Monday, August 30, 2010
At any rate, my favorite film of the festival was one written by a group of 9-12 year olds. It was a mockumentary of the political career of a cyclops trying to become president called "There's One I in President: The Bob Hopewell Story." This isn't technically a review because a review implies you might actually be able to see the production after hearing what I thought of it. And sad to say, "There's One I in President" is only for purchase at 826's Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, and I don't know how many of my Astorian, and non-New York readers will feel up to the commute. Also, you can't really properly review any creation by children (especially children you know) because any review that falls short of gushing basically makes you a jerk.
So I guess, as this isn't a review, I really just want to write to marvel at how creative these kids are. "There's One I in President" chronicles one of the last cyclopes on Earth and his path to the White House, ultimately derailed by an opponent spearheading a campaign for anti-Cyclops legislation. The story was simultaneously hilarious and poignant, not to mention demonstrating an understanding of current politics and parody that go far beyond the creative team's years. I don't want to spoil the ending...but really I might as well, since I've just told you that you'll be unlikely to find this in a video store near you. In the end, Bob Hopewell decides not to go through with a dangerous surgery that will give him two eyes and make him eligible (there's two i's in eligible, after all) to run as a "normal" person. However, the epilogue assures the audience that Bob will continue to fight the legislation and possibly run in 2012.
Hands down best short film I've seen since the opener of Toy Story 3.
Monday, August 23, 2010
When I was almost back to my apartment, a woman stopped me on the street and asked if I lived in the neighborhood. Now having lived in New York a couple of years now, I know there are only four reasons strangers on the street try to talk to you: 1) they want to give you something (fliers, newspapers, coupons, tickets to what will inevitably be the least funny comedy show with two drink minimum of your life); 2) they want you to give them something (spare change, your voter registration information, credit card numbers); 3) they want directions, or 4) they're insane. This woman turned out to be in the third category (and perhaps a little in the fourth).
She told me she'd just moved from Manhattan to Astoria. I assumed she was looking for directions to a specific restaurant or perhaps a grocery or drug store. Her specific request was for a branch of the ASPCA. Now I happened to have adopted my cat from the ASPCA, so I was able to tell her that the closest branch is in Manhattan in the 90s. She pursued it a little longer, asking if I was sure. I told her there was a Humane Society a little closer and she momentarily perked up, until I mentioned that too was in Manhattan. She said she'd already checked the internet and that's what it said there too. However, rather than accepting the internet as law (as I generally do), she decided the next logical step was to wander the streets looking for one while asking strangers for their assistance. I told her I was sorry I couldn't help, and she took off in the direction of Broadway, presumably to comb it for very specific nonprofit animal control organizations.
The move to Astoria can be a tricky one for some Manhattanites, it seems. The part that really concerns me about this encounter is that she picked me, with the mismatched shoes, out of all the people on the street to ask. I'm thinking I need to invest in lint rollers before going to the gym in a black tank top again. (For those readers who haven't met my cat, she's mostly white...and a shedder).
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit an island that I had never been to. I went horseback riding in Pelham Bay Park (a seriously impressive park in the Bronx that I can't believe I'd never visited) which happened to be a short bus ride from the aptly named (at least as far as the title of this post goes): City Island. City Island is just your everyday classic small fishing village tacked on by a bridge to the rest of the Bronx. It is the stuff of recent film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1174730/ and has been written of in the New York Times. It also featured prominently in the book The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore which I reveiwed here on this very blog a month or so ago. Naturally, finding myself so close to such a remote and interesting part of the city, I had to stop by and check it out. The island is long (although not so long that it can't be traversed by bus in about 10 minutes) and thin to the point that walking down the main road you can see the water on both sides of the island. It has the feel of a New England fishing village (something that can't really be said about many neighborhoods in the Bronx). Naturally, it features a number of local seafood joints. I personally patronized the (apparently) famous Johnny's Reef at the far end of the island. At the Reef, you could get basically any ocean dweller you wanted deep fried. The fried shrimp were particularly tasty. However, I still saved room for the ice cream from another City Island hot spot, Lickety Split. I didn't bring my camera to City Island because, I didn't want to have to worry about it during the horseback riding portion of the day. I do have this picture, captured on my boyfriend's iphone, taken from the Reef.Seagulls enjoying just another lazy Saturday in the Bronx.
