Friday, March 31, 2006

Two thumbs down

Did this ever happen to you: you see a movie that you know other people liked, that got good reviews, was maybe nominated for some awards...and you feel kind of strange when you hate it? That happened last night when I watched A History of Violence. Normally, I am a big believer in suspension of disbelief, especially when a movie has an interesting or thought-provoking message. And I suppose this one was meant to raise questions about human nature, if we can change who we are, if certain qualities are hereditary, yadda yadda yadda. But just because it has a message doesn't mean a film can get away with a plot filled with both holes and cliches. About five minutes into this one I started hating it. The beginning scenes, which establish the loving family relationship and the friendly small town where the loving family lives, were ridiculously cheesy. And then, after that, well, it was just bad. All rules of passage of time and rational human behavior are suspended, leaving me shouting out questions like: "how long does it take to bandage a foot!?", "Where are all the reporters this time?", "How fast is he running, anyway, with that injured foot!?", "Doesn't anybody care about the three dead bodies in the driveway?!" and the old standby, "Why doesn't she call the police?!" And it was violent and bloody. Yuck. Mercifully, it was only 1 hour 40 minutes long. Anyway, those "two thumbs down" in the subject were mine. Both of them, definitively down.

Feel free to argue with me on this one. Just don't get ridiculous, like on this IMDB discussion board.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What is...

Tonight I took the Jeopardy Contestant Test online...probably along with tens of thousands of other people in the Eastern Time Zone. It was pretty quick; I took only about 8 minutes to answer the 50 questions. In retrospect, I can remember only the questions I got wrong (they don't give you the answers after you're done), and I'm guessing I scored somewhere around 60 or 65% right or so, which I suppose is probably not going to qualify me to be on the show. It was fun, though.

I had a great time this weekend in Boston celebrating my 30th birthday with friends. I'm not really bothered about being 30. I feel like I'm in a really good place, I'm happy, I don't feel stressed about all the unknowns in my life, and I am pleased with what I've accomplished so far. All the same, typing in that 3-0 in the "age" box on the Jeopardy registration seemed so completely strange. But I'll get used to it. I look forward to the new decade of my life and all the surprises it has in store.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another coincidence

The other day I was talking with Alison about the new HBO show Big Love, about a polygamist family living in Utah, and today I decided to catch up on this show on On Demand Cable. I was just starting the second episode, when there was a knock on the door. Imagine my sheer bewilderment when I opened the door and found two Mormon missionaries standing there! I braced myself for their pitch, but they were only looking for a wire coat hanger, because they had locked their keys in their car. These guys are actually in our neighborhood a lot; they recently converted our next-door neighbors. Maybe I should start watching out for high walls and adjoining backyards...

Friday, March 17, 2006

It must be karma...

This morning I got up as usual and stumbled towards the shower. I waited a little while for the water to get hot, but it remained cold. I checked the sinks, and again, no hot water. I thought the water heater´s pilot light must have gone out so I carefully read the instructions and despite my fear of a major explosion, attempted to light it, with no luck. When Marco got up, he tried it too and it still didn´t work. Eventually we came to the conclusion that, yup, you guessed it, we had run out of gas. Of course, the gas guys were busily wandering around below the apartment yelling "OOOOOOOO" so getting a new canister was simple. All we had to do was yell down from the balcony that we needed a large canister in apartment 7; the guy carried it up, installed it, lit the pilot light and took the old canister away. And presto, hot water. So, despite being a nuisance, it turned out to be helpful to have the gas truck come by. I guess that´s what I get for complaining.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Services in Mexico

Here are a few observations I´ve made over the past couple of weeks:

  • Every morning, including Saturdays, a truck drives around the streets selling canisters of gas, which people hook up to their stoves for cooking, heating water, etc. About five guys man the truck, which parks on the street, (on our street it parks just under our apartment) while they wander around for 15 minutes or so shouting "Gaaaaaaaas!" "Gaaaaaaaas!" at the top of their lungs. Only, it doesn´t sound like "gas". It sounds like just a hollow, deep "OOOOOOOOOOOO" sound. And it wakes me up every morning at 7 (when, thanks to our flexible Mexican office hours, I should really be able to sleep another hour and a half at least). Sometimes they like to ring the buzzers on all the apartments, just in case you can´t hear their incessant yelling. Often Marco and I (neither of whom are morning people) come shuffling out of our rooms in the mornings and greet each other with a disgruntled: "I hate them!"

    Gas truck

  • Instead of having a specific garbage day when you leave your garbage bags on the street, there´s a garbage truck which drives around each day, proceeded by 10 minutes or so by a guy ringing a bell. When you hear the bell, you are supposed to bring your garbage down. The only problem? The truck comes by at 11 AM, when we´re at work. Luckily, Marco has a cleaning lady who comes once a week, and she brings down the garbage. (This is unlike most of his neighbors who have full-time cleaning ladies who live in tiny rooms on the top floor of the apartment building). I´m sure there must be another way for people to get rid of their garbage, but we haven´t discovered it yet.

  • There are other people who drive around offering services: there´s a guy who has rigged up his bike so the pedals turn not only the wheels but also a set of knife-sharpening stones. He drives around and parks the bike, putting it up on blocks, then sits backwards on it on a little wooden seat he´s built onto the crossbar, and people bring down their dull knives for sharpening. There´s also a guy with a little ice cream cart who drives around, but instead of a bell or a little tune he has some kind of steam whistle which is very loud.

  • Our office is one block away from the US Embassy, and every day I see several full-sized coach buses parked on the corner. One day I asked what it was all about: it turns out these buses come in every day full of Mexican citizens who have appointments to apply for a visa to visit the U.S. Each person pays $100 for their visa interview and have to come with paperwork proving their financial stability and other reasons to believe they intend to return to Mexico. Unfortunately, that $100, which means A LOT to most Mexicans, doesn´t guarantee anything, and is not returned if the visa request is denied.

