Monday, January 28, 2008

Cinematic pregnancy

My weekend plan was to watch movies. Before the weekend began, however, I made my way to the underbelly of Makati that is Makati Cinema Square to find myself stuff to watch. Oscar nominations out last week must have spurred the availability of art films in the market, and probably one good thing about the blackmarket movie scene is available copies of hard to find films. I picked up the sort-of documentary about Bob Dylan, the two Casey Affleck films that came out late last year (Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone), The Counterfeiters (the new film nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, about a Nazi counterfeiting scheme involving the Jewish inmates in a concentration camp), Ma Vie en Rose (the biopic of Edith Piaf), Atonement, and three movies about pregnancy.

The first two are of American make. I had planned to catch Juno while in the US, but I changed my mind the last night I was in LA. The film is receiving great buzz, comparisons to last year's sleeper Little Miss Sunshine, and has now received Oscar nominations. I remember reading that the marketing of the film was quite home-grown, Juno's bedroom set was taken on a tour of America in a special transport bus. Wherever the movie opened, the set was taken to give people a chance to see the actual design. Her hamburger phone became more than a curio. And striped socks sold out.

Since Juno is about teenage pregnancy, but a comedic take on it, you realize she's not going to be one of the 1.2 million cases of abortion reported recently by the US Health Dept. I don't think all abortion clinics look as depressed as the one shown in the movie, I sure hope they aren't. But the movie isn't about public health issues, it's barely about the downside of teenage pregnancy. It's more about this quirky child with an ability to find love. It's a fairy tale dressed in urban teen clothes.

Waitress, with Felicity star Keri Russell, is the adult version, with the same fairy tale like glow to it, except in this case, the heroine hates her life, hates her husband, doesn't want to have the baby, and ends up having an affair with her doctor. At first what made me want to see the movie was the fact it was all about pies. Keri plays a woman who is meant to become a champion pie maker, win the big prize for her pies, escapes from her miserable life by imagining the kinds of pies she will make and comes up with great titles for them. But she is thwarted by her life, and can't seem to say the right thing because she's a coward. It takes the birth of her baby, and the help of a friend, which gives her the courage and the financial wherewithal to make the fresh start. Perhaps the mature tone of the film allows for more discussion about wanting babies (or not), the pains, the aches, the medical concerns (although that's secondary to her infatuation with her doctor), and, in two sequences, why you may not want to have a child. As the anonymous suffering mom tells Keri "they never tell you about the pain after you give birth" while her child continues to bedevil her. Reminded me of an award winning commercial where a man is made painfully aware by his kids why he should have used a condom. Ah, hindsight.

The third film I found is the Romanian film 4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days. This also came out in 2007, and won several accolades for the portrayal of two women's lives in one day while struggling through the last hiccups of the Ceausescu regime. The music (or in some cases lack of it), the grit and grime in most of the scenes, the pallor of the actors' faces, and the underlying knowledge that it probably won't turn out for the best kept me focused on the film. This was not an easy movie to watch, not because of brutality or violence. There was a lot of anxiety throughout the film, and it resonates with you. You wonder if it's the difference in languages that makes you twitch a lot while watching the film, or if you should look away.

Three movies, three women, three babies.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Puddin' night

I had healthy plans for tonight's dinner, but I was sideswiped by carbs. And cheese. And I let it take me by the hand, what a lack of self-control, I admit.

So. Instead of the vegetable and grilled sausages that I had mentally planned to have at 6:00 pm, I found myself dawdling in front of my kitchen sink at 7 and wondering what would happen if I just made some rice and added cheese to it. I have a lot of cheese in my fridge, very good cheese at that. Pecorino from Sardinia, my favorite humboldt fog goat cheese, aged cheddar, and some parmegiano-reggiano from last december. So I grated some of it while the rice bubbled away in my rice cooker. When my rice was just beyond al dente, I plopped the grated cheddar in it for that first intense flavor rush, then when I saw the cheese melt into the white rice, I took a large spoonful of the pudding, and served it in my bowl, sprinkled the grated pecorino for a sharper flavor, then a dollop of goat cheese on top for the 3rd cheese and tang.

