Monday, January 29, 2007

Laitakaupungin Valot or, Between Helsinki & San Juan

Well, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is in full swing, which meant that I spent a good bit of time this past weekend (when I wasn't making shrimp paella and Bolo de Amêndoa) in a theater.... and I'll be spending a few more hours in one through the week. I try to constrain myself to about 8 screenings total, mostly for budgetary reasons.

So far, I've seen the following:
Fauteuils d'Orchestre (retitled Avenue Montaigne for la Anglophonie), which was wonderful
The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, which was a truly bizzare and lengthy, but thought-provoking documentary of a Freudian theorist's lecturings/ramblings on everything from The Wizard of Oz to Mulholland Drive.
Kunsten at Græde i Kor (The Art of Crying), from Denmark: A weirdly disturbing memoir of extreme family dysfunction, which was by turns humorous and harrowing.
Congorama, a very entertaining mystery of sorts, set in Liège and Québec.

But by far, the most artistic and provocative — yet truly weird — offering was Laitakaupungin Valot, or Lights in the Dusk, by Finland's Aki Kaurismäki.

I had seen Kaurismäki's The Man Without a Past (Mies Vailla Menneisyyttä) a couple of years ago, so I generally knew what to expect. I realized that I now want to rent that film again to enjoy at my leisure more of the director's singular settings, characters, and the immediately recognizable use of light in his visual style.

I commented to friend J. that it's as if Kaurismäki is making sort of retro Soviet-bloc films that are even more austere and glaring than even Soviet-bloc film ever really was. His films are set in modern times but somehow look like history pieces and are populated with vintage automobiles and set decoration that I can only describe as Ikea-meets-дача-chic.

I was left scratching my head a bit at the end — wondering if the main character, Koistinen, was supposed to be imbued with some kind of crucifixion-oriented significance — but in any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and so many of the images were indelible in the manner of tableaux vivants (ok, I'll stop now...).

It has always been one's dream to learn at least a little bit of Finnish. I swear that when I look at the language, I'm convinced that they just make it up — that no one could possibly read such a double-vowel-laden mess:
Laitakaupungin valot on kauniisti valaistu ja kuvattu elokuva, jonka kuviin on jätetty runsaasti yksinäisyyden teemaa korostavaa väljyyttä ja tilaa. Myös elokuvan harkiten valittu musiikki alleviivaa Koistisen ulkopuolisuutta.
One of the idiosyncrasies that I find most intriguing (and which I'm sure makes the language nearly impossible to learn easily) is the fact that it has something like 15 noun cases. Thus, instead of separate prepositional phrases like we have in English ('from the,' 'to the,' 'at the,' 'of the'), they stick one or several suffixes on the end. Jeebus, it was hard enough for me to get used to Swedish sticking the definite article at the end ('ett hus' = 'a house'; 'huset' = 'the house').

I also find a lot of Finnish men pretty "intriguing." The lead in Lights in the Dusk, Janne Hyytiäinen, was no exception, except that it was apparent in the one (yes, one) scene in which he smiled or looked less-than-hangdog, that his teeth were really terrible. And he (or his character) smoked like a chimney. One got the impression from this film that Finns all smoke about four packs a day. I'm hoping that was just for cinematic effect, or I may need to rethink my hunt for a Finnish husband.

Any thought of Finnish men will always bring to mind the comment made to me a few years ago by an Italian photographer living in San Francisco that "Finns are the Puerto Ricans of Europe." By which he meant that they are purported to be incredibly skilled in the art of l'amour. Ridiculous stereotyping on both sides of the Atlantic aside, I have never been able to forget his comment, if only because the phrase itself is hilarious.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a Google search on "puerto ricans of europe" found references only to Hungarians and Albanians, and neither for reasons of sexual prowess. Thus, the hypothesis has yet to be fully tested and borne out. Research, anyone?

Friday, January 26, 2007

I'm Four Five Stomach Flus Away from Reaching My Goal Weight

Irma Rombauer is my favorite weekend date these days anyway....

Thursday, January 25, 2007

January: Santa Barbara

The Devil Wears Cerulean Blue

So if the fellatio isn't sufficient confirmation of the fact (though sometimes it just happens), I am absolutely sure that I'm A Gay after watching The Devil Wears Prada last night... and thoroughly enjoying it. Shallow, I know (tomorrow I promise a critique on the dialectics of fascism and personal freedom as seen in Pan's Labyrinth... okay?)

Obviously, Meryl Streep owns the movie, but I'm still not sure why her performance isn't considered "Supporting" (as opposed to Jennifer Hudson's, for example). But anyway, that would be splitting hairs, something I never do.

Quotes that appeal to my brand of humor and sarcasm included the following:
- "...tell her no, for the 40th time, no, I don't want dacquoise, I want tortes filled with warm rhubarb compote."
- "By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me."
- "Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning."
- "Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking."
- "Also, tell Richard I saw all the pictures that he sent for that feature on the female paratroopers and they're all so deeply unattractive. Is it impossible to find a lovely, slender, female paratrooper? Am I reaching for the stars here? Not really."

- "I'm on this new diet for Paris. I don't eat anything until I feel like I'm about to faint, then I eat a cube of cheese. I'm one stomach flu away from reaching my goal weight."

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Envelope, Please...

This entry is not about what you probably think it's about. More on my feelings about Volver and Babel at another time...

For weeks I'd been holding onto an unopened envelope that was waiting with my two weeks' worth of mail when I returned from my holiday trip to the east coast. I didn't want to open it as soon as I got home on New Year's Eve, then I didn't want to open it on New Year's Day.

'Why go there if it's something even remotely unpleasant' was the way I thought about it. It's no way to start the new year... with "bad vibes" and all that ridiculous stuff. I wanted to set a different tone for kicking off the new year. Not that I set a good tone for the year, but still...

So the envelope sat there and sat there, getting shuffled around every time I rearranged the growing stack of mail that always gets out of control within a week or so. From the desktop to the box of bills. On top of the Pottery Barn catalog, then under the magazines.

It was getting silly. Last Friday I had resolved to open the envelope this weekend, so that I had a couple days alone — or at least not distracted by work — to mull over what was inside and let it sink in. Last night came around and it was still sitting there. I managed to fall asleep without opening it, then saw it there again this morning while I was starting to make breakfast.

Enough was enough.

But this was really no ordinary envelope: with the return address from Dr. JDK, M.D., I knew it was a transcribed summary of the results of the tests on the blood samples I had drawn from me before leaving town in mid-December.

The blood tests: a predictable necessity three or four times a year now; usually a good five or six vials worth. Luckily, nothing about phlebotomy bothers me at all, and I always tell the staff at the lab that; I figure they need a break from people hating or fearing them all day. Really, they could take all they want and it wouldn't bother me. Three vials, six vials, ten vials, what's the difference?

Except in December it was different. In my last round of tests, back sometime in early summer, things weren't looking awful, but they weren't looking too great. My viral load had creeped back up to where it was somewhat detectable, though my CD4 count was fairly stable.

I didn't like the idea of detectable virus at all. Detectable = Drug Resistance, and the idea of drug resistance freaks me out, especially since I just started this new four-drug/five-pill cocktail in the summer of 2005, just about a year before the detectable test. Having the new regimen be effective for just one year bothered me a lot, especially since I switched to that drug combo as a result of developing resistance to an NNRTI-category drug, which was borne out by phenotypic resistance testing.

I wanted my current drug regimen to be effective for several years. I get angry, dejected, and also afraid of how this virus hijacks one's life and plans. I resent other positive people who stay healthy and symptom free for years or decades without needing pharmaceuticals. I resent people who've been on the same regimen for ten years with no ill effects and textbook-ideal results. I don't begrudge them their luck; I just can't help feeling fucked because maybe I don't have, or won't have, or haven't had the same luck. Then I feel guilty about the self-pity and think how happy I am that I'm not living in a village or shantytown in Kenya or Transvaal or West Bengal or some other place where getting drugs is pretty much impossible.

I try not to dwell on the negative possibilities of what another round of resistance might mean. Switching to a different protease inhibitor that might really screw up my liver enzymes, or kidney function, or blood lipids. Another round of phenotypic testing to see which drug options have become "all black" on the bar chart, and thus no longer good possibilities.

How many years might I have? How many years might I have? How many years might I have?

We can all ask that question even in the best of times, in the best of health, in the prime of youth or the prime of middle-age or whatever, and not know the answer. The answer can always be ten, fifteen, three, less than one... But I know that I ask the question far more often than I ever did a few years ago, and that it's something that I'll always be asking, in the back of my mind. Someone described that kind of nagging voice like a radio playing at low volume in the other room: sometimes you're engrossed in life or some project and don't even notice the sound, other times it's more still and the sound is more noticeable. But the sound is always there: "How many years...?"

Even worse than the question of time is the question of quality: "What will it be like, later on... down the road?"

Still, I'm lucky. And today, now, I feel even luckier. I open the envelope and unfold the single sheet:
kidney function-normal, blood glucose-normal, blood count-normal (WBC slight elevation), liver enzyme-slight elevation, cholesterol-normal, ldl-normal, hdl-normal, triglycerides-high....

PCR RNA (viral load): <50
CD4: 376
CD4%: 36%

Less than 50. Statistically undetectable.

I'm safe for now. I'm really happy. Relieved. Reprieved. Whatever you wanna call it.

The triglycerides still being high are a little worrisome; they might indicate increased risk for diabetes, though the other indicators are fine. It just means that the issues now are: Start Running! Join a Gym! Eat Better! Eat Less! Cut the Sugar!

Shit, this is my life. But I guess it's really... ok.

Quote of the Day

From Ultrabrown:

"[Indira Gandhi] had socialist and authoritarian streaks wider than the silver swirl in her coiffure."

I like it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

And Now One Big Reason Why I Hate the Governor

I meant to mention this in the previous entry.

For me, any glimmer of sanity, reason, or intelligence on Mr. Schwarzenegger's part — and sufficient reason, in my opinion, for him to be run out of office on a rail — is his veto last fall of a measure to allow condom distribution in prisons by nonprofit entities.

Make no mistake, this veto was unforgiveable, irresponsible, and absolutely immoral. Anyone who thinks that "voting for Arnold wasn't that bad because he's a moderate" should be forced to spend a couple hundred hours doing community service in a group home for HIV-infected families of ex-cons.

I couldn't agree more with the relatively level-headed assessment of the Los Angeles Times in its editorial from October 5, 2006:
"Conservative lawmakers have been trying to kill the condom bill all year -- for the head-in-the-sand reason that the program would effectively endorse the crime of having sex in prison.... Stopping the spread of HIV in one of the places where it grows the fastest is a far more pressing issue than re-electing a governor who should know better than to let public health be held hostage by moral hysterics"
So essentially, the State is going to have the burden of providing medical treatment to many of the inmates and potentially all those they may infect after getting out of prison (given that the statewide average time of incarceration is only 2 years).

Needless to say, the eventual economic cost isn't what should most outrage us regarding this cowardly political maneuver.

Trying to See the Bright Side?

Our Governator has done one or two not-totally-assholish things in this new term so far. Oh, ok, I'll admit it — I've actually been somewhat impressed with a few of his statements in recent weeks.

RELAX. I am not becoming a Republicrat or an unabashed Arnie supporter. I'm just saying he's not a complete idiot, and actually seems to be taking on some of the issues and seems to be researching some of them before shooting off his mouth. That alone makes him seem a lot more intelligent than our federal Commandant in Chief. Maybe the Austrian education system actually turns out critical thinkers?

I also find it interesting that he's been referred to (can't remember if it was he himself who stated it) as "post-partisan," due to certain actions that seem to rankle the Repub rank-and-file.

I'm not overly impressed with Ahnold's insurance plan, only because it seems to pretty much exact a high cost on individuals in terms of premiums and copays. I don't consider "Universal Health Coverage" to be a law requiring people to buy their own health insurance, even if it's at somewhat (minimally?) lower rates subsidized by a tax on the insurance companies and physicians. However, putting the issue on the table (finally!) is at least a step in the right direction. No call for dancing in the streets, but ... it's a bone.

Also, I found some of his statements in the LA Times yesterday about the California prison system interesting:

In an interview with The Times, Schwarzenegger offered a blunt appraisal about
the political roots of California's prison troubles. Schwarzenegger said the prison problem is not "sexy," because it does not affect people's lives directly, as schools or transportation issues do.

"You talk about prisons, people feel like, 'OK, go out and get the criminal and you send him somewhere, but wherever that is, I don't want to look there, I don't want to know. That's your problem,' " he said. "When the people are not excited about it, how do you make the legislators excited about it?" ...

Schwarzenegger has proposed $10.9 billion in new borrowing to expand the prisons, and wants to reexamine the state's penal code to see if sentences for some crimes are too long.

I'm not a fan of building more prisons, but the idea about reexamining the penal code is certainly overdue, and it seems like he has a grasp of the nature of political apathy and the shortsightedness of the electorate.

The point of all this is that it's been something of a surprise for me to realize that instead of being a huge skeptic — or worse, not even listening — for the first time since the regime change after that stoopid recall election, I'm saying: "OK Arnie, I'm listening to you."

Oh, and while I'm confessing sins of politics and logic, I'll admit that President Shrub said something late last week that I (may Dog strike me dead) can actually agree with. In challenging Congressional Democrats to come up with their own Iraq plan, Dubya stated:
"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible."
To that, I must offer a resounding "Amen." We need to talk more about solutions. As a professor of mine once said, "I don't care so much about what you are against; what are you for?" Iraq and everything it represents truly break my heart.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Älskaren i Gluggen

My latest über-dorky obsession is with a folk-music trio from Sweden called Triakel, and their CD, Sånger från 63°N (Songs from 63°N). It's been played to death on my stereo, and making me want to take up the Hardanger fiddle.

My favorite of late is the knee-slappingly infectious ribald-double-entendre "lullaby" called Älskaren i Gluggen (The Lover at the Window).

Jag ser ditt blåa öga
söta lilla vännen min
igenom fönstret höga
men du får inte komma in.
~ Tusselullagulla snälla
som går till mig om kvälla
som inte kan se att far är hemma
far är hemma.
Vyssan lullan lej.

Update 1/18/07: Someone has informed me that "Shockingly, some of us don't read Swedish." Disappointing as I find that, here is the translation (nothing sublime, really) of the above:
I see your blue eye
sweet little friend of mine
through the window up there
but you can't come in here.
~Hushabye baby dear
who comes to me this evening
who cannot see that pa's at home now
pa's at home now
hush now, baby dear

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On a vu souvent rejaillir le feu...

Hmm. For some reason I found this picture from an
LA Times article yesterday fairly.... appealing.

Must be the boots...

"Do you want chaat with that?"

I think they need to start serving these—and the McAloo Tikki—in Metuchen and Plainsboro...

(thanks to Sepia Mutiny for the tip...)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sleigh Rides in Seasons

i've found a place i'll never leave
shut my mouth and just believe
love is the truth i realize
not a stream of pretty lies
to use us up and waste our time

lying smiling in the dark
shooting stars around your heart
dreams come bouncing in your head
pure and simple every time