Thursday, Schmursday: Umberto Eco rocks, Goethe rules!

Breezed through another day at work with Goethe on my mind.

Enjoyed Umberto Eco’s “How to Travel with Salmon” immensely. I agree with the critical review of this book: Eco expertly balances the profound and the profane in a seamless group of really amusing, hilarious, sarcastic essays.

Among the essays I enjoyed:

1. How to Travel with Salmon – talks about what happens when you bring salmon with you on a business trip and what happens when you check in a hotel in London with it (begs the question, what the hell are you doing with salmon in the first place?!?).

2. How to Replace a Driver’s License – talks about navigating the wonderfully murky waters of bureaucracy and red tape when you lose your driver’s license in Italy.

3. How to Eat in Flight – talks about those little things we travelers have always wondered about: why is the food on flights always the kind that manage to spill on your shirt, or slide on the makeshift portable table or tastes really strange. 🙂

4. How to go through Customs – talks about how to survive going through customs when you land in airports. I wonder what Umberto Eco would say about the recent spate of paranoid security measures countries have made in their airports after 9/11?

5. How to take Intelligent Vacations – Actually talks about what books to bring during vacations. What books would you bring during flights? I usually bring the no-brainer ones. I don’t bring profound ones for vacations. They take too much work.

6. How to use the Taxi Driver – talks about how one talks to a taxi driver. My beef? Airport taxi drivers are rip-offs. Manila airport taxi drivers are the worst.

7. How not to know the Time – just don’t a watch.

8. How to buy Gadgets – talks about the growing obsession with gadgets. This was written either in the late 80s or early 90s, so I wonder what Umberto Eco would say about the technological advances we have made since then in gadgets? MP3s, USBs, laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones with cameras and radios and wi-fi, and so on. 😉

9. How to Follow Instructions – talks about that age-old problem we have always had with instructions: they’re decipherable and intelligible only to those who wrote it.

10. How not to Use a Fax Machine

11. Three Owls on a Chest of Drawers – probably one of my favorites. Reminds me of the time I was doing my master’s thesis. Talks about how one little ditty can churn out so much (over) analyses from scholars.

12. Sequels – because originals are always better.

13. How to Write an Introduction

14. How to Play Indians – funniest essay I’ve read.

15. How to Recognize a Porn Movie – great advice so you don’t waste your time.

16. The Miracle of San Baudolino – a great essay to end the book. Beautiful description of Umberto Eco’s hometown, Alessandria. 🙂

If you haven’t read Umberto Eco, go buy a book now.


DVD Junkie: Found “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” Season 2 (yay!)

So last year, in search of interesting things to watch and entertain myself with while I was in London, I came across a little-known anime show entitled “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”, which is about a girl who one day, in a fit existential depression, realizes how insignificant she is  and how she must change the world to make herself matter and thus inadvertently, by conscious evolution, changes the world. Is she a god? An alien? A powerful being? It’s anyone’s guess. But this is one of the best shows I have ever watched so far. Plus, it’s really funny.

If you haven’t watched it, get thee to a DVD shop and buy yourself one of these!

DVD Junkie: “Popular” is actually just an earlier version of “Glee” (and all other teen TV shows besides)

So here’s why I think Ryan Murphy’s “Popular” got cancelled after only two seasons: falling ratings is one, yes, but the other reason could also be because while it had a great first season, it could not be sustained in the second season.

Here’s the thing that I don’t quite get: the second season starts off really nice and funny, with all the pizazz and in-your-face coolness that so defined season 1. So, where did it go wrong?

Well, half-way through the season, whilst trying to control myself from the incessant yawning-inducing episodes I was watching, I realized why: the season just didn’t seem as good as the first one. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s still funny, and the nasty, snarky banter is up to par with the first season, but there was still something missing. Maybe it’s because American high school TV shows always seem to have the need to come off as PSAs whenever they run out of good stories, rehashing the same old storylines from other teen TV shows that have come before it: Alcoholism? check. Domestic violence? check. Drug abuse? check. Cancer (or any variation thereof)? check. Drunk driving? check. Teen pregnancy? check. Pre-marital teen sex? Check. A discussion on doing it vs. abstinence? check. Some form of eating disorder? check.  Death? check. Homophobia? check. Some form of coming out and a discussion of coming out? Check. Hate crimes? check.

