Friday, May 28, 2010

Schadenfreude and "Sex in the City"

Why is it that the Germans have such a way with words and language? To be able to create some of the combinations that they have is truly remarkable. Where would we be without concepts such as "bildunsroman" (coming-of-age-novel), "weltanschauung" (worldview) and, one of my all-time favorites, "weltschmerz" (world-weariness).
And then there is my TRULY all-time favorite, "schadenfreude", such a great concept that the musical,
Avenue Q, even composed a song dedicated to the idea of "happiness at the misfortune of others". It seems to be a highly misanthropic tendency, but who doesn't occasionally take a slight sense of malicious satisfaction when something 'unfortunate' happens to another person. We aren't talking horrible actions, but, you know, stars that make huge fashion faux pas, an ex to whom something unlucky might happen...
This may not be a true experience of schadenfreude, but I have greatly enjoyed reading the multiple reviews that have excoriated the latest (and last?) addition the "Sex in the City" franchise. I must admit that I enjoyed the occasional TV episode, and while I appreciated some of the humor and some of the relationships in the show, the first movie just about made me want to poke my eyes out. The focus on MARRIAGE and the desperate need to partner up make me associate this movie with that awful song by Beyonce ("All the single women/girls....") which people unfortunately seem to love to play.
Don't get me wrong, I am 100% happier now than I was 10 years ago or so, and some of it has to do with the fact that I'm sharing my life with a great person (and two lovely four-legged creatures), but I really balk at the idea that a person, male or female, but particularly a woman, needs a man to be happy, satisfied and fulfilled. Despite the weak attempt at promoting the idea of the strength of friendship in the first movie, it ultimately ends with a story-book ending. And I hate story-book endings and always have. Afterall, who doesn't kind of like the original Grimm's Fairy Tale version of "Cinderella"? A bit more gruesome but also more entertaining.
And so, as this weekend marks the opening of the summer blockbuster season, I find some pleasure in the bashing of "Sex in the City". Maybe it's thinking about my own woeful attempts to be a single female in a big city which were far from glamorous, maybe it's the self-absorption of the franchise that has finally blown itself up... But, yes, reading the reviews is my entertainment for the day!
On tap for the weekend - definitely NOT a trip to the cinema with one hundred of my closes friends to see the movie and then drink a few Cosmos afterwards. Grading, reading, a hike and hanging out with friends and dogs - that sounds just about perfect to me!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Review: Recent movies and books!

I swear, I thought that life would be easier as the end (of school!) approached, but clearly I deceived myself. This week (work-wise) just about killed me. Seriously. I can actually tell how crapulous* the week has been by how much exercise I fit in after work versus how much drinking I do. And this week, the exercise to drinking ratio was like 0:10. Zero being "exercise", ten being "drinking"**.
Not being able nor wanting to divulge specific details, I shall just say that there are certain aspects of one of the hats that I wear at my job that I hate. Not merely dislike a little, but hate. I mean, grading, is pretty far down on the list, but it doesn't wear me out emotionally. The discipline piece, seeing students cry, knowing that they aren't horrible human being but just human beings who have made a mistake because they are still young, THAT is the piece of the puzzle that repels me.
I did survive the week (there must be gods or a God somewhere), and the weekend has been glorious so far. Nice weather with lots of sun, a few new recipes, lots of time with the dogs, a 3-mile run at the gym (clocking 10:20 miles - faster than the last time I really kept track of my run at the gym; it's still slow, I'm still slow, but I'm getting faster, ever so slightly...), peaches and nectarines at the Farmers' Market. Life is good.

On a different note, but in keeping with that idea, now that one class is over and the year draws to a close, I have the time to read just a bit more, and we continue to make our way through our Netflix queue. What would I do without Netflix? If a more poetic vein ran through my being, I might try to write an ode to this heavenly idea made reality.

