Colombian Coffee

Would we have coffee with…Shakira (aka Isabel Mebarek Ripoll)?

Kristy: Definitely. I’m a fan of Shakira’s but not the biggest by a long shot. I own one album (and perhaps a few downloaded tracks). Until Cammy floated me a copy I was unaware of her latest release. But I find her to be a very interesting person. In addition to being talented she’s also obviously very intelligent. It’s funny thought, because while being smart and independent were huge parts of her image in Latin American 10 years ago, in the US she’s kind of allowed the image of the exotic dippy blonde to take over. At first I thought she was a victim of poor record company promotion, but it’s gone on so long I’ve started to think it’s strategy. So I’d like to have coffee with her to ask her about it. My current theory is that she thought her chances of success in the US were higher if she was just an exotic sex kitten than if American realized there was more behind the shimmy. But I’d like verification on that. I’d also like to have a general conversation with her about things ranging from the Columbian poltical situation to the position of women in the music recording industry. And I feel like I should buy her a cup to thank her for always continuing charity work no matter how big she got.

Cammy:  I’ll have coffee with her, if only to demand a return to her pink-hair, angry-chick-rock-ness.  While her music still sounds great by and large, seeing a music or appearance from Shakira is a kind of let down when you are even passingly familiar with the days when her hair had pink streaks and she was rocking out “Si Te Vas” and “Ojos Asi.”  I’m eager to hear what answers she gives to Kristy about the image change (I might even be willing to hold off on my return to pink-hair demands).  And will she be funny?  Usually smart people are funny, but….And after Kristy’s done with Colombian politics?  I’m gonna ask her about the REALLY important stuff:  Mexican remakes of Colombian telenovelas!  Where does she stand on “En los tacones de Eva” vs. “Por Ella Soy Eva”?  Is she all about “Yo Soy Betty La Fea” or is it “La Fea Mas Bella”?  You think I’m kidding, but I want to know.

Note:  The Management would like to apologize for the late appearance of this post.  Technical difficulties (read: Cammy screwed it up) happened.

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Song of the Summer, No “Mistake”

I’ve met lots of people who have “songs of the summer”–songs that may not lyrically define their summer seasonal experience, but which, for some reason or other, crop up through their summer in a way that renders them part of the essential soundtrack of every warm-weather memory for a given year.  Last year I had Sarah Harmer’s “Captive” and Hey Ocean!’s “Make a New Dance Up.”  One summer in high school it was BNL’s “One Week.”  These songs–and usually it’s only one or two–survive multiple rounds on repeat and become unforgettable parts of our summers.

This year, one of the two songs was “Desliz” a duet from Lucero and Joan Sebastian.  Obviously, Spanish practice via telenovelas with Lucero led me to her music, and, well, I’m never one to avoid good music, no matter what the language. So, I bought the newest album from the Amazon MP3 store.  The whole album (Un Lu*Jo) is a great collecton in total, but “Desliz” just amused the hell outta me.

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Movie Review: Zapata – El sueño del héroe

Title: Zapata – El sueño del héroe (2004)

Writer/Director: Alfonso Arau

Cammy: In my procurement of media to assist in my Spanish practice, I wound up with a copy of the relatively-recent Mexican feature film,  Zapata – El sueño del héroe.  When I bought the DVD a few months ago I watched the first, maybe 5 minutes and was completely lost.  The thing had NO English subtitles and my Spanish clearly wasn’t up to par to tackle this one.  I mean, there were Spanish subtitles in those first minutes, but I was connecting none of what I was hearing to what I was reading.

Months later, after a LOT of telenovela viewing, I felt a little better, but I still thought it would be smart to bring it with me on my visit to Kristy and watch it with her.  For one, her Spanish is vastly better than mine after years of classes, a degree in Latin American studies and two summers in Latin American countries.  For another, that same degree in Latin American studies meant that her over-all knowledge of the history of Emiliano Zapata was likely to be way better than mine.  Just like she helped prop me up through University Spanish, I was going to depend on her again!

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What Cammy Did On Her Summer Vacation: Summer of the Telenovela

We’re baaaaaaaaaack! Estamos aquí!

Among other things that have taken me from the blog this summer has been my continued efforts to re-learn what little Spanish I ever knew.  Despite having grown up in Texas, I’ve never been fluent in Spanish.  In fact, if not for the kind assistance and interminable patience of Kristy and Mary, I would not have managed the C I got in our shared Spanish class at William and Mary (the one semester I dared to take beyond the additional semester of Spanish required to fulfill my language requirement–it’s also the class that resulted in Kristy and I really meeting Mary, so even if I’d have failed, it would have been a win).