If you think I’m kidding, please see previous American TV shows, re: Beverly Hills 90201 (the original one, not the remake), Party of Five (didn’t one of the characters used to be an alcoholic?), Felicity, and before that, when I was growing up, High School Confidential and Degrassi Junior High. We can probably go waaaay back and dig up some more of the same actually.

To illustrate my point, consider the following in the second season of this show:

1. Picture perfect all-American cheerleader, Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) has an eating disorder.

2. Lily Esposito (Tamara Mello) has an addiction to cough syrup. It was just one gulp actually. In the Philippines, that would be considered experimenting, not an addiction.

3. Harrison Ford (Christopher Gorham)  develops leukemia.

4. Nicole Julian (Tammy Lynn Michaels) finds out she’s adopted and spends the rest of the season looking for her biological mom.

5. Carmen Ferrera (Sara Rue) has an alcoholic mom and is a domestic violence survivor.

6. Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman) has a tax evading mom and becomes poor.

7. Sam McPherson (Carly Pope) struggles with her interracial relationship with what seems to be the only black guy on campus.

And the bad thing is, when it all gets dramatic, the comedy falls flat, and just seems all the more appalling. In one episode, April Tuna (Adria Dawn, who looks like Tilda Swinton’s love child), the Star Trek loving, overachieving, socially inept geek from hell is mistaken for the one who dies in a car crash accident and people joke about it. That’s just in bad taste. The show really shines when it’s being satirical, ironic, hysterical, over-the-top,outrageous and campy. And who can resist camp?!?

I also did not realize how many stereotypes this show was perpetuating as well. You have the blonde, all-American golden-hearted jock football jock Josh (Bryce Johnson), the blonde, all-American cheerleader who wants to be taken seriously, Brooke (Leslie Bibb), the dark-haired geeky, rebel without a cause, Sam (Carly Pope), Sam’s geeky bestfriend who’s in love with her, Harrison (Christopher Gorham), the sexually ambiguous/ambivalent butchy chemistry teacher, Bobbi (Diane Delano)…the list could go on.

In fact, I just realized how much this TV show seems more like “Glee”, which is also a Ryan Murphy production. The football jock with the heart of gold is still there, so is the pretty, blonde, All-American cheerleader, the dark-haired geeky rebel (who now just happens to be Jewish), the sexually ambiguous teacher, except now she’s teaching PE. The token African American person in “Glee” is now a girl, there is a token Asian American girl as well and an Indian principal. The only thing that makes “Glee” interesting is the music and Kurt. We’ll see what else “Glee” can deliver this year.

“Popular” came out in 1999. “Glee” came out a good 10 years after.

It’s nice to know that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Guerilla Geek books and DVDs: Salmon, Faust, Star Gate and Cheerleading

Spent Saturday scrounging around for books at SM Booksale and National Bookstore, then going to my suking DVD shop for my weekly dose of DVDs. Spent Sunday morning napping, had a lecture at 1pm on how to make effective résumés to HRM students at Teacher’s Camp here in Baguio City. Sweet, short and nifty, that. Had lunch of mussels and some wine after at SM.

What I have managed to dig up at the booksale:

Salmon spawning

1. How to Travel with a Salmon by Umberto Eco –  I have Umberto Eco’s “The Island of the Day Before” which I never seem to get finished. I always get stuck at Chapter 1. I guess I should have bought “The Name of the Rose” instead – but “The Island” was on sale at National, The Name of the Rose was unavailable, and since I’d been hearing a lot of positive reviews about Umberto Eco decided to read one and see what all the fuss about. Verdict? Should have bought “Name of the Rose” instead. However, “How to Travel with a Salmon” is actually not too bad. In fact, I am so far, liking it. I bought it primarily because I love salmon, both as metaphor, inspiration and food (not necessarily in that order) and because since this is a collection of essays, I figured maybe Umberto Eco is more interesting as an essayist. As it turns out, he is interesting. In fact, he is that, and more. I still haven’t finished the whole book, but I am so far loving it. His sardonic, snarky sense of humor and his detailed amusing accounts of traveling with salmon, trying to get a driver’s license, surviving customs and immigration and traveling by train calls to mind my own experiences of trying to get my own driver’s license, going through customs and immigration, traveling by train and by plane. I wanted to tell him, come to the Philippines, where getting a driver’s license is as easy as buying a stick of Marlboro cigarette at the neighborhood sari-sari store.

