (from 1900 on), designed in the logic of needs past - with a service bedroom and bath which shows that slavery might have crept well into 20th century in this country, despite what history says. In spite of the attractive details (great ratio price / area, oak and cedar doors, gypsum moldings, high ceilings) far too often those apartments are in a state of derelict that ask for courage to tackle a full renovation, guts on. Are we renovating kind of people, either the DIY or the phone the contractor type? Not really. Not that we know, at least.

While we were in our search the economic tide changed and the bigger banks started offering mortgage loans. Lots of them. Very appealing. So the prices soared, much to our dismay. But we held our ground and our offer was always "money today" and not contingent to bank approval. We know how to be appealing too.

Those questions involving family planning, job prospective, renovation enthusiasm and more, are in fact deep questions that go to the core of our beliefs and foundation of our lifestyle. We found that we held different opinions and points of view that we had to negotiate, not always willingly, not always courteously. But in spite of those exchanges, where we frequently got to learn more about ourselves than the other, or maybe thanks to them, we found something we both liked and made an offer.

Now let's hope that we get the wisdom AND the home.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Current addictions

I can't imagine life these days without any of them.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A big coincidence, or maybe it was the bigger plan

If I sometimes wonder whether our actions follow a bigger plan, it's because of a strange coincidence that happened many years ago.

It was late spring 1995 and I was studying for my final exams in high school, not exactly with enthusiasm but with a good deal of sense of duty anyway. During my teens I was a big fan of night radio shows, and during those exam weeks every night, at around 11 pm, I would tune in one particular guy. He had enough sense to curate the song selection (staying out of popularity countdowns, a plus in my book then) and a gorgeous voice to read stories.

Those days, as I still do now, I had the impulse to write him a letter (now that would be an email) to say what I liked most about the show and, I thought it was a necessity, to say what I would like to see changed. I wrote the letter and it stood on my desk until it was too late, so I tossed it into the bin and I forgot about the issue.

One afternoon, listening to that same radio but to an earlier show, I heard a poem. "Say who wrote the poem and in which film it was recited and enter a contest for cinema tickets". That very poem had been in my Literature class the previous year, and my parents had rented the film in question during that month, so I knew the answer for certain. Some people's calls were aired, and they were wrong. I phoned, said my answer, and waited anxiously for the drawing.

They drew the winners and my name wasn't among them. I shrugged it off and went on to do whatever I was doing then.

But a couple of hours later the phone rang and it was from the radio, to say that one of the winners had declined the prize and they had pulled my entry. Congratulations, they said, come by the radio from tomorrow 10 am on.

That following day, it was a Friday, I remember, during my self imposed lunch break (I was studying hard, remember that) I rode my bike down to the station to claim my tickets. And I wrote a new letter to the night show guy, having my say, which I left at the reception desk. That night I went to see the movie with my dad, and got back just in time for my favorite emission.

The first thing the man said was Julia, if you're listening... Thank you, and he didn't mention my letter or my name again but he played the songs I had said I liked. That night the show was just for me.

That Saturday I got a package with a long letter and a CD I still treasure. The letter explained that the day before, in the late morning to be exact, he had been summoned to discuss his new contract but he had been fired instead. Nobody cares about your little night program was in a nutshell what his bosses had said, and he was, like, clubbed in the head or elbowed in the gut, but then he was handed my letter and read it and saw they were wrong. There was, at least, one listener who cared and he was immensely relieved, exhilarated almost.

The program lasted a couple more weeks on air, during which he encouraged readers to send mail and seemed to me that he had quite a lot of feedback. And then his time in that station was over.

I tried to track him in other radios but he moved on to other formats and media, becoming more and more visible. I never wrote him another letter and once I crossed him on the street I simply nodded as to say I know who you are, hi. Mainly because I thought, and still think, that there wasn't anything to say and my little anecdote doesn't need to have a follow-up.

Because it was just a big coincidence, or maybe it was the bigger plan of life and things.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Side effects

Many body changes take place during pregnancy in order to nurture and accommodate the growing baby, and to help baby out during delivery. Among other things joints loosen, blood flow increases, sleep pattern may change and something called nesting instinct happens.

Also, there might be some weight gain but in the great scheme of things is usually inconsequential.

After my baby was born in the last day of August, and the tiredness of natural delivery was over, and the episiotomy healed and I started feeling like the person I had been before, I found all those loose joints, retained fluid and stretched muscles a bit pointless. Also, I found that baby care is demanding to say the least and my back and arms are feeling the pressure.

So I joined back the gym next door I had been attending for nearly a decade. To regain strength and flexibility, and to make all those diaper changes and lovely cuddling pleasant way after baby is clean and asleep in her cot.

And who knows, there might be some inconsequential weight loss too. Or so every person I've told about my plans seems to hope for.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Complaining day

Why can't montevideans, government and citizens alike, be less in love with cars and more in love with bikes? Cars are so impressively expensive here, with around 50% of their price made up just by taxes, and the gas... don't get me started. But no, bikers are less every day because streets are too dangerous. Dangerous for bikers, for children, for animals, for other drivers... damn it, when will Montevideo be more friendly to humans and less to machines?

Why can't montevideans, government and citizens alike, be less in love with concrete and tin and closed skylights, and more in love with creeping plants and grass and balconies full of flowers? Grey roofs and facades are so depressing, and hot, and cold, and dead. But don't dream of making green roofs, that's for rich people only. And you might get who knows what critter living up there.

Why can't montevideans, government and citizens alike, try to be more savvy with kitchen scraps and make some compost instead of a big, smelly pile of trash? Trash is so complicated, having to be removed every day from everywhere and taking up so much space. But no, out of sight out of mind. And you need a huge backyard and lot of free time to make some compost.

Why can't we give modern washable versions of hygiene products, such as pads a diapers, a chance? One slimy, darned chance instead of spending so much money for things that lasts the blink of an eye in use, and then go to the trash.

Today is my complaining day. Must be because that "I hope someday you'll join us" that's been on my mind since Saturday, and because I'm on loser/procrastinator mode.

Tomorrow, I'm starting a revolution. Or not. Stay tuned. Maybe.

Monday, October 4, 2010

With the last of winter clementines

Winter is fading and the best part of it, clementines, are going away until next year. It's such a pity... I really like clementines (mandarins, tangerines or whatever name you call them, it's probably not the right one for the citrus I have in mind), and I do think they're the best of the cold season I'm not too fond of.