Kristy has long been telling me I should be watching telenovelas (and providing adequate guidance and support for exploration) both for entertainment and to strengthen my knowledge and understanding of the language,  and, years later, this message finally made its way through my thick skull.  I had started with an impulse purchase of Soy Tu Dueña on DVD.  Though highly edited from its original airing*, it was totally addictive.  I was beyond amused.  I’ve sampled others since, particularly those featuring the actors I became familiar with through that first novela.  The edited DVD thing was a downer, though, so when I heard that Televisa had a new comedy telenovela starting Lucero, star of Soy Tu Dueña, I thought it would be a great way to start watching a telenovela in its full run, no edits.  Sadly, you get geo-blocked from watching episodes on the Televisa website, but I was delighted to find that in July, the US Spanish language network, Univision was set to start airing the show.

Even though the Univision station in my area (literally the only Spanish language, over-air broadcaster in my state) is low power and just barely pulls in on the rabbit ears at my home, I was set to start watching in July.

It’s called Por Ella, Soy Eva. The literal translation is “For Her, I’m Eva” though apparently when translating to English someone thought it would be better to call it “Her, Me, and Eva” which is kinda stupid–I think the literal translation was A-OK, so why fuck with it, I ask?  I’ll give you my summary first:  Jaime Camil, cross dressing to clear his name and win (back) the love of his life.

The more “official” version is that womanizer Juan Carolos Caballero (the aforementioned and HIGHLY attractive Jaime Camil) is forced to live a double life as a woman, Eva, in order to clear his name from a theft he was framed for committing, and, more importantly, to win back the love of his life, Helena Moreno (played by the always- awesome Lucero–who incidentally is also a fantastic singer with some great music)–the single mother he had originally intended to dupe out of her project (to develop a particular community in the state of Guerrero into a family-and-environmentally-friendly tourism destination).  Along the way, his time in Eva’s pantyhose teaches him many valuable lessons about sexual equality and the impact of machismo on women (honestly, if sticking men in pantyhose were that effective at curing men of being macho assholes, Leggs would be worth more than Apple).

At this point we’re still early in the series (the Mexican run is estimated to be around 140 episodes*).  Not too late for you to jump into the funny if your Spanish allows.  Hulu Plus has the whole series so far (and also, all of Soy Tu Dueña–in its original, un-edited form) if you’re a member.  If not, there are some sites with summaries available to get you caught up.  And if the strength of your Spanish is worrying you, don’t let it.  You really will be amazed at how much you can follow without the benefit of understanding the language, and more amazing is how much it’s possible to pick up through viewing.  Sites like the blog Caray, Caray!! have some fabulous English language recaps of the episodes (if you read them, BE NICE and leave a thank you for the recapper…).  I have only read one of their recaps for this particular series (been too busy to read others), but I’ve read recaps in the past for series that are completed and they were highly entertaining and informative in and of themselves (SNARK!), as well as being a great way to ensure that you get the important elements even if your Spanish fails you.

And it IS funny.  I had my fears about how amusing I would find the show.  Humor can be so closely related to a culture that it just evades outsiders.  I can’t be 100% sure I’m finding the same things funny that a Mexican would, but I’m definitely amused.  There’s still a dramatic drive to the show (I’ve yelled at characters not to be stupid as much as I’ve laughed, but this is to be expected because in the end it IS a telenovela, not an episode of Sabado Gigante).  Jaime Camil, as I’ve mentioned, is hot, but he’s also great at this comedic role.  He also makes a strangely nice-looking woman (to the extent that I ‘m qualified to judge).  And Lucero continues to make me think she’s the Reba McEntire of South of the Border as she is pretty damned funny herself in the more comedic moments given to her character***.  The supporting cast is also great (another lesson I’ve learned about telenovelas is that the supporting characters and cast can be even more entertaining than the leads, though in this case it’s balanced nicely).  I’m just as invested in their outcomes as I am in watching Juan Carlos learn how the world works when you’re stuck wearing heels.  Mimi de la Rosa is awesome (“La vida es color de rosa! La vida es felicidad!  Llueven flores!  Llueven flores!“), and the whole family dynamic with the Fernando and Marsela and their kids is great (though, it’s hard not to snicker at how 80s names arrived late to Mexico:  the teenaged Contreras kids are named Jennifer and Kevin…).  And Eugenia?  I’m completely touched every time she’s on-screen.

Humor, characters and language lessons aside, it’s also kind of educational to see what it is that other countries are tackling through their media.  In this case the over-arching theme of the impact of male-dominated sexist behavior is a definite reminder that for as far as we still have to go with women’s lib up here in the States, gal’s south of the Rio Grande are fighting some of the cultural norms we ditched by the 70s.  Not to say that all of Latin America is stuck in the 50s as far as women’s rights are concerned, but their pockets of machismo are more widespread than ours.

