Thursday, April 24, 2003

From a dog named Steven

"On August 5, 2000, twenty letters were sent by Daniel O'Mara to the chief executive officers of twenty Fortune 500 companies." The letters are written "from the point of view of a dog named Steven". Some of the letters appeared in Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern -- a 19th century-style literary journal, another brain child of Dave Eggers of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" fame. The letters were actually written by Dave Eggers himself. Here's a link to some of the letters:

One summer, when he was 10 years old, he'd fallen for a tomboy his own age, who would regularly chase him through the bushes, roll down the green hills with him, put bugs down his shorts, pin him to the ground, sit on top of him and spit in his face. It was the closest he'd come to love, he often joked.

He told Maya that story on their first date. He had bumped into her at a bike-ride, coming around a blind curve, as she was trying to fix her flat. Their courtship had been long and gradual. Not cautious. Just gradual. They had been going out for a month before they held hands, another week before they kissed, and another month before they made love. He remembered feeling genuine affection for her, a routine failing of his, early in the relationship.

She didn't have too many friends, even though she was quite sociable. She worked, rode her bike, socialized a bit, but gave most of her time to him, and she seemed, for the most part, very happy. She did not understand his lust for photography. She read, but did not enjoy his essays. She was impressed that he was published in so many magazines she'd heard of, but she didn't understand his need to write and his need to get published. She mixed well with his friends. His friends liked her. He didn't like his friends all that much anyway.

She talked about her parents a lot. They were both medical-professionals of some sort on the east-coast. She asked about his parents, his siblings, his family, his growing-up, his undergraduate days, even his love-life before they'd met. He liked to talk about these things, and she seemed to take a genuine interest. But he could never get around to asking her those things in return. He was truly not interested, and didn't want to make the effort.

But over 5 years, he had changed, just as she had. He was completely absorbed in her. He hadn't published anything in months. He had forgotten to put his films in the refrigerator, and didn't care anyway. He had stopped running all together, even though they did continue to bike every weekend. He felt he was stagnating – again. She sensed his unhappiness, and couldn't figure it out. He was reminded of a story of a young kid who was dying of AIDS, but had nothing to ask for. He didn't need anything; he didn't want anything. Sometimes he felt like that boy. He had taken his unhappiness for granted. He had nothing to ask for.

And she had been less unquestioningly-his, lately. One Saturday, at a power-bar stop in Sausalito just before the big hill, she'd popped the question: “How about kids?” He wanted kids. He thought he wanted kids. “Sure”, he'd said. “Let's have kids. Race you to the top. Let's get home quickly, so we can start ASAP.” She hadn't been amused.

She did not get pregnant, but instead, got cancer. The doctors said chances were good. 50-50. They'd have to operate. She told him about her cancer quite matter-of-factly. He'd said it was probably a mistake. That was when she got really angry.

“Everything is not a mistake! Age is not a mistake. My cancer is real.” She had never quite understood what he meant when he said that age was a mistake. They'd had many arguments, and he'd lost every time.

“What do you mean? Is it a mistake that you're 35?”

“Absolutely”, he'd reply.

“So if you'd done it right, how old would you be?”

“I wouldn't be 35. Younger, for sure.”

“Yeah, we all want to be younger. But it's not a mistake.”

“Well, for some, it isn't. For me, it's a mistake. Look, all I'm saying is,
you know how you look back on a certain year of your life, and you come up with a blank for what you did that year?”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Well, that's a mistake, isn't it? I mean, if you got nothing to show, you did something wrong, didn't you?”

“All your publications, your photography, your biking, your – living. Me. You have nothing to show?!”

“Well, yeah, kind of. None of that counts. Except the 'you' part, of course.”

“What does count?”, she was crying now.

“Nothing counts. It's just one big mistake.”

He had meant to add that he loved her.