The final rich hit was a dribble of truffle oil.

On my tongue - creaminess, the nuttiness of the cheddar, the savoriness of the pecorino, and the ash and acid of the goat, with flower notes from the oil. This is what Saturday nights are meant for.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Curly pig, curly pig, does whatever a curly pig....

Short snippets from the last few days:

1. lots of sadness from young hollywood (and I don't mean the never-ending strike) - deaths of two actors, Brad Renfro and Heath Ledger. Many don't remember the former, who made few films, but he was a young bright star when he first appeared in The Client. The latter was a heartthrob for many teens when he appeared in 10 Things I hate about You, and continued to make critical and box office hits for the next 9 years. His last role as the Joker will be his posthumous reward.

2. interacting with my school's board of trustees more often than normal these days with changes taking place in the upper reaches of the institution. I've come to see their many facets as individuals, not all of them positive, but for the most part they remain a group that I enjoy working with and for. They are, if nothing else, energetic and generous with their time. And full of stories.

3. there's a good thread over at blogger Anton's post over what school to send his kid to, the quality of education in the city these days, and other matters pedagogical. It's a good sign that choices in the city are no longer restricted to catholic boys/girls school or the extremely expensive international schools, but a range of providers (including my own institution) that offers the parents options, and the children a chance to find their fit. It's not one-size-fits all anymore. Yes, the majority will still end up in public schools, and one's family budget will dictate the eventual choice. Price doesn't always indicate the quality of an institution, and there's no guarantee that putting one's child in the most competitive school around will mean a chance at a Nobel prize or being the next gazillionaire. Parents do make some hard choices, education being one of them. It's fraught with stress, and it's an organic process for parents who are willing to work with the school. From a school's perspective, it would help to have transparency, and less defensiveness on the part of the parent. I also attended a legal and labor workshop last week for private schools; there are laws that provide a framework for the parent-school interaction. Too many laws in this country. How many of the parents out there have read the manuals and provisions? It was an intense workshop, condensing an entire semester's worth of educational law into one day.

4. The city where I work is making us and other services pay a ridiculous fee to work in the city. For each non-resident of the city, we have to pay a fee, and then we will be forced to get a city id, and "benefits" (I think it covers some medical and burial services). I feel insulted. When did cities start making non-residents feel unwelcome by charging fees to work in one city or the next? Is the place so in need of income that they have to start charging the employees of the company/organization, and not the company? Of course the companies end up paying for the employee, but shouldn't other cities then start fining this town's residents when they work elsewhere? Tit for tat. Or just scrap the idea and tax something else if they are so desperate.

5. A friend who was based in Africa is heading back home. After two years away, he'll be finishing up his contract working as the hospital administrator and regional manager for healthcare providers and settling back here. We never did get to see Ethiopia through his eyes...

6. Workmates are considering a trip to Batanes in May. As I have promised to attend a good friend's party in Zamboanga in May as well, there's the possibility I could do a proper Northernmost to Southernmost trip, all in one week. Zoom zoom

7. Movie marathon all weekend long, or channel surf and catch all episodes of the XFiles now showing on AXN Beyond and CS. I do have the complete XFiles DVD set, but there's something about catching a stray episode on tv that just keeps me watching the show.

8. Full, creamy moon last night ringed with reflective sunlight. Framed by the skyscrapers over the field.

9. My cousin has given birth to our family's first in-vitro twins, two boys. Hope the mama and her partner are prepared; must send diapers. Over the holidays, caught up with the 3rd generation of kids, or the kids of my cousins. We have a surplus of girls, and most of them in the 2 to 4 year old range. They all look alike, but behave so differently. There's the bossy one, who is the youngest at only 9 months. Holy terror. Then the mild, independent types; the nervous, stressed ones, and a couple of ditzes. The two boy cousins are overwhelmed.