Switching gears a little, this weekend I used one of my precious few remaining summer Fridays to go to an island a little closer to home: Governor's Island. Governor's Island is just off the coast of lower Manhattan. Although covered in buildings from previous military occupations, no one lives there. It is open only on the weekends during the summer when it is accessible via a free ferry. I'd actually been to Governor's Island a couple of times in the past, but it never fails to creep me out a little. It looks exactly like a college campus, except that all the buildings are completely desserted (except for some that are randomly repurposed as nearly empty "art studios"). I suppose it is nice that it is left aside as a park though. On Fridays, you can rent bicycles for free to journey around the island. Because there are no cars allowed, it is one of the safer New York City biking options. Or at least it would be if New York children knew how to ride a bike. So often they seemed as likely to careen into me or each other as to ride in an orderly fashion. It was a lovely day though, and I did manage to take a few pictures.
Picnic Point on Governor's Island. See that large apartment building structure in the background to the right? It's huge. And no one lives there.
A view of Liberty Island from Governor's Island. Also pictured: a large boat.
One of my attempts to be artsy. Never let it be said that I don't document my photography failures.
That's about all I have to say about islands and my time on them. I worry that this blog, in addition to mentioning Astoria less and less, is becoming basically a chronicle of my weekend activities. I'm not sure how to fix this. Maybe include more pictures of my cat? Ideas are most welcome. Unless they're things I don't want to write about.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Of course, my efforts are complicated by the fact that I happen to live across the street from a delicious Indian restaurant with a perfectly reasonably priced dinner special. It's hard to make one's own food when, for a fraction of the effort, better food can be obtained at a small markup. But should I ever (god forbid) move from Astoria, and find myself not living across the street from such a convenient enabler of my curry habit, I need my own savvy to fall back on. To this end, I've decided to cut myself off from this place until I can achieve some sort of approximation myself. Once that happens, I'll be free to move anywhere I want without fear that I won't be able to access good chicken korma. In short, I will become my own reasonably-priced Indian restaurant.
Anyway, the first thing I attempted was a gobi paratha, which is essentially unleavened bread stuffed with cauliflower and other deliciousness. The place where I got the recipe said these make a tasty brunch food. But as someone who routinely eats omelets for dinner, I saw no problem with it being an excellent evening meal. I took pictures of the whole saga. At this point, I may as well admit that beyond expanding my culinary ability and exploring Indian grocery stores, my main interest in this experiment was to mess around with the food setting on my camera. Yep, I'm one of those people who takes lots of pictures of their food now.
Here's the first of my parathas rolled out and ready. The dough is a mixture of chapati flour (you can use a mix of white and wheat flours if you don't have an Indian grocery store as your displosal), oil, salt, a little water, and ajowain seeds.
Here's step 2 (I promise this is the only one I photographed quite this much). On our paratha dough, we now have some chopped cauliflower with grated ginger and green peppers. Notice that the tone is slightly redder in this one. There's a sub-setting on my camera for that.
After filling the paratha, you simply cover her, pinch the sides together, roll it down a little into a nice flat cauliflower pancake, and fry her up.
I took this one not so much to showcase the delectable inside of our little paratha friend (I promise to stop personifying the food after this one...I'll admit it's getting creepy), but as both a point-of-view shot and a photography study. I call this "Still Life with Paratha."
With the success of my gobi paratha experience, I decided to move north in my culinary tour of the subcontinent and try my hand at chicken korma. It is after all what I usually order at Indian restaurants. Yes, I know, I'm painfully white and can't handle spicy foods. You may or may not be happy to hear that I got a little more involved with the cooking on this one and thus neglected the photography side of things. Here are the steps I didn't photograph: cutting the chicken; marinating it in yogurt, ginger, garlic, onions, pepper, salt, and paprika; leaving it to marinate for two hours while I watched In the Line of Fire; and cooking it up in a pan with all this:
I swear this one was much more artsy when I took it. I really don't know what happened. Those of you playing along at home can try to guess the spices by color and (slightly blurry) texture!
Here's the finished product. And what's that on the edge of the bowl...why it's a piece of homemade naan! Actually, that was probably the most dissappointing part of the meal. It had a bricklike quality that good naan really shouldn't have. That probably has to do with the fact that I didn't re-knead it after letting it rest for 15 minutes. I blame John Malkovich for that one.
Moving on, tonight I decided to try my hand at making palak paneer. This meant I got a chance to make my own Indian cheese. Turns out it's very easy. You just boil an entire gallon of milk with a little citric acid (I opted for lemon juice) and then wrap it in cheesecloth and squeeze as much whey out as you can. The only picture I have of my cheese making is this one of my lovely little batch of paneer still cocooned in its cheesecloth. Not a great photo, but this is about posterity.