They got married in the hospital. Just a simple civil ceremony. He had insisted on a ceremony before the operation. Some paperwork, some signatures, a quick kiss, even a little champagne, and they were married. The nurses had been amused; it was a break from their routine. The doctors had been impatient as usual.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Golden Gate Park

I didn't know Golden Gate Park, SF was larger than Central Park, NY. Well, it is. 3 miles x 0.5 miles vs. 2.5 miles x 0.5 miles. What I still don't believe is that there are reputed to be 1 million trees in Golden Gate Park, vs. a mere 26,000 trees in Central Park. [The Presidio has about 100,000 trees. See tree-huggers vs. sand-huggers.]

So I did some math. GG Park is about 3,840,000 square meters or 384 hectares (its area.) Divide that by 1,000,000 and you get 3.84 square meters per tree. That's a stocking density of over 2500 trees/hectare, which would make the park, by far, the most densly forested area anywhere in the world. The numbers are hard to come by, but I saw something like 700 trees/hectare (trees over a certain "dbh" or "diameter at breast height") for the Amazon rain-forest. Divide the park's area by 25,000 and you get roughly 150 square meters per tree or 65 trees/hectare. That's a lot more like it. That's the number I'm going with.

My guess is that the 1 million number, is the number of trees in the entire Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has a total area of 30525 hectares of land and water, which would mean an average stocking density of about 32 trees/hectare, which sounds reasonable.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Curry: a non sequitur (originally an email to a friend)

Curry is a generic term. "Curry Powder" is a mixture of spices that probably have a few spices in common with every other curry powder but the proportions of the ingredients may, and do, vary. The best translation for Curry Powder that I can think of is: "masala mix". A potpourri of masalas - spices. Of course there are common ingredients. But other than the quality of being a mixture of spices used to cook an incredibly varied array of dishes for a billion people who can't agree on a national language -- there is no other unifying trait. The only common trait Indians, or anything Indian, share, is Cricket. The Indian Curry Powder probably shares ingredients with some in Thai cooking too.

The thing to remember is that, in India most authentic kitchens don't have a convenient Curry Powder bottle lying around. What they have is a huge carousel of containers of zillions of different spices that the chef uses in what may seem like an arbitrary, anarchic, karmic, brahmanic, methodless method.

Does all Italian cooking use Basil and Oregano and...?

Curry (without the "powder") has, for better or for worse, come about to mean a sauce which is used for everything from chicken to potatoes. Curry also has the connotation of being spicy, which is just as dubious as the other usages, in my opinion. Indians think of spicy spices as just another spice - a flavor. The intention is not to make something spicy, but to make it flavorful.

(Another debate I have with my other non-Gujarati friends is that Gujaratis use sugar or other sweetners as just another spice - a flavor. All Gujarati food is not sweet, just as all Indian food is not spicy.)

Also, curry powders can vary. There's a curry powder just for "chole" (chickpeas) and another one for "sambhaar" - a type of south-Indian daal. (Is "daal" just as misused as "curry"?) To the undiscerning taste-buds, all Indian food might taste alike - ie. all Indian food has curry - but then they should probably stick to grits and Budlight.


One often forgets about the "wet curry pastes". Are all chutneys alike?

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

So "transexual" is currently leading the hotly contested most frequently misspelled words online competition. A few days ago, it was "doesnt". My personal favorite -- "definately" -- is only a measly 6th. The List.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

As you would imagine, it's entirely reasonable to wonder what people are thinking about your blog. So you expend great energy prettying up the site, because you couldn't think of anything quipy today, in the hopes that people will be fooled by your better-than-OxBlog design, and not notice the absence of any relevant content. You try to come up with something timely -- like a list of movies to watch at the great impending film festival. You try to infuse urgency. You try to get people involved (you write in the second person.) Then you venture off-blog and send emails about your blog. You try to figure out how to create RSS feeds for your site.