10. Lori wrote about milkshakes at Cuilliere (Serendra) on Dessertcomesfirst; I had tried their chocolate milkshakes when the restaurant first opened last year and was not as taken with it as others had touted. But it did make me ponder on the idea of milkshakes. I noticed that McDonald's is bringing back their milkshakes (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry), and when I had one recently, was sadly disappointed. No chocolate depth, just milky. What would make a great chocolate shake? For thickness, at least 3 scoops of good ice cream (HD or maybe the triple chocolate ice cream from local producer Sebastians), milk - maybe carabao milk for that extra layer of fat, and a tall glass and straw. Don't you think that as you reach the end of a milkshake, the sound of the last drops sucked from the straw remind you of a deathrattle? But to make a good milkshake really out of this world to die for, I'd add a good couple of tablespoons of Nutella or peanut butter or grand marnier or kahlua/baileys. Not necessarily all at the same time, otherwise too many flavors will kill the shake. Going back to McDonald's my friend S and I would save up our highly valuable bottles of Baileys (gifts from friends bringing us succour) and bring a bottle of it to the first McDonald's that opened near our boondocky campus. I'd buy us two chocolate shakes, and we'd head up to the 2nd floor, pour a liberal dose of Bailey's into the shakes. Sip, sip, add more bailey's. Avoid showing the alcohol to the kiddies munching on fries nearby. Keep sipping, keep adding. Walk back carefully.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

For the kitchen

I'm finally unpacked, although pictures remain to be downloaded and saved and shared. Other than chocolates, books, more books, and new purple flats with tire treads, I also pulled out a mini-prep Cuisinart (a gift from R), and my buys from Sur le Table. This may sound insane, but they were on sale for 20% and I always need good kitchen towels, so I plonked down $10 for 5 large and 3 extra large flour sack kitchen towels. While the weather here in Manila remains cool at night, I will be doing a lot of no-knead bread baking, and good kitchen towels are needed for the process. I'll save up to get myself a good dutch oven soon, but in the meantime there's my ad hoc ceramic crockpot and lid that does the job.

Santa Barbara and the inn

The last weekend before I returned home, R took me up to Santa Barbara. He made it seem like it was impromptu and told me to look up a place to stay, but eventually turned in at a quaint inn along Lillie Avenue in Summerland, called The Inn at Summer Hill. Our room was a quintessential bed and breakfast room, high mattresses (3 step footstool needed), fireplace, and pillows pillows pillows. Since the color scheme was in blue, it avoided being overly girly, but this was definitely not a guys room. I loved it!

We spent two days in town, roaming around Santa Barbara's main attractions - viewing the city from the tower of the Courthouse, taking pictures of the beautiful murals in the courthouse's meeting room, walking around the Santa Barbara mission (one of at least 10 missions up and down the California coastline and a must for any catholic pilgrims out there), eating danish food along State St, then burgers at a diner near the inn, and catching a film late at night. Poked into a dive store with a heated pool inside for those chilly winter lessons, ambled down the promenade by the bay. Somehow it reminded me of the same walk we took down a seaside pier last year in Dumaguete (albeit a bit cooler).

If there's a lesson to be learned in urban planning, consider Santa Barbara's efforts to maintain a unified image - spanish colonial/mediterranean architecture. Very few buildings detract from that style and it helps the city from looking like a mess.

Thanks to R for capping my trip with a lovely memory.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

13 pounds of books

At the check-in my large suitcase was 10 pounds over the limit, and wouldn't pass inspection if I didn't reduce it pronto. R and I unzipped it, and I started transferring the books to my carry on tote. With only 8 books removed, we reweighed the case and found it to be exactly 10 lbs lighter!

I did buy a lot of hardbound copies, so the wisdom of all this? Go for paperbacks!

My book list from the holidays:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. I saw the book listed on the Booker Prize shortlist and after reading a preview knew I had to have it. Jessica Zafra also posted a snippet from the book on her blog, a section that mentions a Filipino cab driver.

Three bags full by Leonie Swann. A sheep detective story. How cute! A flock of sheep work together to find out who killed their shepherd.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Several of the teachers at school have mentioned how much they love this book and I started reading it while waiting through the rains. Had to bring back a copy.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. A young girl matures in Iran during the revolutionary age, this is a graphic novel or series of comic strips. It was turned into a award winning film, and is under consideration for best foreign film at the Oscars.