2. Goethe’s Faust translated by Walter Kaufmann – Okay, so I don’t know why I bought this one. I already had a hundred year old, dusty,musty, hardcover edition of this book (bought at 10 pesos or something) bought in the Ramos administration way back in college. But I saw this paperback edition, with the left hand side in the original German, and the right hand side in English – and I realized I had to buy for those days when I have run out of stuff to read and must thus read that stuff that I have to read but haven’t found the time to. Plus I saw the translation and thought it was a better translation than the one I already have. Plus, it was translated by Walter Kaufman, who translated the anthology of Friedrich Nietzche works that I have and I liked that translation. Nuff said. It looks pretty nifty.

I must say, actually, I should put a moratorium on my book-buying habit. I’ve got so much books to read, I’ve got books coming out of my ears! IN fact, I think my books are spawning all on their own, so much so that when I try to clean up my room or get rid of books that don’t need to be kept, some nook or cranny reveals some long-forgotten book I didn’t know I had bought long time ago.

Anyway, feeling a little guilt at having bought a couple books, I go to the DVD shop to assuage my guilt, only to realize that I find myself feeling more guilty as I leave the shop with a couple of DVDs: Ryan Murphy’s (he of “Glee” fame) now-defunct, two-season TV show, “Popular” and Ming Na’s new TV show, “Stargate Universe”. The lady at the DVD bookshop had offered me the DVD of “True Blood” and some other TV shows, which I vehemently refused, and I told her, “I have so much to read and watch. You’ve recommended so many DVDs to me I don’t even have time for a social life anymore! IN fact, all I ever do is watch DVDs! I have no friends! Ya hear me? I have no friends!” The lady laughs and says, “You have a friend. I am your friend.”

Funnily enough, that doesn’t make me feel better.

But no matter! I am happy to report that I may have to chuck the Battlestar Galactica DVD. It ain’t working, and the first few scenes I’ve seen of the premier is pretty much ho-hum. The only thing that makes this interesting is Ming Na but she isn’t the star, so when she isn’t in any frame, it’s boring. Even the presence of Robert Carlyle isn’t doing it for me.

Now, “Popular” though is another thing altogether. I’ve had apprehensions about buying it. But I remember it when it was first being shown on TV, at Studio 23, and from what I had seen (I hadn’t followed it as religiously as “Buffy”) it was entertaining and funny. It had shown at the time when I was busy with school and work, so. Plus DVDs weren’t invented yet, or the fine art of DVD marathons, so. But! I have since started watching it and I must say, this is one cleverly written, witty, hilarious, snarky, sardonic, ironic little TV show. It’s a bit like Buffy, except without the vampires or demons or staking and slaying and action. All the action happens in the dialogue, which is tight and nasty and funny, even when it talks about serious stuff like bulimia, anorexia or the scary stage in a person’s life that is puberty.

My favorite has always been Glamazon cheerleader Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman) and Nicole Julian (Tammy Lynn Michaels, Melissa Etheridge’s girl), who light up dull scenes with their easy, nasty banter. Whether trying to turn pre-pubescent wanna-bes into p0pular types by requiring them to read Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Nicolo Macchiavelli’s “The Prince” (call them shallow, but never call them stupid. They read, these cheerleaders!), or calling each other hos and sluts, or going off to vomit before a big pep rally, or making life miserable for all those who are not popular, these two are always fun to watch. I think of them as Buffy’s Cordelia, Anya, Glory, Harmony all put together, plus every other bitchy character ever created on TV. But more fun.