Now I went off the books on the actual making of the spinach curry. I found several recipes that people posted online from their Punjabi grandmother/landlord/bookie, but they were all very different. Ultimately I decided to be a renegade and just throw in whatever I liked. Mine involved spinach, curry, tumeric, salt, and cumin. I also added some almond milk and butter to get the consistency. It doesn't look like much, but it's the best thing I've made in quite a while.
For some reason it didn't occur to me to take a picture until I'd eaten most of it. That's a mark of how good it was. Or how hungry I was. At any rate, here's a blurry picture of my half eaten portion. See those unappetizing, goopy white blobs? Those are my paneer! Better than it looks, is all I can say about this one.
So there you have it. As you can see, my ability to work with the complex spices and depth of flavor of Indian food has improved marginally, while my ability to photograph even inanimate objects without them coming out blurry has degenerated substantially.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Because it's nearing my last few summer Fridays (is it just me or did this summer fly by?), I wanted to leave the city. On the spur of the moment I journeyed to a random state park in Long Island. It was supposed to have horseback riding and canoeing, but ultimately we weren't able to do either of these fine outdoors activities. In lieu of canoes, they did have these beauts though:
They're like canoes, but more hardcore.
Paddleboats don't quite have the same outdoorsy spirit of actual canoes, but you certainly do get a better leg workout. And how many boating experiences can you really say that about? Here's another pic of me, out on the open water, like Huck Finn (if he paddle-boated), paddle-boating my heart out:
The fact that I'm wearing a life jacket just proves how difficult this is.
I didn't really take that many pictures of the actual park (hey, I'm new to this whole "taking my camera everywhere" thing), but I did get this flower from the parking lot:
You don't get this kind of natural beauty in the parking lots of the big city. I can tell you that right now.
On the way back, because we had some extra time (mostly because I didn't think to reserve trail ride horses in advance) before I had to get the car back, we stopped at the Queens Museum of Art in Corona Park. This was the sight of the World's Fair in 1964. I'd passed it from the highway, but never had a chance to stop and check it out. The Eiffel Tower of Queens
You also might remember these (at least I do), not in conjunction with the World's Fair, but with the landmark 1997 film Men in Black:
If anyone can look at these and not picture the alien spaceships of a galactic cockroach, then they are clearly less of a slave to popular culture than I am. That's totally the tree that Linda Fiorentino was dropped on! Sometimes I marvel at the landmarks that can be found in my fair borough.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Three hours later and a kitchen now saccharine with layers of candy, frosting, and twinkie remnants, I created these bad boys:The picture isn't the best because it was taken on an iphone (my hands were too iced to consider getting out my own camera with "food" setting). However, if you can't tell, these are sharks leaping ferociously from the water surrounded by schools of fish, buoys, and life preservers (some with "bites" taken out of them).
The subway ride to work was undertaken very carefully as the top heavy twinkie sharks were somewhat unstable (as I discovered by several taking a nose dive in my freezer while I was trying to freeze some structural integrity into them). Lacking the telltale cartilagenous skeleton of their real life counterparts, several fallen comrades had to be abandonned (to tupperware for later consumption...). At any rate, most of my cupcakes made it to work unscathed. A couple had fallen together, but I decided it looked like a feeding frenzy, which really could be a natural occurrence amongst a pack of shark cupcakes. Hopefully, they still taste good after living in my freezer for nearly an hour and then chilling in my fridge all night.
I had to skip my book club for this, but I hadn't finished the book anyway, so it was probably for the best. Good use of an evening, no?
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I'm actually no closer to finishing even a first draft than I was six months ago. So why post something now? Well, partly because I haven't done anything worth writing about since I've gotten back from my trip, and I have a self-imposed blog post quota to maintain. The second reason is that it has recently come to my attention (thanks to a tip from a loyal werebear fan) that James Franco--who you may remember from his iconic role as "New Goblin" in Spiderman 3--is now shopping around a very similar idea. Observe exhibit A (skip to 2:25): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfzuOu4UIOU. Okay, so he's not so much "shopping around" the idea as he is making fun of it. But that's how I got my start too! You start off joking, but pretty soon you start thinking: "hey, people have paid money at bookstores for worse." Before you know it, two years of your life are gone, and all you have to show for it is 30,000 words of teen fluff.
At any rate, I submit for you an excerpt from the book in all its unedited glory. This particular section takes place when Tara (our lovelorn teenage heroine), egged on by her friends Rachel and Kati, finally discovers her boyfriend Mike's (a Norweigen exchange student/bear) secret of why she never sees him at night. It's not the sort of book I would read myself, but hey, that hasn't stopped me from writing it. Enjoy!
