Monthly Archives: March 2012

Abuela Olga

Over the weekend, I said goodbye to my Abuela Olga, who taught me how to read, among other important things. Last night it was super hot in my room for mysterious, La NiƱa reasons, and as I always do when it's hot at night, I remembered a little piece of advice she gave me when I was five or so.

I often slept over at Abuela Olga's house when I was little. I would always sleep on the left side of her bed, because her house was full of three million relatives, and there were no spare beds, not even for an 'advanced in size' kid like me. Plus, her husband had died many years before and when I wasn't actively sleeping on it, she tended to use that side of the bed for storing a large host of impermanent, transitional objects like knitting and yesterday's newspaper. Back then, the electricity went out all the time in Santo Domingo…like three or four times a day. Abuela didn't have a generator to power her air conditioner, so if the electricity went out at night, it would get really hot, and I would lie there sweating and being chubby and angry.

One night, Abuela noticed how frustrated I was, because obviously I was tossing and turning like the self-involved little jerk I was, and she told me, "Ana, if you stop thinking about being hot, you'll stop being hot."

This is usually the part in the story where the narrator would be like, "My grandma was so wise, and I learned something that day." 

I did not learn anything that day. Instead, I started rage-crying. She got me a glass of water and a wet rag to put on my forehead. She was a very practical woman, really. Eventually, the overpowering smell of menthol in the room lulled me to sleep. She was seriously asthmatic and she was always putting on Vick's Vaporub.

Anyway, many years later I actually would realize how valuable and how strangely revealing that little piece of advice was. You can get over almost anything if you put your mind to it.

Sometimes it seems to me like my grandmother (my mom, too) was so much tougher than I am. She had to be, you know? Her husband died tragically, and at a young age, as did her sister (who was actually killed by a bus on the way to see my Abuela), and she ended up raising about ten children, only three of whom were hers. Nobody in my family thinks of her as a survivor, because she wasn't as tough as my great-grandmother, and she expressed herself in a particular language which sounded a lot like constant complaining. Nevertheless, she had a surprising tendency to just muddle through difficulty when everyone expected her to fall apart. A few years ago, out of the blue, she won a pastry contest and started a successful little pastry business. She worked until a few months ago, which I think says a lot about the sort of person she was.

I'm not someone who really believes in an afterlife in the traditional sense, but I do think that people live on in the memories of those whose lives they touched, and in that way I think Abuela Olga will remain among us more than most. Although we weren't very close these last years, I'm so grateful to have had my Abuela, not just because she was such an example of backbone, but because she gave me my mom. I know everyone thinks they have the best mom in the world, but in my case it happens to be true, and I have my Abuela to thank for it.


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I Can’t Believe I Forgot to Tell You About “Beginners”

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This was my favorite movie I've seen in a while. Not least because one of the main characters is Arthur, the Subtitled Dog. It sounds so gross and twee to have a "talking" dog, but the movie is so ultimately heart-breaking (not a spoiler, I swear) that the touches of whimsy feel necessary. It's basically about a man (Oliver!) coming to terms with the way his father, a gay man, chose to live (and love) over the course of his life. Ewan McGregor, you guys!

Here is Arthur, though, the real star:

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"The darkness is about to swallow us if we don't do something drastic," he says, near the beginning of the movie.

Molly tells me this all the time, second-hand stunt queen that she is.

Some Places to Eat in Williamsburg

I am no expert, obviously, and this is going to be a tiny list, but I'm writing it down anyway, so I don't forget and so you know.

For brunch: Egg on Saturday and Diner on Sunday. Egg was only a short wait and the bacon was really, really good, plus they brought me a free donut hole. I had a delicious egg on toast with cheese and tomato. Diner was a little pricey but the potatoes and omelet (as I mentioned in my last post) were, like, transcendental. Pies n Thighs is really, really good Southern food, which I know is sort of ironic for me, since I live in NC, but the biscuits are better than anything I've had here in Charlotte. Same for the BBQ at Fette Sau. I mean, that was the best pulled pork I have EVER had. They sell it by the pound and there are no plates here. You just put it on a paper towel. I want to eat everything off a paper towel now. La Superior had some really good carne asada tacos, perfectly fried tortilla chips, and very good guac. The dirty chai at Atlas Cafe was pretty good (plus, one block away). The sandwiches at Lodge Deli were huge, very good, and contained the spiciest mustard I have ever tasted (perfection!).

On the OTHER hand, the drinks everywhere were WEAK. Come on guys. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DANCE?

Speaking of which, I went to cardio funk today, where I made the following discoveries:

-I know the choreography to Move Your Body (Get Me Bodied?) in its entirety, for absolutely no reason. I mean, for absolutely no reason UNTIL TODAY. I knew this day would come.

-The best thing about class is that moment when you're working so hard and are so euphoric (DANCE! IS! MY! LIFE!) that you realize you have lost conscious control over your body parts and are, I don't know, throwing up gang signs because everyone else is? 

-I lied, because the best part about dance is the middle-aged guy who is breaking it down to chanting ("Melvin! Melvin!") from the teenage girls around him. I mean, breaking it down for real.

-The worst part is the teenager who is throwing her leg in your space. Girl, be aware of your space! Who are you?! Molly?!