We've had some rainy days and they found me in the mood for cake. Clementine cake.

2 big juicy clementines, or one juicy orange, or more clementines
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of all purpose wheat flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder

Juice of half a lemon, or 4 tablespoons of water or another juice
12 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar

Chopping board
Peeling knife
Mixing bowl
Tin loaf (Bundt cake's if you prefer that shape)
Butter to grease the loaf
Glass or other small container to mix the icing
Small spatula, brush or finger to spread it

1. Wash the fruit thoroughly and peel. Make sure there are no stickers on them.
2. Toss the peelings in the blender and chop until, ahem, very chopped.
3. Make sure the segments of the fruit don't contain seeds, and if they do, take the seeds off with the knife and the chopping board.
4. Toss said segments in the blender and blend, until you have an even textured mixture.
5. Add the egg, the oil, the sugar and the vanilla extract and blend again.

Put the flour and the baking powder in the bowl, and mix with the spatula. Add the moist mixture and blend with the spatula until you have a (another!) even mixture. Grease the tin loaf and dust lightly with flour, and pour the mixture. You should leave more than an inch to allow rising.

My oven is very temperamental so I can't really say the heat and time, but let's say that medium to low oven for about 45 minutes should do the trick. Maybe checking 30 minutes in is a wise idea.

Once it's done (you can tell by stabbing it repeatedly, if it yells you should give it some more time ;-) ), take it out from the tin and put on a nice dish. While it's still warm, add a mixture of confectioners' sugar and juice and let it cool and sink in.

It takes about two hours to cool completely, and it's virtually Julia proof - I've only managed to ruin it with an oven that actually tells the temperature, or using rather flat tempered glass oven containers.

If I were a good photographer, I'd add a picture here. But I don't want to spoil the charm of it!



The fruit: I've only tried oranges and clementines, but never dared with lemons, limes or grapefruit. When the fruit I'm using is too dry, I add a swish (that being a couple of tablespoons) of orange juice from a carton, or water as an extreme measure. Ah, I once tried with a banana, and it was awful!

The oil: I've tried canola, corn, soy and rice oil. I was told especially not to use olive oil, which I've respected more because it's very expensive but it might be interesting.

The flour: If I and my husband were more adventurous we'd try adding other than wheat. This cake has a moist texture and I'm not very sure it would go down well, but if you try it please let me know of your thoughts.

The icing: I use a cup to mix and whenever I put first the sugar it turns out well, and if I put the water or juice first it turns out bad. My experience.

The containers: For some reason, this cake goes better with tall shapes rather than flat, and with tin better than tempered glass or ceramic.

The oven: A total mystery. I never tried a microwave oven, and a grill doesn't make sense. Just avoid opening before 30 minutes, unless it's smelling like it's burning.

The blender: A non-negotiable.

The touch: ginger, pepper, cinnamon. But I think the texture of the mashed peeling is enough.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Inexorable but permanent

On the evening of Thursday the first of August 2002, I went out on a second date with a young man. The evening ended in my apartment, and I could say that the date was long and had just one small intermission to go to work on Friday noon.

That Sunday morning, still in the company of that same young man and so used to his clean head and blue eyes that I was startled when the mirror gave me a full haired head and black eyes, I seriously thought that the weekend would never end. Like it was impossible, in spite of logic and experience that weekends, no matter how good, always come to an end.

While I have proof that the first weekend of August 2002 effectively ended, something of it didn't end. The young man stayed and still does, his clean head and blue eyes the first thing my eyes see every morning when I wake up, always the last thing my heart kisses goodnight.

September 2010 has found me with that feeling of everlasting time. My newborn daughter, as old as the month itself, is both a novelty in the house and a statement as if she had always been there... first as an absence, now as a presence.

I know for sure, something of September 2010 will always stay with me.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Coffee break

While there's always been coffee around it wasn't until I got married that I paid some attention to the brew itself. I had always liked the smell of both the fresh ground beans (from grocery store Manzanares) and the resulting beverage, and I was aware of the social connotations of "having a cup of coffee". However my parents never drank it alone (their morning drink is 1/4 coffee 3/4 milk), and I mostly endured rather than enjoyed my first cups.

I'm not very sure how those cups were made. Probably espressos and Nescafe... I don't know. Those first 5 years of coffee were self guided (or misguided, should I say) and I don't have any recollection of actually understanding what I was drinking. Just smiling and trying to take the rough from my tongue.

But then I got married. And we received four coffee makers, and I almost got a fifth somewhere else. And then I understood that unlike other beverages (tea would be my reference), the way water and dry ground coffee meet is very important. Or for how long the device allows them to be together before splitting them in beverage and wonderful smelling detritus. And the temperature of the water, or better said, the state of the matter (liquid or steam). And it goes on, with the kind of water and the material of the recipient from which it is drank, and the type of ground (finer or coarser) and, well, with coffee itself.

So, you can leave coffee grounds and water mingle for as long as you wish, and then strain the grounds and have clean coffee on your cup. That's what french press coffee makers do.

Or you can put the ground beans in a strainer and let very hot water go through it. Maybe you measured the water and you're pouring it, making sure it falls all over the strainer or just in one point, so what you have is technically just a coffee pot like this one

with a top removable device, but chances are you have the most common electrical coffee maker, dripping every drop in exactly the same spot of the strainer.

I'm really fond of this kind of coffee makers. They look very friendly and unassuming, I think.

However, plenty of people I know prefer the mixture to be born out of steam. I've gathered that when coffee is made that way, it's called espresso. And you'll need something like this to have one cup of it:

You have to be a fool or to have a heart of stone not to like the looks of the Bialetti. Originally designed in the 1930's, it's still around mostly unchanged and probably somebody had one when you were growing up, regardless of when and where such thing happened. The device itself is quite ingenious too, and how it works wasn't evident to me until one arrived to my door with a ribbon and a wishing you happiness note.

With a side feature, the plugged version that pours down the steam instead of sending it up and allows you to heat milk for a capuccino. This maker yields the most fashionable results, but the charms are lost on me... I hate milk in my coffee.

There are two more types of makers I've never been too close to: the percolators and the vacuum systems. Both have glamor of years past and I hold nothing against them, my lack of knowledge stems from, well, the chance never arouse.