Nothing seems to work. You're still left with your one incestuous inbound link from your friend's blog. Yeah, it would really help if a lot of your friends had blogs. But in "Volvo Democrat"-land (only, south-Asian) blogs haven't caught on yet. Yeah, they're still downloading tunes and cocktail recipes on their now-color cell-phones.

So, naturally, you get excited when you begin to see hits off of Google and Yahoo searches. Yeah, who would've thought people still use Yahoo to search? Yep, #2 on the results if you're looking for "Gregor Bregovic". #6 if you're looking for "Iranian Actress Susan Taslimi". The down-side? #1 on the results if you're looking for "shock & awe lingerie". And you're on the front-page for all those "french hardcore porn" searches. Hey, blame the Film Fest.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I think the coolest anti-war-group name we've seen so far has to be: Lesbians Against Boys Invading Anything (LABIA). No, they don't have a web-site.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Amazon's answer to PayPal (kinda): Amazon Honor System

News article about the service. I think it's cool. It'll work. But then, I was so sceptical of PayPal when it first came out, maybe I'm once bitten.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Mandar's SF International Film Festival's Most Wanted

124 movies. Will you give your Netflix a rest? Here's my selection of 10 movies (+ 1 bonus) to watch.

You'll notice a definite bias towards Latin-American and Asian movies in my list. It's true.

A Peck on the Cheek and A Tale of a Naughty Girl. I'll probably go see them, but including them on the list would be commiting "duh". "Drowned Out" escapes that fate because I just don't think it's going to see the support that we think it will. Also, S mentioned Infernal Affairs and Jet Lag. P suggested The Man Without a Past.

But still, why these and not the others? I was really tempted to put The Good Old Naughty Days (French "hardcore" porn ensemble from the 1920s) on the list, but that would make 11. I wanted to find a good balance of fun, interesting, odd, weird, quirky, cheesy, new, poignant, depressing etc. That's the 124, I know. No Afghanistan, no Iraq. And like Ken Burns -- jeez, it's my collection!

Here's why some of the movies made my list.

Swing: because it's the same guy who made Latcho Drom -- another movie I haven't seen -- and because of my recent interest in Goran Bregovic and all-things Gypsy.

So Close: because it's the quintessential "babes who kick ass" Hong Kong action flick.

Nada +: because it's from Cuba, and the lines went around the block at the Havana Film festival. And it sounds like a Mario Vargas Llosa story.

Comandante: because it's Oliver Stone meets Fidel Castro. Literally.

Blissfully Yours: because it sounds really kinky.

[Bonus] Music for Weddings & Funerals: because they messed up Goran Bregovic's name in the description (Gregor, they said) and because P pointed it out to me.

Without further ado. The list:

  • All Hell Let Loose
    Iranian-born director and actress Susan Taslimi deftly balances humor and sadness in this Swedish-set story of an immigrant family thrown into turmoil by the return of a prodigal daughter.

    4/20 KAB 9:45; 4/27 KAB 12:00

  • The Best of Times
    Best friends Wei and Jie are aimless teens with dreams of the good life. When they go looking for it, though, all they find is trouble. A gritty and gorgeous tale from one of Taiwan’s best new filmmakers.

    4/26 KAB 10:00; 4/30 KAB 6:45

  • Blissfully Yours
    This uniquely sensual film turns a trip to the movies into a daylong picnic in the jungle; reel time becomes real time. Set in the frontier area between Thailand and Burma, its languidly deceptive vision has global resonance.

    4/20 KAB 6:15

  • Comandante
    Oliver Stone, Fidel Castro: together at last, in one of the year’s liveliest, compulsively watchable documentaries. Stone follows Castro through Havana, quizzing him on politics, revolution, movies and sex, as the Cuban lets down his defenses.

    4/30 KAB 9:30; 5/1 KAB 5:00

  • Cortos Mexicanos
    This collection of ten recent shorts, including two by Carlos Cuarón (screenwriter of Y Tu Mamá También), shows that filmic creativity flourishes in Mexico today. All films were produced by the Mexican Film Institute, IMCINE.