Review: Masha Gessen’s “The Man Without a Face”

I am back from New York, where I met all my goals for the weekend (eating delicious things, walking a lot, sleeping a ton, chilling with my Juanbro, finishing this book, deciding to skip the Frick). Except for a foray to the MoMA (God, Cindy Sherman's art from the 90s is so creepy), I barely left Brooklyn, and you know what? It was glorious. At this point, I have seen New York, so when I visit, I kind of just like to wander aimlessly and take in some big city energy while stopping to eat brunch as many times as humanly possible (WHY CAN'T CHARLOTTE GET BRUNCH LIKE THAT? I had these potatoes at one point, and Juan asked me how they were, and I turned to him with what I can only assume was an expression of shock and awe and said "f***ing amazing". And I meant it, dudes! Juan laughed at me. I don't even like potatoes that much!). The weather was ridiculously good. I krumped at bars. I introduced Juan to Archer (you are welcome).

The man wo a faceAs to the book: Gessen's book is an important one, and a brave one given the fates of the various reporters who've previously taken on Putin. If you're looking for a detailed account of the last twenty years of Russia's history, you're better off looking elsewhere (the history here is neither linear nor inclusive), but as a study of Putin's character and motivations and how they've been shaped by and have shaped Russia's politics, it is superb. Putin is like one of those miraculous creatures–walking fish, for example–that are so adapted to the environment that produced them that in any other context they look totally absurd. Putin's personal history is one of mediocrity. He isn't particularly charismatic or intelligent; instead, his great gift is the ability to reflect back on those around him exactly what they expect of him. That's what Gessen means by "without a face"; Putin is someone onto whom others can project whatever they want. I can't even express to you how bizarre his rise to power in Yeltsin's final months was, or how Cold-War-crazy his response the Chechen situation has been, or how blatant his repeated property and power-grabs have been. I mean, he maybe possibly engineered some terrorist attacks to consolidate his power? He possibly stole a billion dollars by putting entrepreneurs in jail? Putin is basically a conspiracy theorist's dream. And the incompetence of these conspiracies! I mean, the arrogance implied by the carelessness with which some of these alleged FSB operations were carried out is unbelievable. Do you remember Alexander Litvinenko?!

Gessen's book is cautiously hopeful: since the Duma elections in December, Russians have risen up in protest against Putin and his cronies. The problem with Russia is that these uprisings don't necessarily mean much. With elections rigged and the judicial and legislative branches of the government totally in thrall to the executive, there's no system of redress for an increasingly disgruntled opposition and no checks and balances. So, what happens next? Gessen says all such regimes–insulated, out of touch, despised–must come to an end, but when is a much more uncertain matter. 

Some observations of very little consequence.

-Molly has the spatial awareness of Helen Keller, but none of the excuses.

-Wednesday is trash day (TRY TO REMEMBER).

-This weekend I'll be in New York. I hope I can walk a lot. I hope I can go to the Frick (it would be my first time). I hope it's nice. I hope I don't catch a silly old cold. But if I can't, and it's not, and I do, that's ok, too.

-Next on my reading list after "The Man Without a Face" are:

    -Finish "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler."

    -Finish "Empire Falls"

    -"Cloud Atlas", again.

    -"Backroads of North Carolina"

    -"Oscar and Lucinda"

    -"Strangers on a Train"    

I have this thing sometimes where if I really love a book, I won't finish it for a super long time, because I don't want it to end. When I was little, I would do the same thing with my desserts. I would take these pinky-nail sized bites of my brownie or what have you. The best part was when everyone else was done, and I was still working on mine for like ten more minutes.

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Writing Notes

One of the things that I come up against often as I am writing is the problem of integrating historical research into a story without sounding like Ken Burns (well, the dollar-store version of Ken Burns) has momentarily taken over narration. 

I know it sounds like I'm about to present a solution to this problem, but actually I'm not, because I don't have one. I'd like to have one. At first I was thinking of doing my craft seminar (due in April! please kill me!) on the uses of setting, but lately I'm leaning more towards this subject. I mean I already know how to use setting, more or less. Also, I'm looking down the barrel of a historical novel once I finish my thesis. So there's that.

Anyway, lately I've been appreciating music I can write to. In particular, I've been finding Django Reinhardt helpful. I think it's such joyful noise…it sort of reminds me that the main objective of creative work should be a sort of joy (and not the feeling that I sometimes get of wanting to strangle something). Actually, it's not quite joy I'm thinking about, it's more like a feeling of being in a state of grace, of perfect order and chaos at once. Do you know what I mean? I'm SORRY things are getting so serious.

Now that I'm coming to the end of my MFA, which is the main reason I started this blog (to keep track of what I was reading), I'm trying to decide what direction to take things in. I've really been digging, for a while, the food-memoir-and-recipe-blog format, where there's a recipe that inspires reminiscing and story-telling. I've been wondering how that would work with books. I mean, we're going to find out together, reader. I hope you're excited to read my pointless musings on life in addition to my pointless musings on books. Don't worry, I promise to stop when this gets embarrassing (hahaha, no, I really don't know how to do that).

So excited to start Masha Gessen’s new book about Putin!

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It just came out like two days ago and already the Amazon reviews are totally polarized. The Guardian called it clear and brave. I find Putin and his whole weird bear-wrestling thing so fascinating. I'm going to start it right after lunch…it'll be a perfect read on a cloudy day.

PS- I'm trying out a new format with tiny images and wrapped text. It looks better, doesn't it? Right? I mean, when the entry isn't super tiny like this one.