  • Yesterday I experienced a different kind of service: Jorge (Marco´s friend, the film location scout) called to say that his abuelita (grandmother) had died at the age of 96. I had been out with Jorge, scouting out a theater for a scene to be filmed inside a dressing room, just the night before and he had to head home to be with his grandmother, who was very sick. Unfortunately he didn´t get home in time and she had already passed away by the time he got there. In Mexico, funerals are held immediately, and this one was held yesterday morning, only 12 hours after she died. The funeral was followed by a 24-hour wake at the funeral home; the closest family members would be there all night. We didn´t go to the wake, we just met Jorge and took him out for a walk and a change of scenery.

    Only one more work day, and then I head home on Sunday!

  • Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Mexico, Old and New

    The past weekend was a busy one! I spent two days with a group of 11 junior high kids, one teacher and four chaperones in their visits around Mexico City. First we went outside the city to the Aztec ruins at Teotihuacán--although these Seattlites had to make a stop at Starbucks first, on their way out of town. These were definitely the tallest pre-Columbian pyramids I´ve climbed (and my legs were a little tired the next day as proof) although the surroundings were basically flat and brown, pretty ugly compared to the Mayan or Incan sites I visited last year. They were also packed with groups of tourists! It is definitely starting to heat up here. I heard that yesterday it reached about 85 degrees! My shoulders and neck got a little burned from standing out in the open on top of the pyramids with no shade in sight. The next day there were an awful lot of pink (and darker) noses, arms, necks and backs of legs on these fair-skinned kids.
    View from Pyramid of the Moon Pyramid of the Moon

    We also saw the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and in fact of all of Latin America. "La Virgencita" is often seen as a symbol of Mexico and she is revered by Mexicans. Basically, the Virgin Mary is said to have revealed herself to a peasant named Juan Diego just after the Spanish conquest, and instructed him to gather roses to present to the Bishop. When he emptied his cloak of the flowers, an image of the Virgin remained. The cloak, and the image, are remarkably (some might say miraculously) preserved despite having had acid dripped on it, having a bomb explode right next to it, not to mention the normal wear and tear of being stored or hanging in churches for more than 450 years. It is on display inside the modern Basilica, where short moving walkways conduct viewers back and forth to look at it. Worshippers come from all over Mexico, especially in December when pilgrimages are traditionally made for her Saint´s Day--I saw decorated trucks starting off their journey early in December last year in Chiapas--and the most repentant crawl the last 3 km to the basilica on their knees. I saw some of these people in the last painful steps of their journey outside the church.

    Juan Diego´s cloak People movers inside the Basilica

    Sunday we visited Mexico City itself...but this post is long enough as it is. Stay tuned for more.

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    ¿Que onda, guey?

    In the past week I got to know Mexico City a little better, and I´m definitely pleasantly surprised. The city is full of different neighborhoods, each of which has its own character and style, and this makes the city feel like a collection of smaller cities instead of one vast metropolis. But also, this weekend I had a lot of opportunities to improve my Spanish.

    On Friday I went to the movies and saw The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. I didn´t feel quite ready to see a whole movie in Spanish, so this was a nice compromise, since lots of the movie is in Spanish, and of course not subtitled. It was a strange experience watching this movie in Mexico, especially at the beginning, when there are scenes of Mexican immigrants being beaten up (or shot) by an American Border Patrol officer. Overall I thought the movie was sympathetic towards almost all of its characters, and any stereotyping fell more on the northern side of the border.

    Saturday night I went out with Marco, his friend Angelica and some of her friends to a bar in a neighborhood called Coyoacán. Everyone was really friendly and funny (especially with an abundance of $1.50 beers in them) and I had a great time. I was happy that my Spanish proved to be up to the task, especially since usually in loud places and with groups of people I have trouble understanding. Angelina has appointed herself Marco´s slang instructor. I can always tell when she calls him because he answers the phone with "¿Qué onda, guey?" Which basically means, "What´s up, dude?" An argument in the car driving home (in the wee hours of the morning) was nearly incomprehensible, but from what little I picked up, I know that everybody (and their mothers) was being insulted in numerous creative and descriptive ways. My only worry is that I might unknowingly adopt some phrase not knowing that it is very rude, and then use it at an inopportune moment, like at work, or while being introduced to somebody´s sweet little grandmother.

    Yesterday we went to dinner with Marco´s friend Jorge, but first we accompanied him to a fancy-schmancy hotel where Jorge was looking for a bar with a trendy terrace. This is a part of his job: he is a location scout for films. This is currently my dream job! This hotel was so trendy and funky, and had about 8 different restaurants and bars, all with different design styles and decor. Afterwards we went to dinner at a significantly less posh place, where I saw a mystery vegetable dish on the menu. Unfortunately I don´t remember what it was, otherwise I would have googled it today. It was described by both Jorge and the waiter as "like a little tree with herbs growing out of it". Not only does that sound like no vegetable I´ve ever seen in my life, but it also sounds highly unappetizing. I ordered it anyway and was glad I did, as it was delicious! Stuffed with herbs and cheese and in a chili sauce that was the perfect amount of spice for me (which is to say, not very much at all). Maybe someday I´ll find out what it was so I can try to make it myself.

    This weekend I´m going to join some EF groups in their sightseeing tours of the city and the local Aztec ruins (again reaping the benefits of working for a travel company). If I´m not to afraid of thieves to take out my camera, I´ll get some photos. So don´t worry, guey, by Monday you´ll have some images of Mexico to look at.