If we were to organize the coffee makers by material, we'd see that all glass, some glass and stainless steel go pretty much regardless of the system, while pottery (and pottery like materials) belong to just one category. If we were to use the source of energy to heat the water (included or excluded), and the container to do that (again, included or excluded), it mimics the materials clusters. Easy to clean, design (would you keep it on sight were someone important come to your home?), even how much they weight and how big they are, are other possible options.

But I have to admit that, for all the beauty some of those makers spread to the world of my kitchen, I grade them by how much I like the resulting beverage. Hand dripping is my absolute winner, and electrical dripping is close second. I can't resist the smoothness of the coffee and the expansive wave of great smell invading my home and staying for hours.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Brief list of mundane pleasures

- watching the whimsical curves of smoke from a freshly brewed cup of tea.

- a shady garden where I least expect it.

- the swish of a pair of pants against my waxed legs.

- getting there from here faster by bike.

- homes smelling of coffee dip brewing and slices of bread toasting.

- turning on the radio and catching a favorite tune from the beginning.

- a nap behind a sunny window, in that state of mind neither asleep nor awake.

- an email from a friend.

- (a few) German movies from the past 12 years.

- browsing old pictures.

- random memories from our 8 years together, daydreaming of the years to come.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beatle (crap) mania

There are (or have been) an amazing lot of crap theories about the Beatles out there. And today, I'm going to collaborate with one of my own.

This is a picture from the film "Yellow Submarine", made by artist Heinz Edelmann. I love the film, and I've had this picture in a large poster hanging from one wall or another for years. When George Harrison died I looked intently at this picture and I think it foretold the future, although nobody paid attention when it was originally released in 1968.

I'm obviously referring to the fact that the characters are depicted (in distance to the front and amount of color) in their order of passing away.

See? John is totally on the back, we can't see his shoulders, and he's wearing only bright shades of color. That's because (ahem) he died first. We can see a lot more of George, but not his whole chest and he's wearing mostly red, with only some details in black. That's because his turn was second. Paul and Ringo are wearing mostly black; that's because they had to attend their friends' funerals.

Now, according to this poster, there should be an answer for a question nobody cares to ask: who comes next? Both remaining musicians are depicted wearing fairly the same amount of black, though it's hard to say who has more. Ringo being on the front is because he's shorter so it makes sense on its own, and we can see fairly enough of Paul as it is.

Risking an answer is too creepy for my taste, but I guess it makes a good Beatle crap theory. Do you have any bogus theory of your own you'd like to share?

Picture from The New York Times.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Holy cakes!

I don't cook as often as I purposely make people believe, and I admit that the most dreaded question in the evenings is "what do we eat tonight?". Sometimes I just can't seem to pick myself up and get down to cook, and there are lots of things I simply don't think I can do. Despite those misgivings I'm a firm believer of the importance of feeding with food made at home, and I'm an avid reader of blogs of people who share recipes and thoughts around it.

One of those blogs is Katie Quinn Davies' What Katie Ate. Despite some cultural differences I feel very much in tune with her because she lives in Sydney Australia (so right now she's cooking hearty food and not complaining about the heat), because she's not afraid of meat and has a penchant for pies and casseroles, and because she likes berries - OK, that's more of nostalgia on my side, berries remind me of our life in Minnesota.

A few weeks ago she asked her readers to send in some recipes and I dared to share one my home staple dishes, one of those "no think" dinners with enough leftovers for lunch. And holy cakes! She liked it, she made it and she featured it on her blog!

(Click on the screenshot to open her post)

The recipe is very simple but also has a lot of room for improvisation and customization. It seems to me that she added a few ingredients of her choice, and created a whole different dish with more texture and probably a more complex taste than my bare original. It certainly looks more appetizing than what's in my lunchbox right now!

Now I wonder... I don't remember seeing this pie anywhere I've been to, but it's also true this is not haute cuisine. How many regions would claim this simple pie made of stacked slices of ham and cheese as their own?

I hope Australians will, soon. ;-)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fausses biographies

Lately I've been noticing a trend, if it can be called so, in movies of fake biographies. I'm referring to films where the main character is a real life writer, the story covers a time from which there is little knowledge, and it's made up from anecdotes of his or her works.

The first case is Shakespeare in love, a lighthearted comedy that made perhaps to much noise - and therefore many people found disappointing, but in my opinion is growing old very well. New audiences, thankfully spared from all the hype, can laugh at the jokes (both the knowledgeable and the sitcom style) and enjoy the antics of William and Viola without thinking about the Oscars it was awarded. The supporting cast is fantastic, especially the British actors (does Geoffrey Rush have a nationality anymore?) and the side humor is as good, or maybe better, than what's going on with the main plot - which I think is good enough.

The second film is Molière, a French production very much after Shakespeare in love's heart. Romain Duris, a surprisingly versatile actor (remember his intensity as a cultivated henchman in De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté and his post teenager musings as an Erasmus French student in Spain in L'auberge espagnole) plays the role of a terribly bad actor who's in jail for unpaid debts, and he's offered a job as an acting coach and turns out to be a great writer.

The people Molière meets during this time, the dialogues he has and the situations he experiences mimic those of his best known plays: Tartuffo, The bourgeois gentleman, The imaginary invalid and others. The twists and turns are very funny, and I really like the French cinema acting school (if there's such thing). The supporting casting in this film is brilliant, with Laura Morante, Fabrice Lucchini and Ludivine Saigner providing excellent performances that enhance Duris' own.

The third film (yes my dear reader, today we have a third example) is Becoming Jane. A young Jane Austen enjoys writing and is applauded within her family circle, but there's something missing in her work she can't put her finger on. Enter a young gentleman of French name who first despises her but then grows fonder, and after some predictable turns (that is, if you're familiar with Austen's biography) the subtle writer of character studies and keen eye for human relationships is born.

The carefully curated sets and wardrobes are very pleasant, and there isn't much humor in this story but there are moment of deep feelings and warmth. Jane Austen's biography doesn't offer the same blanks Shakespeare and Molière's do, but there's a certain dose of mystery in a seemingly plain life that produced novels that are sold and read two centuries later.