The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones. I read a lot of food blogs, and some of my favorites have lauded Ms. Jones' memoirs and her influence on food writing. She helped Julia Child through the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But I just want to read her own words.

The United States of Arugula by David Kamp. Another recommendation by the blogosphere, I'm looking forward to another sociological treatise on food revolution (I didn't get a copy of the new Michael Pollan book, but will reserve a copy at Fully Booked soon).

Complications by Atul Gawande. A surgeon's notes on an imperfect science. Started reading it and am enjoying the perspective of what a resident's life is really like. May make you never want to let an intern examine you for tests again.

Alice, Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin. One of my life wishes is to attend one of his food trips in New York, so this is the next best thing.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. 4 people attempt to throw themselves off a building in London, and find companionship in their misery. I only have ten pages left and for all other Hornby fans, it's a must read.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Admittedly, I vacuumed this book up, and am now armed with new ideas on how eat solo. This is going to be stationed near my microwave.

And not to be forgotten, I brought The Nudist on the Late Shift by Po Bronson with me on the trip and ultimately got side-tracked, oops. An "expose" of the people working in Silicon Valley during the 90's internet boom. One of his best sellers before he found his voice in What shall I do with my life?

Movies in California

Visiting Southern California during the writer's strike, I felt a bit disengaged from watching anything on the telly. I did catch the last episodes of a few programs, only to feel a bit "lost", will there be a season catch up? I missed out on catching Lost's new season, will they ever leave the island? will they return to the island? Why is Matthew Fox wearing a bush on his face? Poor Dominic Monaghan, down in the depths...

And with the non-stop travel hither and thither, add to that three storms lashing the northern california coast, I didn't catch as many movies as I promised I would. What did I see? Let me recount the reels:

- Finally saw The Kingdom and Mr. Brooks, rentals that my family up north chose, not to mention a movie about another possible explanation for Arthur, unfortunately the title eludes me; it had Colin Firth though so that's all good. I did enjoy watching the Kingdom, even with the ambiguity worked into the plot. There isn't a resolution, no bad men are really caught. Granted the FBI guys were cast as heroes, but you wonder, would they have made any difference in a real life situation?
As for Mr. Brooks, a sympathetic look into the life of a serial killer? Because you do wonder about those folks who seem to have it all, but maybe in the dark, they turn into werewolves. And their spawn are just as venal.

- There will be blood. I've written before of my groupie status for DDL, so I won't go into it here. He was fantastic, and was rarely out of frame; kudos to the performances of Paul Dano as the creepy preacher Ely, and the quiet intensity of the child actor who plays JW. The overall story was missing something, as R and I dissected it after the show, we were just getting into one subplot when it would dissipate and we'd have to follow another. Was the disjunction a plot trick? Or are we too used to focusing on one major path, forgetting that a man's life is a collective of actions that lead towards a culminating disaster? If you catch the film look out for the blazing derrick scene, and the bowling alley scenes. He is done.

- Into the Wild, Balls of Fury, Jane Austen Book Club, and the Nanny Diaries. Grateful for a bump up to business class, I settled into watching movies; it was a series of choices that made me look closely at my consumption, fall asleep, and twitch with annoyance over certain feminine traits. I loved Into the Wild, and Emile Hirsch has gravitated from playing the boy who dates a porn star to an emaciated philosopher living off the land. It is a tragic film, but I took away two lines from it: "Forgiveness is love" (and in light of a recent situation in my own life, I feel like I've been shown a great deal of love) and "Happiness is only real when it's shared" - how true, and how sad that he had to realize it too late. I hope the spirit of Alexander Supertramp finds peace knowing he might help a person or two to gain truth through less things. It made me want to get rid of a lot of material goods in my own life (one of my 2008 plans in any case).
The rest of the movies were barely negligible; best not to spend even the price of a fake dibidi for them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On board with no lights

After 30 years of travelling, I have finally experienced flying a plane worried that I'd never make my destination. I wasn't flying some central european airline out of the last dying days of the Soviet Union, no, this was Northwest Airlines. For years, working for US government projects, I've had to take NW when flying to the US for work, and have earned a boatload of miles on my WorldPerks account. Which means I am loathe not to use the airline so I can earn more miles, hopefully to one day gain enough to fly free around the world. But while I pad my account, I have to suffer. And this last US trip found me truly concerned about the state of the plane.