Books are also heavenly in their own way, but they also require brain cells and concentration, both of which seem to elude me these days. That said, I did pick up and read "The Quiet American". It was lying around the house, thanks to my aunt who periodically purges my uncle's book collection before it takes over their entire house. I had seen the movie prior to reading the book, which is rather unfortunate, but it didn't ruin the experience for me because the details of the movie did not overpower the language of the book. It isn't a great book, but I enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it. Graham Greene does have a way with language and beautifully evokes melancholy and nostalgia.
I'm currently in the midst of "The Great Fire" which is billed as a "love story" but is so much more than that. Funnily enough, the author, Shirley Hazzard, wrote a memoir of Graham Greene, which I did not realize until I was a few chapters into the book and decided to read the front cover about her. So far, I don't *love* it, but it is an interesting book and well-written. It also takes place in the past, China and Japan post-World War II, so it evokes a different place and time. We shall see what the final verdict is.
Movies hold their own place. During the week, Michael and I rarely watch a feature-length movie but recently we've been watching "MI-5", a British series about "MI-5", of course. It's an entertaining but highly improbable show which I enjoy and Michael tolerates because of me. We also finished the penultimate season of "Foyle's War" which I love and Michael likes. The first two seasons were a bit shaky, but the last few have been excellent. I'm both excited and sad to see the final season - do other people feel that sense of loss when a show ends? "The Wire" totally provoked that mixed feeling in me.
And the movies we have seen? There have been a few highlights:
- "Blade Runner" - A classic that has aged like a really great wine (sorry for the simile). Seriously though, it is still an excellent movie. I must make a note to myself to watch it at least every five years or so. Just great.
- "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" - also a classic. It has been a while since I've seen it, and I rented it (gasp!) to show my AP Class now that they are done with books and tests and papers. It has also aged well, but it's also great to see the 80's fashion reflected in that movie. Wow! Such amazing acting, a comedy of errors and a wholly entertaining movie.
- "Inglorious Basterds" - I did not hold high expectations for the film, so it came as a pleasant surprise to me (and to Michael) that we enjoyed it as much as we did. First of all, the title of the film seems to be a bit of a red herring, if you ask me. Well-written, well-acted, well-everything. I don't consider myself a fan of Tarantino at all, but it often surprises me how much I like his movies.
- "Sherlock Holmes" - A bit of a disappointment. Entertaining in parts, but not a great film (in my opinion).
- "JCVD" - Quite a surprise, that movie. We actually just saw it tonight, and it sort of 'snuck up' on the Netflix queue. It is billed as a 'comic action' film, but they should also add 'wickedly sharp satire'. It is a movie that is very much about movies, similar to "The Player", but also a bit bleaker and darker.
That's the round-up from my end of the universe! Bonne nuite!

*Crapulous - doe not actually mean 'crappy', although it should. The Spanish translation is "crapuloso/a", nothing about mierda, to my disdain. It has more to do with excess, usually referring to eating or drinking.
** No excess on my part, none indeed. Seriously though, I do hope that my drinking doesn't offend anyone.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cocktails and conversations

I would say that these two aspects of life largely defined the weekend for me, in good and bad ways.
Prom came and went, and I did not have to respond to a 1:00 am phone call about a drunk student (for some reason, I would be in charge of any student who decided to indulge in illegal substance/s or to get up to any shenanigans). I was fortunate enough to leave on the 'early' side, around 10:30, which still felt late to me. Some of my colleagues enjoy the Prom chaperoning experience, which I find to be quite painful. Yes, the adults generally gather before Prom officially begins and toast the night to take an edge off, but the edge generally pulls itself right back on as soon as I begin to interact with the students. Let's not forget to mention that some of the students, most of them, really, are dressed to the NINES. The girls have taken the day off to have their hair and make-up professionally 'done', which just seems bizarre to me. On the whole, I love the place where I work, but I do question the message that we send or that we allow the students to send themselves - it's great to take a day off school to look wonderful for Prom because this is, of course, the *highlight* of your high school social career. Sigh.
As my 'date' (another teacher) and I commented, we just feel awkward in these situations, and Friday night's soiree was no exception. At the adult/chaperone cocktail hour, I happily downed a French 75, a champagne drink that dates back to the 1920's or so, named after an artillery gun called the French 75. The gun, apparently, had a quite a kick, as does the drink. I hoped that I would drink in peace, and let the events of the night unfold without engaging myself. Unfortunately, I made the terrible choice of sitting beside the head of school and then trying to involve myself in a conversation that he and a few other people were having. What a mistake. They were talking about such heady topics as democracy, history, and the writer, David McCullough. When someone asked if I had read anything by him, I stupidly said yes, but then fumbled with the follow-up question as to what I had read. Am I an idiot? Does it really matter that I haven't read anything by this author? Chalk up the stupid response to my awkwardness or complete lack of confidence (am I 16?). Honestly, I can't believe that I just baldly fibbed about having read an author. Brilliant. And was then called out on it. Even better.
Then, I stepped on a student's dress, and she reacted indignantly. Jeez! (See, totally awkward teacher - Sometimes I really feel like Tina Fey's character in "Mean Girls".)
Moving on to Saturday night, Michael and I had a cocktail hour at home which went much better than Friday night's escapad. He gave me a great little bartending book for my birthday, so we pledged that we'd perfect our mixologist talents this year. Before now, we hadn't done much experimenting, but last night we tried a "Gin Sidecar" with Hendricks, Triple Sec, lime juice and a cucumber garnish. That all packed quite a refreshing punch - I can't wait to have another one at some point. Not tonight. I think we had a bit too much fun last night! After watching Inglorious Basterds, we stayed up late looking at old pictures of ourselves. It was quite the treasure trove of bad hair and weird fashions.
Payback came this morning - late night, mixed drinks followed by wine. Ugh. It's been a slow day!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tomorrow: Game Day