I admit I was surprised to see the negative reactions all three pieces received. They thread in dangerous waters: you need to know some about the life and times of the writers, so those who are unfamiliar are left outside without much to grasp. But if you have more than a passing acquaintance with them (as some Literature teachers have pointed out) they seem superficial, even disrespectful. Becoming Jane goes as far as to commit one of the most heinous crimes a cast director could ever attempt: the actress playing Austen is, gasp, American (the controversy surrounding that decision helped me see that there's an unwritten rule that no British actress should ever attempt to play Josephine March, and no American should reciprocate with Elizabeth Bennet).

So I don't think this trend will grow like weed, but for the next installment count me in. I love them.

Picture one
Picture two
Picture three

Monday, July 26, 2010


Today is a day my aunt Marga (or Marge) has been anticipating for years. Today she's 90 years old.

Along with her sister with whom she shared the birthday - though not the birth year, they are two of the relatives that influenced me most.

When I was a child I wanted to be like her, organized, decided, relentless, generous, elegant, cultivated and intelligent. I wanted a house like hers, with a fireplace and a green patio and that incredibly homey smell, although I thought her husband was a tad aloof and intimidating and I'm not at all fond of dogs. I always found captivating the alluring mystery of a loving adult who at the same time, refused to discuss certain matters with me without being condescending.

Her husband died in 1989, and the couple had only one son who's had many relationships with women but never wanted to have children, so she doesn't have any grandchildren. My sister and I filled that void and looking back I can say that it was a great honor. I find it amazing that she knows exactly who I am, and in spite of the 60 year gap she now treats me like an adult and speaks about things she never wanted to say before. In return I treat her like an adult too, which is not how people usually react with an elderly person.

Next December it's going to be 10 years since my grandmother, her best friend, passed away. Ever since, or maybe it started before but I couldn't detect it, her health has declined. It's something in her brain that wrecks her balance and mobility and her ability of speech. She keeps a routine, dresses up every day, wears make up and worries about her hair looking good. She also makes decisions on what to buy at the groceries' store (even if she forgets the names of about half the products she wants to order), plays chess against the computer (she can't go to her chess club anymore), and reads the newspaper.

Sometimes she remembers one particular thing of her past, sometimes it's another. She was one of the first female graduate architects and when she was a teenager, she volunteered with the Spanish Republican army committee in Montevideo; she once owned a car and she has always been fiercely independent, so her anecdotes are extremely interesting. She might forget names of people, of places (like Uruguay!), or nouns, or verbs, and sometimes it's a whole verb tense so she may speak only in present, so it's hard to jump on a wagon of her train of thought. It's worth the effort, though.

Nevermind what comes and goes, she always makes a point of being "almost ninety", or "one year three months shy of ninety". Being ninety years old has been a goal in itself, and I'm curious of what she's going to do next. Knowing her like I do, I'm sure she'll dive in it with all the purpose and energy in the world. And I'll be with her.

That's what granddaughters are for.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let's take off the masks

A few days ago this message arrived to my inbox, from a friend who lives in Minneapolis. He said it was from the, but a google search didn't bring any hits from sites uk. My search found a comment in the New York Times Goal Blog from RPG (Switzerland), which the author claimed to have found on The Guardian, but again, there's no more information than just that.

Let's take a look at it:

It's because most football fans are thundering hypocrites, full of their own self-righteousness and unable to see beyond the end of their own noses. So Germany's goalkeeper and players pretend Lampard's shot didn't cross the line, when the entire stadium knew otherwise. Ghana kick, play act, wave imaginary cards and dive for a free kick that should never have been awarded. Holland dive shamefully (in the form of Robben and Van Persie), and go around trying to maim Uruguayan opponents (in the form of the near psychotic Van Bommel). But they're not cheats: honestly, they're not. They're choirboys, playing Pele's beautiful game.
The only "cheats", apparently, are a team which was one of the most fouled against in the tournament; whose magnificently combative midfielders Perez and Arevalo tackled almost perfectly throughout the tournament; whose defensive organisation was amazing; but who had a player who did something in the last minute of the quarter-final that many, many players have done throughout history. It's so good to know that all those condemning Suarez have now renounced England's win in 1966 - because Jack Charlton dived full length to punch away a Portugese shot in the semi-final, and wasn't even booked, never mind sent off.
Except they haven't - because they're hypocrites. Stinking, lousy hypocrites, whose real reason for wanting to see the back of Uruguay is, I fear, in all too many cases, because they're South American. South American players are greased up, scheming, evil Machiavellian crooks, don't you know? The Dutch are beautiful; African sides incapable of anything cynical.
It's all such utter, pathetic nonsense. Suarez was punished; that should be the end of it. And beyond that, the ignorance displayed on these pages towards a nation of 3.5m whose achievements are miraculous, whose spirit is indomitable, who over-achieved magnificently at this World Cup, went down fighting despite being over-matched tonight and shorn of FOUR key players (and a fifth, Forlan, who played while injured throughout), and who chronic under-achievers like England should be LEARNING from, is simply breathtaking.
After the miracle of 1950, Jules Rimet explained what had happened with the words: "In football, playing well is not sufficient. You also need to feel it profoundly, as does Uruguay".
You have to FEEL it. That is the spirit with which Uruguay play; that is the spirit which England all too often lack. A nation of 3.5m people, with two world titles, two Olympic titles, 14 Copa America, and who have now reached more World Cup semi-finals than Argentina, who have 12 times as many people to choose from? Uruguay should be being saluted on these pages: I think they've been fantastic. But this is nasty, insular little England, with nasty, insular little posters like sicklemoon - so look what they get instead.
Well done to Holland. Even with the officials generally embarrassing themselves, you were the better side, have a fantastic record, and good luck in the final. And to Uruguay: farewell, ignore the nonsense as I know you will, and may you go one better in Brazil in four years time. Let's face it: in Brazil of all places, history beckons.

I'm impressed. It's good to read nice things about one's country and countrymen, and this writer is right on spot here, meaning that s/he seems to have been reading our minds. We know our football and we're aware we're the smallest country to have achieved a feat or two in this game... leaving aside anything older than 50 years, we still have a pretty decent record on continental cups (which is not bad considering our border neighbors have won a few World Cups each), as well as clubs tournaments. We've been a recognized greenhouse of world class players for decades now, which has made the rather poor World Cup performances of the past 40 years all the more heartbreaking. Is Uruguay a well kept secret in the football world?