And who can forget that androgynous chemistry teacher, Bobbie (Diane Delano) who rocks as the unforgiving, unapologetic, single, overweight, tough teacher from hell? Also, blink and you’ll miss Michelle Krusiec (“Saving Face”) playing Exquisite. I blinked and I missed her the first time. Then again, she was the token Asian, so she’ll just register as such in your consciousness. But I think the most interesting here has to be Carly Pope’s “Sam MacPherson”. What can I say, brainy types are hot. 🙂

There are a lot of memorable quotes here, so I suggest just clicking here for the full list. 🙂

In the meantime, I have got to go. Must finish el reading and el watching.

Book review: On reading John Burdett’s “Bangkok Tattoo”

Heard about John Burdett from a Pinoy writer who, apart from having developed such toxic, anger-inducing snobbery that she doesn’t seem to have any plans of overcoming, does have a penchant for recommending good reads.

I came across a John Burdett novel called “Bangkok Tattoo” at the SM Booksale in Baguio,pretty much the only place you can find a John Burdett novel in Baguio. I had tried to look for one at National Bookstore and they didn’t have it. Then again, they’ve run out of the “Watchmen” comic books, so why did I expect more from them? I am looking for the Buffy Season 8 comic books but of course why the hell would I find them in Baguio? Good luck finding them at CID and Jet Bookstore, too!

So, the sardonic, cynical, morally ambiguous and ambivalent hero of the “Bangkok Tattoo” novel is the corrupt, co-owner of a prostitution club, Sonchai Jittlecheepeep (?) who, incidentally, also seems to have a heart of gold.

The plot: a series of seemingly random murders involving flayed victims slowly reveal that they are not so random at all. All of the skinned victims have been stripped of their awesome tattoos, and these tattoos seem to all connect to a beautiful, enigmatic Thai prostitute, who, in turn is connected to the genius Japanese tattoo artist whose signature tattoos were on the bodies that were murdered. Sonchai must solve the mystery and fend off a possibly polarizing situation since one of the murdered is a CIA operative, whose death is being suspiciously and deliberately linked to the Al Quaeda and the Moslem contingent of Thailand, of which Thailand has a lot of.

What makes the novel interesting: Where do I start? The fact that it centers on tattoos is one. The fact that the main character is a Thai is another. The fact that for a British writer, Burdett seems to have understood the Asian psyche well, but does not condescend is another. The fact that he has created a novel that is objective, but never moralizing, pedantic, preachy, annoying, offensive, but still manages to be thought-provoking is another. The fact that the main character, Sonchai, may ostensibly be cynical but deep inside yearns to be good is another. The fact that in this novel, Burdett has captured the consistent inconsistences and the peculiar merging of Eastern and Western consciousness seamlessly through the marriage of Buddhism and eastern mysticism and western materialism, along with poverty and prostitution and spirituality and sex and culture is another. The fact that while this may be a murder crime thriller (and a good one at that), it still manages to be entertaining, page-turning and riveting is another.

This is one awesome book you would like to have.

Made me want to get another tattoo actually.

Buffy Studies 101: Buffy & the Scoobies vs. the “I-just-want-to-be-a-snake”Mayor – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 3)

Had a blast watching Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer again on DVD (ah, season 3…good times, good times…reminds me of my college days).

What I liked about this season:

1. Witness the first appearances of beloved characters – Anya! Faith! Mostly Anya!

2. Witness recurring characters – Ethan Rayne! Jonathan! Joyce! Joyce having sex with Giles!

3. Witness the return of good Angel – Ah, Angel (David Boreanaz). You are still the bestest vamp love interest for Buffy. Okay, Spike comes a close second.

4. Witness pre-Wicca, pre-lesbian Willow being straight – Latent homosexual that she is (=insert grin=), with the seemingly absent angst, identity crisis or the pointed checking out of hot girls we are always so prone to doing (=insert another wide grin here= ), Willow seems to be happily ensconced in straightsville. Then again, it takes the right woman to make any (seemingly, ostensibly) straight woman gay (=insert diabolical laughter here=).

5. The First makes it first appearance here – Oooh, now I so get Season 7 references. Yay!

6. Witness Vamp, bisexual Willow from alternate universe vamping it up with fuzzy, straight Willow from the main universe – Probably my favorite episode from this season.