    4/19 KAB 4:30

  • Drowned Out
    In rich human detail, Franny Armstrong documents the fight against India’s Narmada River dam and unravels the question “Progress for whom?” Clear-eyed native villagers inspire as they reach out and fight for their lives and homes. With short, A Love Supreme.

    4/28 KAB 6:45; 4/30 KAB 1:00

  • Goodbye South, Goodbye
    Manny Farber is one of our greatest—and most notorious—film critics. He joins us for an onstage discussion, followed by a screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s gorgeously downbeat 1996 film, Goodbye South, Goodbye, about Taiwan’s small-time gangsters and bar girls.

    4/21 KAB 5:30

  • Nada +
    A melancholy, romantic female postal worker rewrites the letters she steals to assuage hurt feelings and reunite quarreling lovers and feuding relatives. This first feature signals a new direction for Cuban film and a playful new approach to storytelling.

    4/25 KAB 6:45; 4/30 KAB 10:00

  • So Close
    Welcome to the world of babes who kick ass! Shu Qui, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei team up with famed Jet Li action director Corey Yuen for this kick-drunk spectacular of deadly female assassins and the beautiful cop on their trail.

    4/18 KAB 12MID; 4/21 KAB 4:15

  • Swing
    Enamored of Gypsy jazz, ten-year-old Max convinces guitar virtuoso Miraldo to give him lessons. He also falls for Gypsy girl Swing, and plunges into manouche (Gypsy) life, in a film bursting with wild musical energy.

    4/20 CAS 12:00; 4/22 KAB 10:00 AM

  • [Bonus] Music for Weddings & Funerals
    Grieving the death of her young son, Sara, a renowned novelist in Norway, brings life into her mausoleum-like home by taking in a Serbian musician, Bogdan. Her architect ex-husband, Peter, disapproves, but his Nordic reserve is no match for Bogdan’s Slavic passion.

    4/18 KAB 9:30; 4/21 KAB 7:00

Wednesday, April 02, 2003



Written in short, simple, staccato sentences, in the first person. The language is collquial. The narrator - Robert - is introduced to his wife's friend - a blind man who comes to stay for a night. Robert is brutally honest about not knowning how to deal with a blind man. There is some confusion about the blind man's race too, and that of his ex-wife. Robert is inordinately concerned about how he will react to the blind man, what he will say to him. It becomes increasingly clear that the story is more about Robert's insecurities than about anything else. When they finally meet, there is a faux pas or two, but for the most part Robert gets along well with the blind man who, in turn, is completely at ease with his blindness. The blind man makes Robert draw a Cathedral - something that he has never seen. Robert doesn't think he can draw very well, but as he starts drawing and keeps at it, it begins to come naturally to him, and in the end Robert closes his eyes, and keeps drawing -- and there is no difference between him and the blind man. Poignant, but leaves the reader with a contended smile at the end.

The Girl on the Plane

A man gets into a conversation with a girl/woman on a plane. The girl is curiously candid, and gets John, the protagonist, thinking about his teenage years growing up in a small town in Minnesota, and he confesses to a rape. The plane is simply a device to tell the background story of little town Minnesota, and of the lives lived by teenagers and the ugly coming-of-age rituals and of date-rape. The story builds up to the scene of the rape, and is very graphic in the details, and leaves the reader feeling a sense of outrage and shame. The man and the girl have strikingly similar backgrounds, and the reader wonders if the girl might not have a story very similar to the man's. The story, unfortunately, seems to be a common, though untold story of middle-America.

Nothing to Ask For

A touching story of a young man dying of AIDS, the slow degeneration of a young mind, of a life of promise that comes to naught. The story is about relationships: that of the two young lovers, that of the narrator and his best friend - the young man dying of AIDS, of the narrator and his young daughter and his wife. It is also a story about death and dying, of accepting mortality, of the humility of dying: the dying young man has "nothing to ask for" from his friends.