Or maybe what I've said is just an ego trip. Growing up hearing it over and again it's a part of our national subconscious it's hard to utter and understand otherwise. The original writer seems to know that, maybe it's a Uruguayan with perfect British English?

I thought the officiating, especially in the games against Ghana and Netherlands, systematically handicapped Uruguay, but probably every fan felt the officiating hurt their team, so I don't think I can make a point with it. But isn't the reader saying the same thing when s/he says "the most fouled against team" and to Holland "in spite of the officials generally embarrassing themselves" as in "they gave you a helping hand"? I'd like to have this mask off and know, who wrote this?

The unabashed hatred from the ever influential English press, which I suspect roots from the denied Lampard goal (the referee trio was from Uruguay, right?) more than anything else, took me by surprise. Isn't the unwritten rule of this game to do as much as the referee allows you to, and do anything it takes to win? So, would they be this harsh had it been an English player securing England's qualifying for the semis instead of a team from a tiny country? Or are we just witnessing a rule of the press: get attention no matter how?

Maybe is it that abusing a country with a population sized a decimal fraction of population (centesimal if you're from the US) is really easy? If that's true, then we'll have to rely on masked defendors, just as the purported commentator.

Questions and more questions. If you have an answer, please feel free to speak your mind in the comments section.

Language note: I know I should be saying soccer instead of football, but I'd really like to use that word for this game.
Pronounciation note: If you're an English speaker and you'd like to know how to properly pronounce Uruguay, it's not "you are gay" as Homer Simpson once suggested, but rather "oo-roog-WHY"

Third time's the charm... sometimes

2010 should be remembered as the third times' year in professional sports.

This is Marian Hossa.

He's a Slovak hockey player who plays in the NHL, the North American top hockey league, and routinely competes with the Slovak national team in international tournaments. At the end of the 2007-2008 season he was traded from the Atlanta Thrashers to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins qualified for the playoffs and won all three series in the Eastern Conference, to play the final series against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings won in 6 games, hoisting the Cup in Pittsburgh.

That summer, the Penguins offered Hossa a 5 year contract but he declined, preferring a one year contract with none but the Detroit Red Wings with whom, he said, he thought he had a better chance to win the Cup. And it wasn't a big deal with anyone, come to think of it he had been with the Penguins only for the playoffs.

Season 2008-2010 found the Red Wings strong once again, qualifying for the playoffs and beating the Chicago Blackhawks in 5 games in the Western Conference final and getting to play the Stanley Cup finals with the Eastern Conference champions... once again, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This time, the Penguins won. It took them 7 games, playing the final game in Detroit.

Journalists and fans alike had a field day with him, and seriously, how often do you find someone in his position?

That summer, his contract with the Red Wings over, he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, a team full of young and talented players. The Blackhawks qualified for the playoffs and fortunaly he didn't cross paths with any of his former teams this time.

Maybe that helped the Chicago Blackhawks win their first Championship in 49 years and thus ending the longest winning drought in the NHL. As they say, third time's the charm. Interestingly enough, there weren't any apologetic articles from the journalists that 12 months before had poked fun at this player... Anyways, he holds a record for playing at the Stanley Cup playoffs for four years in a row in four different teams, and playing the finals three years in a row, obviously, with three different teams. A field day for sports statistics lovers, no doubt, now that nobody (as far as I know) has given him a fraction of the attention he got when Detroit lost in 2009. I really don't think he cares, though.

The second third time I'd like to mention today, is this one.

The Dutch royal family is the Orange-Nassau and the country's official color. While it's nowhere in their national flag, their national teams sport the hue in their outfits, and they've so been recognized for a long time.

The Netherlands football team's performance in the FIFA World Cups in 1974 and 1978 was stellar, displaying a style of playing never seen before that proved immensely influential in the following years. The "total football" approach gained them the nickname "orange clockwork", which they' ve held ever since even if their international performance in the roughly thirty years after it wasn't, as a whole, that visible and impressive.

In 1974 the Orange played its first World Cup final game against host and champion of 1954, West Germany.

That day, West Germany won its second Cup.

The Orange kept with the good work, reaching the finals again four years later again against host, and already defeated once in the finals, Argentina. So, none had ever won the Cup but both had played one final (though Dutch players were still active while the original Argentinian players were senior citizens).

Maybe it's because a final played by the host under a dictatorial regime is, let's say, more stressful for everybody like players, referees and fans (like Italy in 1934), or maybe because at least one Dutch star refused to play in a country under said regime. Simply put, Argentinians scored more that particular day.

And the Dutch went home empty handed again. Funny they didn't think of hosting a Cup themselves, don't you think?

The Orange's appearances at the following seven World Cups had ups and downs, but it wasn't until South Africa 2010 that they managed to reach the final stage again. This time the hosts had been eliminated in the first round and the contender was newcomer Spain, who had never been this far in the tournament. In the semis former champions Germany and Uruguay got to play for the third place, and the Dutch squad, undefeated for two years, faced current Euro Champion Spain.

I saw the game and definitely the Dutch playing style has a focus on effectiveness. Sometimes tougher than ice hockey players the Orange squad got to the finals undefeated from the start of the tournament, allowing more than one goal (two to be exact) just once in the semis against Uruguay. The Spanish style, instead, reminds a little more of the "total football" of Netherlands of yore, with short passes and absolutely breaking the opponent's game. It's also very effective. And boring if you're not an absolute fan of the game.

The game ended tied with no goals and went to extra time. Just five minutes before it was over, Spain scored. So third time... wasn't the charm for the orange clad people. Many thought they deserved to win because they were seasoned veterans in the final playing games, while Spain would benefit of the experience anyway. Sports, however, are not about deserving but winning.

For the sports statistics fans, Netherlands is the team having played more finals without winning any, but it's still not the team having lost more finals overall. That's Germany at four out of seven played, while Brazil, also with seven appearances, won five of them. Uruguay is the team with the longest winning drought, 60 years, and England is the next one at 44 years. The other members of the list are Argentina at 24, Germany at 20, France at 12, Brazil at 8 and Italy at 4 (seriously, how many of those can be called droughts?)