7. Witness Buffy getting psychic abilities – Best part of this episode: Oz revealing how awesome he is. His most interesting postulation: if Buffy can read our minds, does that mean we exist in Buffy’s mind only? We think, therefore Buffy exists. Descartes would have been proud. 🙂

8. Witness the spectacular season finale – I wish my graduation was as awesome as this one. Sans the mayor turning into a snake, the eclipse, the fighting, the fellow graduates armed to the teeth, the explosion. Er, on second thought, maybe I’ll settle for my ho-hum graduation.

TGIF (yay): Misheard lyrics (truly happy)

Taught students some songs for listening class for the past few days. It has been seriously entertaining:

Your Song (by Elton John)

Yours are the squid eyes I’ve ever seen….

(Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen)

When You Believe (Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston)

There can be mini-cameras when you believe

Though hope is free/fee, it’s hard to free

Who knows what mini-cameras you can acheef/acheep

When you believe, somehow you will, you will when you believe

Killing me Softly (Fugees)

Strumming my face with his finger

Singing my life with his words…

Entertaining, no?

And in other news…Nora Aunor is back… May himala! Meron nga!

Buffy studies 101: Why “Bitch” is my new mag :-)

Read this a few years ago in “Ms.Magazine”. Found it again online. I was already watching BTVS before this, but this made me love the show even more. From the mag,

“The Buffy Effect”

In the early 1990s, vampire mythology, horror revival, teen angst, and kick-ass grrlness congealed in a new figure in the pop culture pantheon of the paranormal: the vampire slayer. Not just any vampire hunter, mind you, but Buffy, the Valley-dwelling teenage slayer. Before Buffy, vampire stories and horror movies alike focused primarily on the male monster antagonists who preyed on innocent nubile young things. But in 1992, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s eponymous protagonist kickboxed her way, via the big screen, into our heroine-starved, media-junkie feminist hearts, along the way reconfiguring the popular vampire/horror text.

Buffy was explicitly conceived as a feminist reimagining of the horror genre: Screenwriter/tv producer Joss Whedon has said in interviews that his very inspiration for Buffy came from years of watching horror movies in which “bubbleheaded blondes wandered into dark alleys and got murdered by some creature.” Whedon wanted to make a movie where the blonde “wanders into a dark alley, takes care of herself, and deploys her powers” to kill the monster. Buffy’s exploits implicate the audience in a witty defiance of genre conventions: Instead of shouting, “Don’t go in there!” to the naive gal traipsing through the darkened vacant house, we shout, “Go, girl!” as Buffy enters the dark alley to dispatch the monster of the moment with her quick thinking and martial-arts prowess.

For more, read here.

Buffy studies 101: Bidet of evil vs. Buffy (The best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7, is the last season of, possibly, the best fantasy show ever on television. 🙂

In this season, the first, the original, the most ancient and most dangerous of evils, “The First”, declares war on Buffy, Faith and all the potential slayers that ever existed and will exist in the world. This comes about because Buffy has upset the balance by having come back from the dead. The First is thus killing off all potential slayers, and is out for Buffy and Faith’s blood. The first has taken up residence in Sunnydale’s Hellmouth, and has recruited the best and brightest of evils, among them, all the villains Buffy has ever encountered and battled, the Turok-Han (the ancient vampires), an army of devoted eye-less, tongueless minions and demons. AS Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) races against time to

The BVTS Cast defeat “The First”, she must also deal with recovering witch and best friend, Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Faith (Eliza Dushku) coming back into town, Anya (Emma Caulfield) and her deadly, murderous vengeance demon ways, absentee-watcher/father figure Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Spike (James Marsters) and his ambivalent, ambiguous ways brought about by a newly-recovered soul, her younger sister who’s slowly growing up and taking an interest in her slaying ways, and a whole army of potential slayers, led by the annoyingly bratty Kennedy (Iyari Limon), who are looking to Buffy for leadership and inspiration as “The First” threatens to annihilate the world.