All business now, the girls readied their flashlights and sprinted across the cul-de-sac to the entrance to the woods. With the light now, the way seemed only slightly easier. It still was nearly impossible to see where Mike had gone. It was as if the woods opened up to let him pass and then barred the way again. Still they pushed on with great urgency, all pretending they knew exactly where they were going. The twigs scratched their arms and legs but they pressed on without even registering it. Tara led the way, furiously pushing aside branches that could serve no purpose but to stand between her and the truth. Rachel followed her while Kati, holding the flashlight aloft, brought up the rear.
Suddenly, Tara heard a muffled cry behind her and turned around. Kati had tripped over a root and lay crumbled on the ground gripping her ankle. Rachel bent down to help her, and Tara ran back to her side.
“Are you okay?” asked Tara.
“Yeah…well, I’m not sure. It really hurts” groaned Kati.
“We’re so close though,” said Rachel.
“You don’t know that,” said Kati with a pained laugh, “for all you know, we could be far. And anyway we don’t even know where we’re going, so close and far are kind of moot.”
“I knew this was a bad idea,” whispered Tara almost to herself.
Suddenly, as if to underline Tara’s point—and in a way Rachel’s as well—very near to them was a flash of light illuminating the trees and a clearing up ahead. Accompanying the flash of light was a horrible, guttural, roar. It sounded like the voice of something (for a human voice it was not) in horrible pain.
“We’ve come this far,” said Rachel with finality. The two girls hoisted Kati who was able to walk quite well on her foot, though whether from adrenaline or actual foot health was a matter that didn’t concern any of them just then. They ran towards the clearing where they had seen the light.
The flash had settled into a dim glow, but the clearing was still very visible in the haze of the mysterious illumination that was seemingly without source. The source of the light was soon clear—Mike was lying in the clearing, but his body was wrenching about without his control. He seemed to be having some sort of seizure. Tara’s instinct was to run to him as he was clearly in pain—but Rachel’s hand on her arm stopped her long enough for her to realize her legs wouldn’t have moved anyway. But at the instant Rachel’s hand touched her arm, before she could think of anything other than that the man she loved was being tortured by some unseen force, she let forth an involuntary cry: “Mike!” He looked over at her and she was immediately washed with regret. For the look of pain on his face and in his eyes at seeing her there, as proof her betrayal, was far worse than any physical pain he might have been undergoing. He looked truly hurt for only an instant before his head snapped back looking upwards, and she saw his face no more.
In the next moment, fur was growing all over his body. He was becoming huge and muscled, a sinewy muscle, thick and strong especially in his limbs. The muscles were soon obscured by the hair that rippled over them in beautiful white waves. His entire stature was changed—his arms became equal to legs, and his body was contorted until it finally came to rest on all fours. Somehow, before the very eyes of the three girls, and in only a matter of minutes, the scrawny, pale, blond boy with a penchant for biochemical studies had transformed into an enormous, powerful white bear.
Rachel and Kati each grabbed one of Tara’s hands, and they stood in a chain, paralyzed by fear. The bear did not approach them, however. Once settled on the ground, safe and transformed, he turned to give one parting look to Tara, a look brimming with dissappointment. And though he was still a ways from them, she could see that while everything else had changed, his eyes were the same deep blue. He then turned and lumbered away into the forest. The light immediately faded and the clearing was left in darkness. They could not have followed him had they wanted to.
The walk home was undertaken in silence. Kati limped now, and her irregular footstep was the only remarkable noise on the journey back. Without discussing it, they all returned to Tara’s house and walked upstairs. There was no question: if they slept at all that night, it would be in the same room.
Kati was the first to speak: “Well…at least he’s not cheating on you.”
Sunday, August 1, 2010
But rather than speak about my trip and fall into the trap of only detailing what I ate, instead I'll give you what you really want---photos!
This is the lovely house of our wonderful friends. This is the interior courtyard where later in the week (when I probably should have photographed it again) they planted some beautiful rose bushes in the bed to the left. Also, I should point out the black square in the upper left side is not my fault--it's not a camera strap as it might appear, but rather the end of a wind chime. So I guess, by not framing the shot better, it really is my fault. I'm actually not sure why I'm drawing your attention to it...
One of our first stops on arriving was to the National Museum of Anthropology which is full of artifacts from the different cultures of Mexico. I took a shine to this bird man. Apparently, dressing up as a bird was a cultural trinket the Aztecs borrowed from one of the many cultures they conquered. Perhaps it added insult to injury when, after conquering them, the Aztecs took on their festival ways, but dressing as some sort of bird and dancing around is certainly a custom that is worthy of adoption.
The explanation (thankfully offered in English) disavowed the apparently previously thought theory that this intricately carved monolith was an Aztec calendar. But sadly that was the most memorable part of the explanation, and I have no idea what it actually was used for. Far be it for this blog to spread misinformation, so I can say with perfect confidence that at the very least this large artifact was never used as an Aztec calendar. It is, however, still known by many as "the Aztec Calendar." Those readers more familiar with anthropology and Aztec artifacts, or even those just willing to google, are free to comment with a more precise explanation.
I had heartily hoped to come out of this trip with a new facebook photo of me standing in front of some of the technological wonders of Mexico. Unfortunately, this one doesn't pass inspection because in my haste to get a shot without sunglasses, I ended up with some heavy squinting. It's hard to win with full sun pictures. At any rate, I've decided it's, at the very least, good enough for blogging. This photo is of me in Teotihuacan standing on the Temple of the Sun. The, somewhat smaller, Temple of the Moon is right behind me. These date to about 200 BCE (I think?). Also, and this is really neither here nor there, that hat only cost me 10 pesos.
Here's a picture of the Temple of the Sun (it's much easier to photograph when you're not standing on top of it). I took this one partially for scale, as you can see all the people climbing up it. You can also see the incredibly ominous clouds surrounding it, which about 10 minutes after this photo was taken would open a deluge on us. The people climbing up in this picture were probably the ones stuck at the top during the ensuing downpour and hail.
After escaping the rains of Teotihuacan, we were ready for lunch. We ended up driving through the torrents (or rather my friend Alex, who is an intrepid driver, did) in a circle for about 20 minutes trying to find a certain restaurant. At many points during the search, I wondered why we were passing by about 70 perfectly decent restaurants. When we finally found our destination, I understood why we had persevered. The resturant, called La Gruta, was inside a cave. Truly a magnificent eating experience. I'm not sure this picture really does it justice, but you get the idea.
On our next day, we went the opposite direction, to the far southern part of the city to an area called Xochimilco. This is the most fertile part of the city known for its beautiful plants. It is also home to large canals where you can rent boats to be pushed leisurely down river. During the trip, boats approach you selling everything from corn to chips and candy apples to music and jewelry. It's a very relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Here are Alex and I sunning ourselves on the edge of our boat, Lupita. She was a fine boat. Unfortunately, I was unperpared for this trip by not decking out in my "I heart New York" and Panama hat finery. So really, Alex is doing all the work in this picture.
This is another picture that suffers greatly to the real thing. We visited a former convent in the town of Tepoztlan outside of Mexico City. The structure was enormous, but the most memorable part was an enormous chapel in which everything was brightly gilded. Naturally, flash was not allowed. I did the best I could on my "museum setting," but a lot of the beauty is lost. Nevertheless, I like this photo a lot, so I'm including it. If you ever find yourself in Tepoztlan, this church is very much worth the visit.
I wish I could take credit for the glorious composition of this picture, but really it is one that Alex took. It is from the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (or Three Cultures Square), called such because you can see three periods in Mexican history there. In this photo you can see the remains of the pre-Columbian City of Tlatelolco (later, I think, conquered by the Aztecs), the church of Santiago Tlatelolco built in 1525, and of course the modern buildings of Mexico City. You can see them all nicely in this picture! For clarification, the wall in the foreground is part of the ancient city.
On our last day in town, we visited the historic downtown of Mexico City. Here is the Fine Arts Palace where they put on ballets, operas, and other cultural events. In addition to being stunning on the outside, there are a series of murals, by Diego Rivera and others, on the inside. There is also a magnificent crystal curtain made by Tiffanys on the main stage, but unfortunately, it was under renovation, so we couldn't see it firsthand. Oh well, that's just one more excuse to go back!
On our last night in town it was Isobel's birthday, so we went out for a nice dinner. Here you can see me, my mother, Isobel and Alex and Anibal up top. It was an enjoyable end to a wonderful trip, and fittingly, involved eating copious amounts of delicious foods.
Naturally these 12 pictures are just a drop in the bucket compared to the 200 odd pictures I (or Alex) took. I should have those loaded on a photo sharing site soon, so let me know if you want the link. Overall, I had a wonderful time and am thankful to have such generous and welcoming friends to visit in this beautiful city.