Having a third example would be fantastic, but unfortunately I don't know of any. If you can help, please let me know of that in the comments.

picture one, picture two, picture three, picture four

picture five, picture six, picture seven, picture eight

Language note: this blog is written in American English so I should use the word "soccer" instead of "football". I choose to disregard the consistency on this particular point, but I promise to keep at bay any other disgressions.

Monday, July 12, 2010


For some years we've been living in the same building, and I've been getting to know her bit by bit. At the main door, on the street, at the grocery's store, at the hairdresser's, even at the beach, we see each other and we say "hello".

But it's when I don't see her that I get to know her better. At first, I would only see her and she had the allure of a woman of a certain age: slim, elegant and smoking a cigarette with that "je ne sais quoi". But one day something broke off in her life and I started hearing her too. When she's sad she listen to the same song loudly for hours, and I can't escape her song and her sadness unless I leave my home.

One coworker who lives across our homes told me that me she never draws the curtains of her rooms, and she makes some sort of reality show out of her everyday life. The hairdresser, that she is an English translator and she lost her job during the 2002 recession and stayed unemployed for a long time. The store's delivery guy, that her dog died of lung cancer and she was inconsolable, and the cashier woman that she buys whiskey often. The doorman, that it was her brother who bought her the appartment. Like an unwelcome visitor interrumpting my life, the bits of her miserable existence join in a puzzle to which I reluctantly add a new piece every now and then, even if I've never asked anyone anything about her.

But this puzzle is made in the first person too when I hear her domestic fights with someone else. I don't know, I don't want to know whether it's always the same person, but often I hear noises of things falling, of glass rolling and breaking (bottles, I suppose), or big objects falling to the ground (I hope it's not her). One night, long ago, bottles went flying out of her windows and ended their trip on the garage roof, while she cried, madly, give it back to me, it's mine! Her voice, broken, hoarse, ashy and alcoholic had no link to the worldly woman I cross on the street, always perfectly styled and walking, nonchalantly, on tower high heels.

Last night at her balcony, she smoked and tried to phone somebody. Why did you leave? Come, come right now. I'm not feeling well, I'm not joking. She spoke non stop and then she stayed silently, crying her soul out, and then started again. Please don't hang on me, come now, come. I'm going to kill myself if you don't.

And I replied softly, You already did.

For some years I've been living on top of a swamp of liquor and despair named Graciela.

This text was originally published in French, under the title "Voisinage" on October 21st, 2007.

Il fait quelques années que nous habitons le même bâtiment, et que je la connais progressivement. À l'entrée de l'édifice, dans la rue, au supermarché, chez la coiffeuse, même à la plage, je la vois et nous nous disons bonjour.

Mais c'est quand je ne la vois pas que je connais plus d'elle. Avant, je la voyais et elle avait l'air d'une femme mûre mais trés interessante: mince, élegante, fumant un cigarette avec ce je ne sais quoi. Mais un jour, quelque chose s'est déclanché chez elle, et j'ai commencé à l'écouter. Quand elle est triste, elle écoute la même chanson encore et encore, au volume trés haut, et moi, je ne peux pas échapper sa chanson et sa tristesse qu'en quittant ma maison.

Une copine de travail qui habite en face, me racconte qu'elle ne ferme jamais les fenêtres ou les rideaux, et qu'elle fais une sorte de big brother tous les jours de sa vie. La coiffeusse, qu'elle était traductrice d'anglais, mais qu'elle avait perdu son travail pendant la crise de l'an 2002 et elle reste chomeuse. Le jeune homme du supermarché qui fait les livraisons, qu'à la mort de son chien de cancer de poumon elle avait beaucoup souffert, et la femme à la caisse, qu'elle achéte de whisky trés fréquemment. Le conciérge, que son frére lui a achété son appartement. Comme une visitante qu'interrompe dans ma vie, les morceaux de sa existence malheureuse font un puzzle auquel j'ajoute une nouvelle piéce de temps en temps, bien que je n'aie jamais démandé personne sur aucune des ces donnés.

Mais ce puzzle se fait aussie en premiére personne quand je l'écoute se disputant avec quelq'un. Je ne sais pas, je ne veux pas savoir, s'il s'agît toujours de la même personne ou pas, mais parfois il y a des bruits des choses qui tombent, des choses en verre (des bouteilles, j'imagine), ou des corps (j'espére que ce ne sera pas elle). Une nuit, quelque temps avant, des bouteilles sortaient par las fenêtres et finissaient leur periple sur le toit du garage, et elle criait, affolée, rendre-me le, c'est à moi. Sa voix, grave, cassée, alcoolique et cendré, n'avait rien a voir avec la femme mondaine que je vois dans la rue, toujours bien coiffée et marchant, naturellement, sur des stilettos.

Hier soir, elle fumait au balcon et essaiyait de téléphoner quelqu'un. Pourquoi tu t'en est allé? Viens, viens maintenant. Je ne me sens pas bien, ce n'est aucune plaisanterie. Elle parlait sans cesse et ensuite elle restait silencieuse, pleurant en chaud larmes, et elle recommençait N'accroche pas, s'il te plaît, viens maintenant, viens. Sinon, je vais me tuer. Et moi, j'ai répondu en faible voix, Tu l'as déjà fait.

Il fait quelques années que j'habite au dessus d'un marais de frustration et d'alcool qui s'appelle Graciela.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Not that I really mind...

Every time I iron I'm faced with profound questions that arise from the steps I take to perform the task.

The first one is, exactly, why do irons have such short cords? Where is the obscure relationship between electricity outlets placement as a whole and the realm of optimal ironing surfaces? Maybe the missing link is between irons and extension cords manufacturers. Or perhaps it's a design safety suggestion: with a short cord there's no way you can misplace it, like stuffing it in a drawer while it's in use or something equally reckless.

The second question is... why do irons lack power switches? Do they use so much power that a switch is useless? Or is this another design caveat? I guess I've always lived in substandard houses where I had to do everything from kneel to shuffle furniture around in order to be able to iron a shirt, but the switch thing really bums me... am I the only one to notice plugs are one of the most fragile parts of appliances?

Those questions, I guess, could be answered by a irons and small home appliances designer, but the next one is only up to me: will one day ironing stop meaning "erasing old creases to create new ones" and will start meaning "ironing"? Not that I really mind it, but some days I'd rather not be this rumpled.

Photo from here.

Monday, June 28, 2010


It might happen anyday, for all a foreign person knows. It would look like a normal day in a normal town; if it's a weekday people would be busy, if it's a weekend, our hypothetical foreign person would probably be stricken by the calmness. The many national flags hanging on windows of homes and cars would be a telling clue, but if our foreign person is American he or she wouldn't even notice. There would be certain nervousness, anticipation if you like, but with such laid back people I understand, it's really hard to detect.

Then, just like that, the streets would be absolutely empty. No cars, no pedestrians, probably no public transportation either. Our foreign person would wonder if there is going to be an attack and people are told to stay indoors. The same streets that 10 minutes ago were bustling with activity (or so it would seem now) are now desert. Some stores might be closed, with no apparent indication on whether it's their normal opening hours or they just went out of business.

After a while, the silence gets oppresive. Not a wailing siren of an ambulance or fire brigade, no obnoxious neighbors pumping up the jam, just an elderly lady crossing the street and a beggar sitting on the corner with his dog. The day might be cold, but not that cold. It isn't a national holiday, our foreign person knows for sure because he or she checked that before. It might...

Suddenly a deafening sound erupts, and it's mostly human voices. Cars blare their horns, there might be some firecrackers, a glimpse of people holding each other in elation. Silence again, and a while later mayhem breaks out and people take over the streets. A foreign person would probably wonder what great thing the locals are celebrating, and probably would find the answer quickly.

The foreign person has just witnessed one Fifa World Cup gameday in Montevideo, Uruguay, in June 2010. The Uruguayan national squad was unbeaten during the four games it played during that month, and regardless of what's in store for it in July, it's quite a solid reason already to celebrate. Which is what they do.

It is what we do while it lasts. May it last a long time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Real genius

I was a kid when the movie Amadeus was released, and I remember when I watched it first with my parents, sister and grandmother in a cozy pizza, drinks and conversation one winter Saturday evening by the fireside. My mother plays the piano and in the 80's both my sister and I were taking music lessons too, so we did know who was this Mozart person well before seeing the film. We knew he had lived long ago, that by our ages he already mastered the instruments we played, but we weren't really conscious of his time and space and we were really impressed by the movie.

Curiously enough, it weren't the lavish costumes or the luxurious classical interiors displayed in the film what caught our attention, but rather was the notion that for all his talent and consequence Mozart was probably an unhappy man. Around that time we also saw the documentary From Mao to Mozart by Isaac Stern (my sister played the violin and her teacher lent us the tape) and the swedish film The magic flute by Ingmar Bergman, so it was clear that the movie was about Mozart's life but not his work.

In spite of the exposition to Mozart's work (we both were able to play some simple tunes) in the classical musicians' popularity ranking we ran at home, he wasn't the one at the very top. It wasn't Beethoven either, Haydn, Schumann or even Hanon or Kaiser (the authors of our exercises books), but the one and only Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach deserves every music student and amateur's respect, but now I suspect our devotion was rooted more in the conservatory we attended and the teachers we had (all members of the same family) rather than personal choice. Anyways. After watching Amadeus we ground my mother on biographical information on Bach, anecdotes of his whereabouts and whether he had also lead such a glamorous and chaotic life.

Turns out that we found soon that Bach was a product of his time and place. As it was usual then, his craft was his ancestors' and he passed it on to his descendants. Like everyone who hadn't a nobiliary title he worked hard, occasionally struggled with poverty, married a woman who died of birth complications or illness (but with today's medicine she had probably survived) and then married a second one, had many children but not all of them survived childhood, never traveled far, and never did anything outrageous or exceptional in his long life - unless he was at work. But his work, we realized, spoke by itself and his life wasn't movie material.

I'm not excessively fond of musicians' biopics but after watching two about Beethoven, I've always wondered about a film on Johann Sebastian. My guess was that it had to be a very boring movie, or an incredibly technical one explaining some of the wonderful innovations he made to the art - likely to be stone boring, too.

But in the past months I've found out that not one but two, yes, TWO different groups of people (at least) have taken the challenge. And maybe because I'm older now I found them quite satisfying actually.

The older film is from 1968 and its title is Chronik der Anna Magdalena. It's European arthouse at its prime: there must be maybe 3 minutes of acting and the rest is a female voice in the background reading letters Anna Magdalena wrote while musicians in period costumes play period instruments. Every letter comprises only one piece of music and is shot in only one take and plane - the camera doesn't move at all. Some pieces don't have the off voice, but it's just the performance. Boring? Well, for audiences expecting another version of Amadeus, yes, probably. But it conveys the life and times of the Bach in a surprisingly timeless fashion (which is more than I can say of Amadeus, which hasn't aged very well).

The newer film was released in 2003 and it's Mein Name ist Bach, and again it's more about life in Bach times than a biography, but unlike every other musicians' biopic I've seen before (not that they are too many), its focus is all about character. Well based and with only a couple of assumptions that can be argued from existing documents, it describes a meeting between Johann Sebastian and his two sons Friedemann and Emanuel with Frederich II of Prussia. Issues like family bounds, popularity, employment, health and aging are in our favorite composer's mind. Power, expectations, abilities are on the monarch's. Together they play a cat and mouse game with music, instruments and performance as their hostages, but not their real interest. Given that the works of both Bach and the King have survived until today but there has been little delving into their personalities, I think this is a great film in spite of the poor reviews.

While nobody argues Bach's genius, I think it does take some hard work to figure out how to tell his story, even a little of it. Some hard work, and maybe even some real genius.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Perils of Facebook

A lot has been said on data and personal safety matters and Facebook. Often I read articles in the newspapers saying this or that. Still, a big issue hasn't been mentioned.

How it is to find that your former schoolmates still write as if they were in school? How about finding that your colleague loves gore movies, that your childhood friend believes that UFO's are coming, or that your cousin wants to reveal the world your worse fashion missteps?

Facebook is dangerous indeed. I'd never guessed there was so much to be left unsaid.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's never too soon to feel like a relic from the past

Recently I read the book "Twilight", by Stephenie Meyer and the excerpt available at her website with the tale told from the point of view of the male protagonist. I'd read very good comments about the movies, and was curious about the book.

I must say I found "Twilight" deeply disturbing at many levels. I'll explain:

1. Bella, the owner of the voice telling the story, (a voice we can "hear" also in her thoughts) has a very low self esteem. While I don't think that's unusual for teenagers, I got the nagging impression that it was positive she didn't have a good image of herself. That's a terrible message for teenage girls! Putting yourself down is not a good strategy to start a relationship with a boy, and even less to build it.

2. Bella's relationships with her parents are sick. The mother is very immature and there was a shift in the relationship (sad but I've seen that in real life) but the father is a whole another story. They are practically estranged but he longs for her, he tries hard to rebuild the relationship and all he gets is a slap in the face and a lie "for his own good" when she leaves. While I know the hardships of the interactions of teenagers and their parents, I thought Bella was cruel to her father and it completely tainted her character. Twilight isn't meant to be a guiding book for teenagers, but I thought it was wrong to picture a person who's finding her own path into adulthood in a story where adults' feelings and views aren't taken seriously. Adults here seem to be more of a prop for the purpose of bothering.

3. Edward, the voice telling us the counterpart, is unreal. I know, I know, Twilight is a work of fiction, but I thought there were so many wrong things that the story (at least the story of feelings and Bella's coming of age) is distorted beyond admission. First of all, Edward is ageless. He isn't an adult and he isn't young either. He's seen a lot, but a lot of the same thing. He hasn't really grown up in a long time, and since his appearance won't change his life and attitudes won't, either. Secondly, he's beautiful. And while he deeply admires Bella, he doesn't think of her in sexual terms and he despises a popular teenager in their high school who has "dirty" (a.k.a. sexual) thoughts about her. Third, he's a talented piano performer and composer.

I think teenage girls should know that boys: a. Will grow up or are in the process of, b. Don't particularly appreciate being seen as "beautiful", c. Probably care more about hobbies and activities that are important to other boys (so sports are more likely than classical instruments) and d. Really think a lot about sex. Everything that is so charming about Edward is actually against western manliness, and I think he doesn't make any sense as a male hero.

4. Edward is kind of dangerous. Because he's a vampire, and even "vegetarian" vampires as he and his band are not the most commendable source of company, especially when he finds her smell so enticing. So he's a tortured soul, in the struggle of his deepest impulses (cash her in) against everything I said in the previous point (he's a true artist at heart). To add a little grit to this mushy guy there are superpowers: he can read minds, move faster than light and he's very strong. So he protects her even though he would like to kill her and he doesn't plan (at least at the beginning) on starting a relationship with her. Confusing, eh?

This was probably the most disturbing fact of the whole book. Edward is a dangerous guy and Bella shouldn't be with him. In the book, Edward is a vampire (I know, I know) but in real life there are plenty of seductively dangerous people a teenage girl should avoid. A teenage guy too for that matter, but I think teenage boys might not be as sensitive to the message as girls.

So I ended the book thinking: the message here is if a teenage girl with low self esteem and a crappy relationship with her parents finds a dangerous guy, her innocence will enable her to change him for good and he will protect her from any harm with his (outlawed, even if it's physics laws) tools. Any belated effort made by her parents to ensure her well being will be just to bother her and prevent her from achieving her real happiness, so as in the process of growing up, they should be left behind.

Am I so wrong? Did the story hit nerves I didn't know I had? Or there should be an uproar against these books? I don't know... I'm not good friends with obscurantism, but here I feel these books should have been edited more carefully and maybe, it's just that it's never too soon to feel like a relic from the past.

Monday, May 31, 2010

In defense of readers and reading

I've been a great fan of the blog format ever since I discovered it some five years ago, and stuck along with the changes. I like the speed of publishing, the editorial policies (one person or a small group but usually no corporate interests), and the feedback from the readers. I like people telling about their personal lives, about their thoughts, and mostly, I love being able to access the immense worth of people sharing their work, passion at talent. I also like intelligent comments, often they add a lot of value to one article, and reading a good debate is priceless.

Of course there aren't only roses but somehow when the novelty worn off, the format sort of depurated itself. Blogs these days are of much better quality, and blogs like mine (of lazy, uneven people) seem to be the minority.

There is a moment when dedicated bloggers take a leap of faith and start making their blog their full time occupation. I can't picture myself doing it, but plenty people out there have done it and so far it seems to work out well for them.

I've been reading some of those people who started in just another blogspot or typepad site for years, and now they make a living out of their writing. I've seen them grow and mature, and I am genuinely happy for them. I hope their blogs will keep helping them put the bread on their tables for many years to come, and that their enormous talent and passion will never fade.

While my profession and my work are not in the writing and publishing realm, and I'm very happy with it as it is, I do admire those writers who've made it. There are lots of people who deserve my admiration, I know, and they do... but there's someone who's really a class apart.

I mentioned before that something I like of blogs is interaction, the feedback from readers. I'm usually a reader, very seldom a writer, but if I like somebody's work and effort and I think I have something to add, I'll try and share it. I imagine that being online for many hours, doing research, writing, publishing and getting in touch with colleagues and clients must be tiresome, and since I'm not someone who will bring along a new sponsor or a big purchase mine is a little voice, but there is one blogger out there who consistently makes me feel like the time I spend reading is appreciated and worthwhile.

The writer in question is Holly Becker, from Decor8 ( Mrs. Becker states in her blog: "As a writer and interior design consultant I created Decor8 to catalog beautiful finds and to inspire others". Together with her other, more personal blog, (Haus Maus,, she's one of the most delightful reads of my day. She writes about artists and crafts for home decoration, with a keen eye and an impeccable style, and sometimes she adds a more personal note about her life and her profession.

Those qualities aside, which have deservedly earned her reputation, Mrs. Becker is exceptionally attentive and kind to her readers. While blogs are basically about oneself (I made, I like, I think), she treats all of her readers with a lot of respect and it transpires often. She never sounds like she owns the truth or like she thinks she's a genius, which is fresh air among one person blogs. It doesn't matter we readers might be thousands, she's not a condescending queen and we're not pitiful subjects; she's generous with her work and humble in her attitude. She's thoughtful with the comments she receives, and takes the time to reply personal messages from starstruck readers like me.

If there were courses for people wishing to make a living out of their writing, celebrity bloggers wannabes, I would say: take a leaf out of Holly Becker's book. That's how readers should be treated.

Where were we?

Oh, alright, I haven't published in a while. Certain personal events monopolized my thoughts and for some reason I didn't want to share... however I still want this outlet. Just in case.