1. Season 7: the season of closures – the best thing about this show and this season is the fact that Joss Whedon et. al. has never let down its fans. Every loose end ever untied in this show is tied, every character in need of a closure confronted and dealt with. Hence Buffy deals with Angel, Spike, her watcher, the first slayer, her friends (and the fact that she has a propensity for trying to kill each and everyone of ’em), her death/s, her power and her ultimate destiny and what it means for the world. Willow deals with Tara’s death, and her attraction to potential slayer Kennedy. Xander and Anya deal with their failed relationship. Faith deals with Buffy and their (almost homoerotic – I just had to say it!) relationship. Giles deals with Buffy, Buffy with Dawn, Buffy with her past life and her future.

2. Kennedy – Yeah, the pierced tongue is sexy, but I am a staunch Tara fan, so. ‘Nuff said.

3. The First – Because obviously the harder the evil to fight, the cooler the story.

4. Anya – Because she was a vengeance demon with a conscience. Because she thought making spells with Willow was sexy (the look on Willow’s face? Priceless). Because if she’s not having sex, nobody else should. Because she is not afraid to use other people as shields to protect herself (at least Andrew anyway).

5. We finally get some girl-on-girl action – Better late than never, is what I say. Even though it was in the third to the last episode. 🙂

6. The fascinating dynamic of the Scooby gang – I am still amazed at the evolving complexity of the gang, the consistent inconsistencies, how everyone can be so loyal to Buffy at one point, and betray her by ousting her as the defunct leader of the army of potential slayers. I liked the complex, tender relationship that Buffy finds with and develops with Spike, even though they both know Buffy does not love Spike. I like how Anya and Xander develop the same kind of relationship as well.

7. Faith is back! Yay! – Because Faith is awesome.

8. Best use of word ever – “Bidet”. As in “bidet of evil”. The only other thing that comes close is “tumescence”. Nuff said.

9. Blink and you’ll miss Ashanti and a whole slew of familiar Hollywood faces
Yep, Joss Whedon were not stingy with the guests. This was a spectacular season for guest stars. I’m surprised Tara didn’t make a cameo. IN fact, she was the only one who did not show up – as all the people who have ever appeared in this show – from Angel, to Joyce, to Glory, to Adam, to the Mayor and the Principal, have all appeared. Then again, I didn’t see Cordelia or Oz, so, that evens it out.

9. The spectacular finale! The Action! The metaphors! The symbolisms!– Buffy proves to the worthy general of this army of slayers. She brilliantly orchestrates the activation of all potential slayers through a spell Willow makes, making every potential a full-blown slayer. And of course action-wise, this season does not disappoint. Blink and you’ll miss the subtle metaphor of having one slayer every generation as planned by ancient male shamans, to that of the control of female sexuality by males (contraception, female genital mutilation, the reproductive health debates ). Awesome, no? Makes Buffy’s decision to give every potential slayer power all the more sweet and powerful. 🙂 The message is none too powerful: you have the power and take control of your destiny. This is feminism at its best, made all the more awesome by the fact that it was helmed by a male creator (Whedon) and that it succeeded in its message without having any stupid, preposterous, pointless PSA (like those things in The L-Word).

IN other words: Buffy is the best show evah!

Now must go back to reading John Burdett’s “Bangkok 8”. Awesome book!

Reading like a maniac: Reading “Grails – Quest of the Dawn” & John Burdett’s “Bangkok 8”

Just finished reading “Grails: Quest of the Dawn” (Martin Greenberg, Richard Gillliam and Edward Kramer, editors), an anthology of fantasy stories about the Holy Grail. Bought it because it featured Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Orson Scott Card and who can resist Neil Gaiman? 🙂 Got stuck at Orson Scott Card’s Noah/Atlantis/The Great Flood novellete, but otherwise okay. The stories were pretty standard fare, but the stories towards the end of the anthology are pretty good. I recommend it to anyone who is crazy about Holy Grail stories.

I was actually alternating between reading Thoreau’s “Walden” and “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, but got sidetracked when I spotted John Burdett’s “Bangkok 8” at the bookshop (along with Bitch magazine). So I am reading that instead. I must say, I am enjoying reading “Bangkok 8” immensely, so far.

More later.