Being on an academic calendar, I have certain dates well memorized by the time school even begins. You know, we receive our calendar well ahead of the start date, so I know on what day certain events fall. Some of these are small events, like Columbus Day, which we get off, others are slightly more important, like when Christmas Break begins. This year, the two days that have etched their numbers, 14 and 13, well into my brain are rapidly approaching. The number 13 is not unlucky, not this year, not in June, because it marks graduation. Hallelujah!
The 14th approaches even more rapidly, we are just a few hours shy of it. And it's not the clock striking midnight, but the clock striking 8:00 am that will mark, to me, in my own petty little way, a milestone.
At 8:00 am, my small handful of senior students will sit down to take a test that I certainly wasn't capable of taking in high school: the AP Spanish Literature Exam. 9 months and 57 works later (give or take a few here and/or there), they will sit for their exam, we will all exhale, students and teacher alike, and then I will await on pins and needles for the next few months before I know the results. Tomorrow morning, later, after the exam, will provide me with somewhat of a relief when I see the students and see the essay questions. But final results? Nothing until July, or maybe August for me, since I will be traipsing across 'the Continent' at the end of July (oh Joy!).
I am cognizant of the fact that these students are tired. Probably bone-tired and also emotionally done by the end of their senior year. That, combined with the fact that PROM is tomorrow night, might make for some iffy results.
Which is totally understandable. It really is. I will not hold it against these students if they all fail, except I might, just a small bit, hold it against myself, because I know that these are whip-smart students. Seriously. They could kick my ass on the IQ factor any day, it's just that I have a broader range of experience and in theory I have a stronger grasp on Hispanic literature, ranging from the 14th to the 20th centuries.
So, I have hopes and expectations of and for them. Maybe that's unfair, but like any children (these are not my biological offspring, but I've now taught them for 2 years, so this is as much 'mothering' as I will ever know, except for our dogs), I see them as a reflection of myself in a way. Additionally, do others judge me on these scores? Yes, without a doubt.
But all of this nonsense will be over, more or less, tomorrow, somewhere in the 11:00 o'clock hour.
To celebrate my students' achievements and the end of a demanding year with them, I will chaperone Prom. Yes, that is right, Prom. I can't wait.
(Please note: Sarcasm at the end. I really don't like prom at all.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Flowers abloom!

I would definitely have considered myself to be more than "lucky" this weekend. First of all, I took a personal day on Friday. Personal days, to me = bliss. Unless, of course, I'm taking one because I have to spend hours at the DMV. That would be not so great, obviously. However, I totally dedicated the day to myself - I did zero work (really!), got my bangs trimmed, ate lunch at a wonderful pan-Asian place in Pasadena called Daisy Mint and then visited the rose garden at the Huntington Museum and Garden. Lunch out, first of all, was a total treat, and secondly, it rocked. Michael and I have shown quite a bit of loyalty to a few Thai restaurants over the past few years, but a colleague recommended this place, and I was so glad that we tried it. The bill, including some amazing lemonade for Michael and lemon tea for me, came to $20.00. Total deal for the ambiance and the food. We will be having leftovers tonight, actually!

After that savory experience, we lugged our stomachs and the rest of our bodies over to the Huntington where we spent a quick but delightful hour looking at roses and herbs. Michael and I tend to stick to the same route when we visit the Huntington, but now that we are members, we can dash in and out and see what we want and then leave without feeling guilty for not getting "our money's worth". That, to me, is the biggest plus of a museum membership! At any rate, the roses were in FULL bloom. We enjoyed all of the bright colors - such a fantastic array - and we also learned about the roses and how the garden was organized, based on year. Kind of like wine being organized around certain vintages. I digress, but there were some fantastic flowers. After oohing and aahing over the roses, we explored the herb garden where we could touch and smell (but not pick) the herbs. Our favorite was lemon balm - it smelled like lemon, obviously, but in a wonderfully fragrant way.
Then, yesterday we pulled off the long-awaited and long-planned first hike of 2010. Actually, not the FIRST hike, since we did manage a wonderful hike when my parents were visiting us back in February, but this was our first hike around Los Angeles. Ever since March, I had been planning and then postponing that ever elusive hike, so I am happy to report: Mission Accomplished! Not that I want to think about hiking in those sorts of terms (too much military symbolism involved), but I do feel that we broke through that "we need to get out and hike!" barrier. Added to that is the fact that we enjoyed a gorgeous day in the Santa Monica mountains, spotted a few birds, at least two dozen lizards and tons of wildflowers, what could have been better? The trail was to Standstone Peak, apparently one of the "best" hikes in the LA area, and I did like that it was a loop and that we had a good elevation gain and loss, but it wasn't straight up and then straight down but lots of variety (although there was a good portion that WAS up, up and up). Also, we enjoyed cool rock formations and an abundance of wildflowers. My favorite flower that I hadn't seen before was this lovely lady:
The Mariposa Lilly!

Such an exquisite flower!
We were on the trail by 9:00 am and wrapped it up around 11:30. At that point, we believed that we were 'ravenous', so we drove to PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and headed to Malibu. Once we set south, we realized that we hadn't been on a drive along the PCH for ages - I think it's been almost a year. "Where do I live?!" I asked myself. "What have I been doing with myself?!" It was a great day to be out - the water was beautiful and there were tons of people out and about. We ended up splitting fish tacos at this place that we discovered two years ago (and hadn't been back until now) called "Lily's pastries and cafe" or some such nonsense. Screw the cafe and pastries, the Mexican food is amazing! These are, without a doubt, the best fish tacos I've ever eaten. Better than those I had at a small town in Baja California. Just amazing.
Fish tacos washed down with horchata = life is good.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de mayo - the ubiquitous post

So, I'm probably one of the few teachers in my specific field (Spanish) who has a secret dislike of the Cinco de Mayo. I'm not racist (really! sorry that was a lame joke), I don't support the new Arizona law (don't get me started, I'll be up on a soapbox in half a second), but the whole Cinco de Mayo thing seems like a lame excuse for a bunch of gringos to drink margaritas, eat lousy nachos and pretend that they are showing a deep appreciation for Mexican culture and history.
What's even more sad, in my view, is that many people think that the Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day, which it is not, of course. That would be the 16 (el dieciséis or el diez y seis, depending on how you want to write it out) of September. The president kicks off the celebrations with the "Grito de Hidalgo" from the Palacio Presidencial in Mexico City (el DF) and it's an on-going party after that.
Taking into account my deep-seeded dislike of the Cinco de Mayo, then, you can imagine my frustration when I was in class yesterday, talking about the plan for the week, and a student raised his/her hand. Ah, question time! Always a welcome thing, a student with a curious mind. So, I give this individual the floor and he/she asks (in Spanish, points there) "What are we going to do for the Cinco de Mayo?". I almost lost my shit.
Okay, not really, but almost really.
First of all, I should back up. I don't teach first-year Spanish where parties (at least at the school where I teach - don't get me started) seem to be de rigueur. If not weekly, then certainly monthly. Of course I understand that there is a strong cultural component when it comes to celebrations, but it's May, AP exams are upon us, I have at least 8 weeks of information that I need to cram into the next 4 weeks, I'm tired and so are the students. AND YOU WANT A PARTY?!!???!!!
To not be a total grinch (or bitch), I took a pragmatic approach and did not bite the student's head off. Rather, I put the onus of a party on them - oh, if you want to bring in some food tomorrow, that's fine, but you'll clean up every last migas (crumb) from the floor.
I am happy to report that they did not bring food to class today, which is a good thing because I've been off all week, and I actually thought that the Cinco de Mayo (in English and/or in Spanish) was tomorrow. Oooops! It might have thrown me for a loop if I walked into an 8:15 class that was ready to sing, dance and devour sugar.
On a different note, I do support the Phoenix Suns' political statement with their jerseys, and it's more than alright for them to be "Los Suns" on the Cinco de Mayo!
Also, we are making chicken enchiladas, beans, rice and brownies to share with friends tomorrow night. It was a random date, and I didn't even think about the Cinco de Mayo correlation until now. So, maybe I doth protest too much?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Springtime indeed!

This picture really MAY be worth a thousand words, but I think that I'll elaborate, just a bit.
After all, it finally feels like spring has arrived. I looked at the weather for next week, and the highs during the day range from the 70's to 80's, no more dipping into the low 60's as the so-called "high"! On that note, we bought our first watermelon of the season which I chopped up this afternoon and we also drank margaritas, which seem like warm weather drinks to me. Also, I finally donned a new pair of sandals today which had been hiding out in closet, waiting for warmer weather. I am more than happy to report that they did not give me one blister, despite that I walked all around the Los Angeles Arboretum for a good part of the morning.
It is the yearly (I suppose) L.A. Garden Show, so Michael and I decided that it would be a nice way to celebrate a new month, especially the month of May. We arrived on the early side - this side of 10:00 - and wandered through some of the landscape design exhibits, many of which were REALLY cool. If I had my own house/garden and oodles of money to throw around, I would love to have some of the edible kitchen gardens or a native plant yard. On the other hand, if I had tons of time and energy, I could probably dedicate myself to gardening, but it just seems like such an endeavor! We do want to plant tomatoes one of these days, and we did come away with a few ideas, so that was a positive. The whole gardening thing, while it seems to suddenly be quite the "rage", does appeal to me, and it is on my life's list of to-do's.
In addition to all that coolness, just being in a beautiful space was a bonus. Despite living in the general area for 5 years, I had yet to visit the Arboretum until today, and we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the spaces. There were wonderful trees and plants from Asia, Australia and Africa - many of them seemed like something that Dr. Zeuss had created! And we took a tour of the rose garden which isn't the largest one I've ever seen, but we couldn't get over how fragrant the flowers were! One of them, I kid you not, smelled like peaches. We finally arrived at a waterfall in the middle of the Arboretum, chased a peacock off the bench (yes, lots of peacocks just wandering around the gardens) and sat for a moment or two to enjoy the morning.

Once we finished with the Arboretum, we were "famished". Not really, but the long walk had definitely stirred up my appetite. Despite a refrigerator that offered plenty of options, we both opted to try a new (to us) Mexican place in Pasadena. A colleague recommended "Amigos Cantina" last week, mentioning that she actually couldn't remember the food after drinking two margaritas, but she thought that it was good. So, we took the plunge. To be honest, Pasadena doesn't have the *best* Mexican food in the LA area. Some of the taco trucks are pretty decent, we have our favorite one that isn't technically in Pasadena, so to find non-gringo Mexican would present us with great options. The place didn't look like much of anything, which I took as a huge plus, ditto for the table of people speaking Spanish right as we walked through door. After devouring over half a basket of chips and multiple bowls of salsa (they were very small bowls!), we moved on the the main event - enchiladas for Michael and carnitas sopes for me. With great energy and elán, we tucked into the heaping plates that arrived at our booth. Despite a valiant effort, we both failed in the end. It was just too much food, but it was so damn good! Plus, we each ate about half a plate, so we now have plenty of leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow.
After inhaling our lunch, a food coma suddenly slammed us. We returned home, said hello to the dogs, and promptly lugged ourselves over to bed, where we enjoyed a big, fat, Saturday afternoon nap. Definitely the only way to deal with a mid-day Mexican food coma.