On the day I left Manila, we had to return to the gate as the plane had electrical problems. We waited inside the plane for two hours and many a passenger worried we wouldn't make our connections in Tokyo to our US destinations. I also had a first hand experience, when going to use the bathroom while waiting for the takeoff, there were no lights in the bathroom. Pitch dark, try peeing in that condition; the stewardesses said we couldn't use the flashlights since they were only for emergency conditions - how severe could it get if more than a few passengers made a mess in the unlit bathrooms?

We did get off the ground that day, and made it safely to Narita.

On my flight back yesterday, there was another delay in Tokyo, not to mention lines of people waiting to board. Then, we had another delay after everyone was on board, waiting, drumming our fingers, packed like sardines. We had swung onto the tarmac already, when the captain announced that we had to return to the gate due to more electrical problems. Eeegads! We could see that we weren't going to get in till after midnight, so we did our best to get comfortable.

Arrival in Manila, at least very little turbulence. Then as we were unloading, total darkness. This was not a simple dimming of the lights, this was one minute I could see people, the next nothing. This happened twice, and the second time, the stewardesses finally came out with flashlights to help us find our way down the rows. Could they have been less responsive?

As I headed into the crowded customs area (with at least 3 other flights arriving the same time we did, so take a bad day at Naia and triple, no quadruple it, sigh), I could only think of why NW is still using a plane that is severely in need of repair for a very packed route. There are 400 passengers going each way from Manila to Tokyo, do we not deserve a decent flight with little concern over whether the plane will plunge into total darkness?

The topper this morning came when a fracas among strained tempers broke out into a fight in front of customs. Someone insulted another and it was truly a sad sight to see these people brawling. Welcome home.

Friday, January 04, 2008


where was i on new year 2007? manila
where was i on chinese new year 2007? manila
where was i on my birthday 2007? dealing with a fire at school, manila
what trips did i not go on in 2007? macau, mongolia
what trips did i take in 2007? locally - pampanga (several times), dumaguete, abra/vigan, zamboanga. international - china and the us
what pets did I housesit for two months? cats for my friend tonya (the cats are now in kyiv, ukraine)
what were the highs of 2007? paying off credit card debt, saving enough to invest in 3 ipos, meeting new people, long distance relationships, day trips with friends around luzon (eating trips!), cactus, balloon festival, reconnecting with people throughout the year
what were the lows of 2007? losing friends, health problems, parental health problems, long distance relationships
what book/books did I enjoy this year? On Chesil Beach, Travels with Charley, Fluke, Inheritance of Loss, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
what book/s did I lose interest in this year? Sacred Games, Good German
what movie did I love? Pan's Labyrinth
what was my favorite movie song in 2007? Spider Pig
What do i hope for in 2008? mindfulness, less self-induced anxiety due to what i think other people want, good cheese, more baking, more giving away of things, more time with people who care.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New year, new music

Walking through Borders on the last day of the year, yes, my book lust continues apace. I picked up more than my share of books in the last 10 days of being in the US. I have a copy of the Reluctant Fundamentalist, Tenth Muse, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, United States of Arugula, Persepolis (the complete set of comics that has been turned into an award winning cartoon movie from France), and another 5 books swimming in the suitcase.

I had a couple of hours of nothing, so used it by immersing myself in books, and saw new cd's and suggestions for downloads that sparked my interest. The latest from Nick Hornby, an old but good one from Calvin Trillin, and The Book Thief (young adult or no, it's still good reading).

Among the cd's, I finally bought Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan, a tribute album to Ella Fitzgerald, Sufjan Stevens' Christmas album, and a Sondheim assortment. For downloads, I downloaded three songs by Yael Naim, a french folk chanteusse.

Ok, I bought three more books. Happy New Year!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies