End of February (2008) Status Report

Today is the 29th of February. Which means it is a Leap Year. Which means — oh, never mind what it means, self! What matters is that today you are happy because:

    Apparently, you are no longer sick.
    You were able to end February by finally watching a movie in a theatre, as opposed to on the couch at home: “Definitely, Maybe.” (And the movie was even good! And Ryan Reynolds was cute!)
    You watched Tilda Swinton win an Oscar (for “Michael Clayton”).
    You were able to close out the month by consuming a Beard Papa chocolate eclair (yesterday).
    This week you mailed out an application for a fellowship (which, if you are successful, will allow you to attend a writing conference in the deep south, a place you’ve always felt the utmost affinity for, since that is the birthplace of Flannery O’Connor)
    Winter quarter at xxxx community college will be over in less than a month.

Yesterday, too, self returned to library Birth of the Chess Queen, an exceedingly interesting book that she was able to breeze through in less than a day (while cooking, gardening, chasing Gracie, watching TV, reading The Economist, grading student papers, etc etc) Now, self is reading a book called The Mapmaker’s Wife, about a real woman, Isabel Grameson, who in 1769 decided to cross the Andes (She lived in Peru) and traverse the Amazon in order to re-join her husband, a Frenchman from whom she had been separated for 20 years. Not only was this woman about to embark on a journey of more than 3,000 miles, a trip that most people estimated would take her at least six months, but she had determined to do it in style: that is, she had included in her luggage “fancy dresses, skirts, shawls, gold-buckled shoes, and lace-trimmed underwear,” all of which (in addition to food and other supplies) required the services of 31 porters and almost as many mules.

Can anyone say “Werner Herzog”? Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

Wednesday Evening, Redwood City

Here’s an image: the beagles are snoozing, each on their own blue pillows. Gracie killed a bird today or yesterday. Self was digging up weeds next to the daffodils when something made her look right. There, inches from her hand, was a mess of feathers, and also a little beak. And that was all that was left of what must surely have been a bird. A full-grown one, from the size of a wing that self now sees lying a little distance away. And, now that self thinks about it, Gracie did seem uncommonly excited yesterday afternoon. She kept running into the kitchen, where self was making something, and running back out agin. Self thought of following her but forgot.

For hours, self has been sitting in front of her laptop. It was late afternoon when she first sat down, and now it is full dark. The TV’s been on the Home Shopping Network all afternoon. There was a middle-aged woman selling clothes who self found very informative. For instance, self learned that the piece of flesh that folds over the top of your jeans when you sit down can be referred to as a “muffin.” Or, a “muffin belly.” And, if you bought those jeans self saw on the Home Shopping Network, you would never have to worry about muffin bellies again, because the jeans have a little expanding panel in the front, to accommodate all sizes of pouches of excess flesh. Brilliant!

Self made a lame attempt to write about coconuts for the Lasang Pinoy Food Blogging event (only two more days left to join!), but all she could think of was coconut ice cream. Last summer, for some reason, self found herself going absolutely ga-ga over coconut ice cream. All of June, July, and August, self went around sampling different brands. Determined to conduct the search in a scientific manner, self tried ice cream from Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods before finally deciding that the one from Trader Joe’s tasted most like the coconut sorbet of her childhood (Arce’s Buko Sorbet). Self thinks she’d better stay away from the coconut ice cream this summer. She would dread getting those muffin bellies.

Self read another fantastically gripping story by Princess Perry.

Just before it got really dark, self went outside to have another look at the remains of the bird. And there was a whole cloud of insects (not flies, not mosquitoes, not wasps) swarming around the plants. They were white? And small? But didn’t bite? She has no idea what they were. Gnats?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Daily Horoscope & NYTBR 17 February 2008

Dear blog readers, today self’s horoscope is:

Throughout the day, waves of anger and joy and other tumultuous emotions will make you feel like you work in an Off-Broadway theater.

Okey-dokey!

This morning, digging through a huge pile of “stuff” overflowing the top drawer of her desk, self finally dredges up copies of Dearest Mum’s Bank of America statements. Not only does she uncover these, there are also Dearest Mum’s statements from each and every bank where she has an account. Dearest Mum sent these to self in a humongous pile last fall, so that when self marches smartly into Bank of America office in Burlingame (where Dearest Mum opened her account, because her best friend lives in Hillsborough, so she figured this particular branch is used to dealing with “classy” people like ourselves), self would have the wherewithal to show that: a) she is no fresh-off-the-boat immigrant; b) Dearest Mum has means, these two being the pieces of information Dearest Mum thinks are most vital to bringing her fraud case to a prompt resolution.

Ahhh, ahhh, of course, none of these have worked with implacable Bank of America officials. And just before self caves in and does what all of her uncles have been urging her to do since before Christmas (“Sue! This is America!”), she has decided to make one last-ditch effort to reach a Bank of America official. And this morning, before self can even say “Abracadabra,” there emerges a Filipina woman in B of A Customer Service.

And, once again, self finds herself spilling the whole sorry tale: the six charges from Landmark in one day; the further charges from Rustan’s Supermarket (apologies if all of this is beginning to sound extremeley burlesque-like, dear blog readers), all of these charges appearing while Dearest Mum was staying in Daly City with self’s aunt. And, by the way, let’s not even mention that if these charges from above-mentioned supermarket(s) were indeed legit, it would be akin to Dearest Mum having bought out entire contents of both supermarkets. Which, as we all know, is impossible. For Dearest Mum eats like a bird and has an absolute horror of gaining even one lb. over her “ideal weight” of 98 lbs.

Okey-dokey! Ms. Filipina Customer Service informs self that Dearest Mum’s fraud complaint has passed “the statute of limitations,” or something like that. The sound of her voice is echo-y and self isn’t sure she heard right. In addition, there is a kind of creeping guilt that is beginning to make itself felt in self’s person (in the form of a migraine).

    If only self hadn’t been so distracted by winning the Juked Fiction Contest!
    If only self hadn’t been so distracted by son going on Mother of All Road Trips!
    If only self hadn’t been so distracted by Beloved Sister-in-Law being diagnosed with tuberculosis and leukemia!

Now, self can do nothing but wait. For dear Bank of America Filipina informs self that she doubts she can help, but will try. And in the meantime, here is The New York Times Book Review, which is just the ticket to distract self from her mundance concerns about Dearest Mum’s money. Below, the list of books self is interested in reading after perusing the 17 February 2008 NYTBR:

(1) After reading Elinor Lipman’s review of Alex Witchel’s new novel, The Spare Wife:

    Edith Wharton’s autobiography of growing up among the New York hoi polloi, A Backward Glance

(2) After reading Jim Shepard’s review of Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood:

    Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

(3) After reading Francis Fukuyama’s review of Samantha Power’s Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World:

    Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World

(4) After reading Nathaniel Rich’s review of Imre Kertesz’s latest novel, Detective Story:

    Kertesz’s Detective Story

(5) After reading Rachel Donadio’s end-paper essay, “The Paranoiac and The Paris Review” :

    two novels (published in the late 50s) by Harold L. Humes: The Underground City and Men Die

Finished Krakauer’s Mormon History; Now for the Chess Queen

Spent the afternoon running errands around Redwood City. Weather: gorgeous (if only self could get rid of that pesky cough).

Self went to the library and discovered that the book she was looking for, The Bookseller of Kabul — book by a Norwegian writer who lived with a kindly bookseller for four months, then wrote a book that showed that the bookseller was actually a petty tyrant at home, which led the bookseller to cry foul — was only available in the libraries of Burlingame and Belmont, both several miles to the north. Self made a mental note to wend down there this weekend.

Self arrives home and switches on the TV (to A & E’s “American Justice”) just in time to hear the following:

“Mr. xxxxx was convicted of the murder of his wife, which was of small comfort to his sons.” Then, one of the sons is shown being interviewed. “The point is,” the boy is saying, “Nothing’s going to bring my mom back. So I’m not going to waste my time trying to figure out whether my dad killed her or not. He’s still my father and, guilty or not, I’m still going to love him.”

Which quote just about broke self’s heart.

Self finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven a few hours ago. She was surprised when she realized that it had taken her just five days to read the entire book (about 340 pages). For it seemed to her that she lived each moment with such intensity. What a strange and bloody history the Mormons had! They were persecuted, jeered at, abused, and they in turn persecuted, jeered at, and abused others.

Self learned that there is a thriving Mormon community in Corvallis, Oregon, which also happens to be the home of the nation’s oldest feminist press and the publisher of self’s first book, Calyx.

Self learned much about the Mormons she had never known before, such as the strictures against smoking, drinking, etc etc; the belief in the golden tablets revealed to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni, and other fascinating topics. No one could write a novel that was as fascinating as the truth of the visions, the plural marriages, the betrayals, the endurance, the eventual triumphs.

Now self is starting Marilyn Yalom’s Birth of the Chess Queen. (First she was on a novel kick; now she’s on a non-fiction kick). Yalom, a Stanford feminist scholar, is the wife of Irwin Yalom, whose tales of psychiatry, Love’s Executioner, self lugged all the way to Palawan in 2006, and finished reading there, in a tiny hotel in Puerto Prinsesa (across the street from famed seafood restaurant Ka Louie’s) whose airconditioned rooms cost — are you ready for this, dear blog readers? — exactly $12/night.

Self is amazed to discover from the Acknowledgements that Ms. Yalom has the same agent as Amy Tan: Sandra Dijkstra. And it is indeed very heartwarming to learn that the Yaloms’ son was instrumental in “the developmental stages of the book,” as well as during the careful editing of the final version. Self dreams of the day when she can write, in an Acknowledgement to one of her own books: “A was extremely helpful in providing material for the stories herein. In fact, all of them are taken from his life. Many thanks, son, for being alive and for providing your mother with so much material for her literary work.” Something like that.

Among Ms. Yalom’s other books are the following exceedingly interesting titles:

    A History of the Wife
    A History of the Breast
    Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women’s Memory
    Maternity, Mortality, and the Literature of Madness

And now, self is extremely desirous to begin Marilyn Yalom’s book. Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

2008: Post-Oscars “Quickie” Report

Watched Oscars, had popcorn.

Self is soooo glad that Tilda Swinton won an Oscar. And that the song from “Once” did, too. And that Jon Stewart brought back the female half of the “Once” duo because she didn’t get to give her thank-you speech (orchestra started up just as she was bending down to the mike).

And self thinks Helen Mirren looked just wonderful! Self almost didn’t recognize Jennifer Garner, thinking for a minute she looked like an older Ellen Page. Hilary Swank looked thin. Cameron Diaz was adorable. Katherine Heigl said she was nervous, self had no idea why: in her red dress (Red seemed to be color of the evening) she looked like a modern-day reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. Renee Zellwegger was tight-lipped and simpering.

And “Ratatouille” won! Hoo-ray for Mayor of San Carlos!

Brain Cloud, Saturday, 23 February 08: Waiting for the Rain, Coughing Up a Storm, Condé Nast Traveler on American Food

Ah, the rain, the rain, the rain. Weather reports say to expect it at any moment (in fact, it was supposed to have arrived already, while we slept). All day yesterday, TV weathermen directed viewers’ attention to an ominous green glob, moving inexorably toward the coast of California. Self, an extremely light sleeper, expected to be awakened in the middle of the night with the first drops.

But, no! Sometimes the heavens are merciful! Self was awakened, not by rain, but by sound of Gracie whimpering piteously to be fed, at 7 a.m. Which meant that self probably had approximately five hours sleep (in spite of staying up late listening to hubby converse with his mother on his new toy, webcam) — HALLELUJAH!

Self still coughing up a storm, however, which is extremely detrimental to her equanimity, not to mention her vanity (nose is as red as Rudolph’s) Still, self is determined to head to Costco at some point, to pick up a box of Duraflame logs (for if there’s no power tonight, at least she will have a fire)

In the meantime, self multi-tasking by watching “Dog Whisperer” and reading an extremely interesting article by Alan Richman in November 2007 Condé Nast Traveler, an article entitled “The Great American Food Odyssey.” Here is how it begins:

Before we were able to pay attention to food, Americans had to perfect democracy, settle the West, free the slaves, crush the Nazis, and fight the commies. Meanwhile, we ate whatever was at hand. We stewed squirrels. We turned turtles into soup. Food was secondary. Oh, we had raw materials aplenty: fields of waving grain, herds of juicy protein, oceans of non-farmed fish. We just didn’t know what to do with it all.

Our first uniquely American restaurants appeared in the fifties and sixties. We called them Polynesian, even though none of us knew where Polynesia was or what Polynesians ate. We concocted Sesame Chicken Aku-Aku and Shrimp Bongo-Bongo. It was our first date food. In the seventies, food started to change, courtesy of a place called California — home to Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, fresh vegetables and wood-grilled meats.

Once we discovered how much fun it was to eat, there was no stopping us. We freed chickens from their pens — and ate them! We let pasta get cold — on purpose! We shunned preservatives that prevented spoilage — and called it health food!

Soon we had a culinary tradition all our own. We named it New American cuisine (although to be honest, there never was an Old American cuisine).

Mr. Richman then proceeds to list all the dishes that make up this new, elevated American cuisine, such dishes as Chez Panisse’s famous Baked Sonoma Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces (When was the last time self dropped by Chez Panisse? Probably over a decade ago); Barbecue Pork Sandwich from North Carolina (Self would love to try); Beef Cheek Ravioli (admittedly, sounds rather eeeeuuw) courtesy of Mario Batali’s Babbo; Blackened Redfish courtesy of K-Paul Prudhomme; Breast of Pork courtesy of Daniel Boulud; and Baltimore crab cakes.

And here is a list of desserts that Richman classifies as typically American:

Apple Brown Betty — “a triumph of colonial American cooking”
Devil’s Food Cake — “Chocolate. Need we say more?”
Hot Fudge Sundae — “Perfection in a tulip-shaped glass”
Pecan Pie — Hubby’s favorite, but self never could get into the “Karo syrup, nuts, and way too much whipped cream” thing
Strawberry Shortcake — “The beauty queen of desserts”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Oscar Trivia

Self has just learned, from watching ABC 7 News, that Mayor of San Carlos (self’s next favorite city, after dear old RWC), is heading to the Oscar Awards.

Yes, the place where self spends so much time hanging out in restaurants (Santorini, Chocolate Mousse, Laurel Street Café) and stores (Claire de Lune, The Chef Shop) and borrowing movies (Blockbuster) has the great distinction of having a mayor, Hon. Brad Lewis, who is listed as the producer of “Ratatouille,” one of self’s favorite movies of 2007.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Go, “Ratatouille!” Go, Brad Lewis! Go, San Carlos!

In other news:

    Self has learned that, even though she successfully held down her coughs with Chloraseptic lozenges and gulps of mineral water during Shorenstein Journalism Panel Discussion, there is no disguising the fact that she is sick. The moment panel ended, the woman sitting next to self turned to her and said, not without sympathy: “You have a bad cold!”
    Self’s determination to garden, even in the cold and wet, is such that she pounded five fertilizer spikes around orange tree just now (coughing voluminously into moist air)

Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

Friday Afternoon, Home at Last!

Self has had quite an eventful day, dear blog readers.

First, the breakfast meeting she was supposed to have last Wednesday with Alka the film-maker got postponed to this morning, so at 8:45 AM, self hurried out of the house, giving hubby a brief wave (He was in his car, warming up his engine, but was too busy looking at his odometer or something to notice self hurtling by in her pink tweed coat), and met Alka at Chocolate Mousse. Read the rest of this entry »

Things Self Has Learned Today, While Supine on Couch with (Possibly) the Flu

Why, God, why. Self was really really sick just a few weeks ago, while hubby was in Manila. Still, out of extreme love for sole fruit of her loins, she made herself drive three hours south to San Luis Obispo because son expressed desire to see her. When she arrived, of course, she immediately emptied her wallet, and even watched “Cloverfield” in Five Cities cinema that was full of young people veritably bursting with hormones and good health. Then, she crawled on home.

Just as she was starting to feel better, hubby arrived.

Then, last weekend. There was, first, a concert at Davies. Then, a dinner with hubby’s cousin and aunt in Pleasant Hill (55 miles east). Then, joyous day spent knocking around RWC with niece G. Then, to SF State to meet a class (who asked self some extremely sharp questions!) Then, today, self was supposed to meet Alka, film-maker friend just back from Berlin. We agreed to meet for breakfast in Chocolate Mousse Bakery in San Carlos. But, alas, self’s head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and it was raining, pouring, and self had no cold medicines in the house and the only thing that made her feel better was imbibing Coke, so by the end of the day (after canceling breakfast with Alka), she lay down on the couch and downed can after can of Coke, which is probably the reason why self feels so distended at the moment. Self also discovered that hubby has a stash of Cheetos, hidden underneath the bed. These she consumed with great alacrity.

Then self sat back and watched TV: a History channel program on the assassination of President Lincoln. And she discovered many many fascinating things, such as:

    The man who shot John Wilkes Booth was a “religious zealot” who had castrated himself as punishment for entertaining impure thoughts about a prostitute (eeeuuuuw!)
    Man was such a crack shot that bullet entered between the third and fourth vertebra and severed Booth’s spinal cord and he lay on the ground in excruciating pain for three hours until he asked his arms to be raised and muttered, “Useless, useless,” whereupon he expired.
    Several of the remaining conspirators, including a woman, were hanged. One of the conspirators was guilty of nothing more than finding someone to hold John Wilkes Booth’s horse while he was inside the theatre.

It was extremely edifying to learn all this information, dear blog reader. Now, self is watching “Scrubs.” Self and niece were discussing Mandy Moore a few days ago, and self opined that Zach Braff had nerve to dump one of the prettiest girls in Hollywood. And niece said that Ms. Moore was a terrible actress and that Mr. Braff was so much more famous than she. Which was news to self, you see. Self had never actually watched “Scrubs” before, but now she is watching and it is actually quite funny: the opening scene of this particular episode showed Mr. Braff wandering down a hospital corridor in extreme state of dopiness from not having slept (Self can sympathize).

It was pouring rain last night: there were even rolls of thunder, which the dogs were so unaccustomed to that they both got up and listened with their ears cocked.

Why, God, why?

Self passed by Safeway on her way home from class yesterday, and searched for Coricidin, but the only kinds they had were Coricidin for people with high blood pressure. Did dear blog reader know that there are three different kinds of Coricidin for people with high blood pressure? And that there is no Coricidin for normal people? And since self is so leery now of self-medicating, not wishing to end up like Heath, she went home without buying anything. Now, she is self-medicating with many many cans of Coke. She must have gained five pounds already, since this morning.

Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: On Philippine Literature of the Fantastic

from the Introduction to Philippine Speculative Fiction III, edited by Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar:

The Philippines is no stranger to the fantastic. Modern fantasy has its roots in folklore, epics, myths and legends of the different cultural groups of the archipelago. Stories of the underworld and the creatures of the night form one of the bases of modern Philippine horror (the ghost story continues to exhibit its longevity). Even stories of of distant tomorrows and super science can be found in the pages of comic books (or komiks), where aliens and power stones intersect with mundane life. If one is to look at the combined corpus of stories (oral and written), songs, films, comics, and art, one could easily come to the conclusion that speculative fiction is older than we think (and that the Filipino appetite for wonder is insatiable).

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