Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Teaching English Joke of the Day

Friend: You have to meet my new apartment.

Me:      Sounds good. Only, in English you can't "meet" an apartment.

Friend: This one you can. It has that much personality.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Name Escapes

The Occidental Swamps! 

Teaching English Joke of the Day

Me:            Do you know this word: "grapefruit"?

Student:    Is it uva?

Me:            Nope, that's "grape". This is toronja. Completely diff—...well
                    now, that would make sense, wouldn't it?...

Spanish Lesson: The Mexican Rennaissance

This weekend some Mexican friends and I played that parlour game where you get a card with a character's name written on it stuck to your forehead and you have to ask the other people in the game yes-or-no questions to figure out who it is. One guy received Miguel Ángel. I had no idea who this was. Someone from the Mexican Revolution? I remained silent throughout the guy's questions, and only became more confused when I found out this historical personage was neither Mexican, Spanish, nor Portuguese. About three questions from the end of the round I realized it was Michelangelo.

The day before, I had been equally confused by a bus with words the Pato Lucas and a picture of Daffy Duck painted on the back. That night I learned that in Mexico, Daffy Duck is called Lucas. No idea why.

Here's how one friend explained the rules of the game to another: "Have you seen the movie Inglourious Basterds?...."

Adventures in Rhythm: Paco Solo


El Camarón de Isla accompanies Paco de Lucía with his knuckles.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Vampire Thing Never Dies: They Put it in a Book

Apparently I write "travel writing." My piece on vampires and tourists for last October's Believer is featured in this year's Best American Travel Writing. It's guest-edited by Bill Buford. I was excited because I thought I knew who that was, but then it turned out I was thinking of Bill Bryson. It's cool though—Bryson did in fact guest-edit Best American Travel Writing at one point.

Somehow I ended up in the company of heavy hitters. The volume has a piece by Ian Frazier, a New Yorker contributor who wrote a book called On the Rez that I read years ago when I volunteered on a Lakota Indian reservation in South Dakota. There's David Sedaris, that guy who writes whiny stuff, also often for the New Yorker. Then there's Christopher Hitchens, who writes bestsellers about Henry Kissinger and God. Also there's a guy who hosts an old-timey radio variety show.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Antiquariana: Old Tibet

I happened to find a first edition copy of Seven Years in Tibet in a bookstore and bought it for some reason. Put off by visions of Brad Pitt's bleached hair, I avoided Heinrich Harrar's 1953 memoir for months. I'm glad I finally opened it. Among its most memorable passages are those about  witnessing religious events or dealing with yaks:

"And after long and enjoyable chaffering we bought a yak. This was the fourth in our line of Armins and he was no different from the others except that perhaps he was naughtier."

"While at Sangsang we had made friends with some Sherpas....They gave us valuable advice regarding our preparations and helped us to find a new yak, which was a real service to us, as we had hitherto invariably been swindled when we bought one of these creatures. We noted with satisfaction that our new yak was a well-behaved beast....In his youth his horns had been removed and the operation seemed to have improved his temper without diminishing his strength. He wore the usual nose-ring. With a very little encouragement one could get him to exceed his average speed of two miles an hour."

"The medium became calmer. Servants held him fast and a Cabinet Minister stepped before him and threw a scarf over his head. Then he began to ask questions carefully prepared by the Cabinet about the appointment of a governor, the discovery of a new Incarnation, matters involving war and peace....I tried to pick out intelligible words but made nothing of the sounds. While the Minister stood humbly there trying to understand the answers, an old monk took them down with flying pen. He had done this hundreds of times in his life as he was also secretary to the late Oracle. I could not prevent myself from suspecting that perhaps the real Oracle was the secretary. The answers he wrote down...relieved the Cabinet of a heavy load of responsibility."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stranger with You: Coyotes in the Burg

During the first week of September I had to go back to New York unexpectedly. I took the L train out to Brooklyn to have dinner with a friend. The first thing I saw when I stepped out at the Graham Avenue stop was a shiny new restaurant called Mesa Coyoacan. It had a sign featuring howling coyotes. This was very strange. Coyoacan is a leafy upper middle class neighborhood in the southern part of the Distrito Federal that used to be a separate city. Diego Rivera and Freida Kahlo lived there. It would be like if you went to Mexico City from New York and the first thing you saw was a restaurant called The Park Slope Table.

Does this mean Mexico City is trendy now?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Elsewhere in Mexico: Tepoztlán

(Click for larger images.)

At a restaurant.
Seed mural, cathedral.
At the market.
Near the market.
It's a fiesta of flavor.
Old men, street.
The guidebook said Tepoztlán is kind of a hippie town.
Fake cacti.
Herb cross on a door.
Pink virgin.
Rock virgin.
Climbing to the temple.

Still climbing to the temple.

Coati with coati.
Coati closer.
Coati in trash container.

View from the temple.

Everyone's a Critic: Captain Beefheart on Politics

From a 1980 performance of "Dirty Blue Gene" on French TV.

Beefheart: (singing) "She's. Not. Bad. She's. Not."

(Song ends. Applause.)

Beefheart: (speaking) "Reagan's bad!"

(Applause, shouts of approval from audience.)

Beefheart: "He saddle-soaps his hair!"

(Confused silence.)

On the Street: Chinese Cranes

"Half-constructed high-rise apartments, ensconced in scaffolding and green mesh, stood beside towering cranes. The pace of development in Putian, a secondary provincial city with a population of about three million, was dizzying. A cluster of unfinished apartment buildings visible from my hotel window seemed to be a floor higher every morning."
-Nicholas Schmidle, "Inside the Knockoff-Tennis-Shoe Factory," The New York Times, August 19, 2010

"From our slight elevation in the north of the city we looked out over crisp blue air and high clouds, the sprawl of endless neighborhoods, and, hovering over them, a forest of cranes—Beijing transforming itself."
-Robert Haas, "Two Poets", The Believer, June 2010

Adventures in Rhythm: Julian Bream Accompanies Himself

You missed that cue!

Stranger with You: That New Deck Smell

Once when I was working at Vice, Pat O'Dell explained to us why he called his skateboarding show Epicly Later'd, but now I forget what he said. I think it was just two words he and his friends used all the time: "epic" for "cool" and "later" for "not cool."

That theory seems to be supported by the fact that Hollister, purveyors of fake South California surfing lifestyle equipment, have called their new dude-perfume "The Epic Hollister Cologne." I was like totally blown away when I saw an ad for this in Mexico City the other day.

For a piercing cultural criticism of Hollister's epic/later new Manhattan flagship store, the phenomenon of immersive retail, and more reasons why I will probably never go to California, see young Molly Young's piece in the current Believer. Here's the best line:

"In an era of T9 input, text messages begun with I would automatically fill in mstoned."