You also get weird cultural lessons like how absurdly bad some of the product placement is in these shows (if you’re just starting, the further you go, the more blatant it gets), and just how popular spandex appears to be in Mexican fashion (I think it must be the national fiber down there).  And if you’ve got good ears, you can have fun trying to spot the differences in accent (I’m convinced–based on how bad my own Spanish is–that noticing accents is more about having an ear for musical sounds than anything….I’ve been able to note several regional differences for certain characters, even though I couldn’t actually translate what they’d said).

As a linguistic and cultural education exercise, this series is one of the most humorous and entertaining ways you could go.  If Juan Carlos can learn to understand women by wearing their shoes, I’m happy to learn to understand Mexico by watching its comedies.

*Check that:  Between the time I drafted this and my check of the Wikipedia article this morning, apparently it’s up to 150 capitulos according to the Mexican airing schedule.  ZOMG, I’ve got SO FAR TO GO! REVISED AGAIN: Now Wikipedia is showing it will run to 155…
**I am VERY pissed to find out that just about every telenovela you can find on DVD has been heavily edited.  There’s no such thing as a DVD or DVD collection of a Mexican telenovela as it aired originally. According to the primary outlet for the telenovelas produced by Televisa in Mexico, their take is that such a collection would be so expensive, no one would buy it.  To this I say BULLSHIT.  I would TOTALLY fork over for a full copy of Soy Tu Dueña and even though Por Ella Soy Eva isn’t finished yet, I already know it’s more than awesome enough to justify purchase..  If you look at the full run of US TV series that many of us have, the number of episodes from, say, the full run of Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica, is approximately the same as an entire telenovela, and many of us paid the $150-200 involved in those investments.
***For the record, I totally want to see a concert line up of Lucero, Reba and Claudia Jung.  Three languages, three countries, a whole lotta awesome.

Coffee on Mango Street

Would we drink coffee with Sandra Cisneros?

Kristy:  Sure.  I kind of feel like I owe her at least a cup since Cammy and I met the third Reina Protestante, Mary, in a class where one of our big assignments was reading The House on Mango Street.  I also wrote one of my first grad school papers on “Woman Hollering Creek.”  I enjoy her writing because she’s one of too few (IMO) contemporary writers who write stories you can enjoy as casual reading that also have a rich deeper layer waiting to be explored if you so wish.  That balancing act isn’t easy and I think she does it well.  She’s also spent a lot of her life teaching and I’m curious to know whether that was a deliberate choice or just something to pay the bills.  Regardless, I’m interested in her views on education and a whole host of other issues.

Cammy:  Sure thing.  Anyone who chooses to live in San Antonio, Texas already stands a fairly good chance of being worth talking to.  And, as Kristy said, we totally met Mary in a class where we had to read The House On Mango Street.  Only it was La Casa en Mango Street for that class, and it was the first full book I ever read in Spanish (prior to that, the longest thing I’d read was a play).  For my part, I’d love to talk to her about her life going back and forth from Chicago to Mexico.  Nothing like a nomadic back-and-forth-between-worlds life to give a writer fodder for life.  I’m not sure I’d be able to hold up my end of the conversation as well as Kristy, but I’d be delighted to share a cup of coffee and listen in.

Movie Review: The Official Story (La historia oficial)

The Official Story (La historia oficial) (1985)

Director: Luis Puenzo

Writers: Aida Bortnik and Luis Puenzo

As I’m trying to clear out my Netflix queue before I cancel service this week, I’m zipping through the large quantity of foreign films I had added.  With time running out, I no longer slog through a movie that’s not worth it.  If it’s a dud, I kill it when I’ve had enough, ditch it from the queue and move on.

The Official Story?  Very much NOT a dud.

The film–made in 1985–revolves around the aftermath of the Dirty War.  The fairly affluent high school history teacher Alicia begins to suspect that her (adorable) adopted daughter Gaby may have been stolen from one of the thousands of “desaparacidos“–political dissidents who were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983 by a repressive military junta in Argentina (estimates vary from 9000 to 30,000).  Her suspicions begin with the dissatisfied grumblings of the students she’s teaching, unhappy with the sanitized history in the text books, and only grows when her class reunion brings a long-absent friend, Ana back into her life.  In a wine-soaked evening of girl-talk and catching up, Ana reveals that her disappearance years ago was not at all voluntary.  As Ana recounts the stories of kidnapping, torture and prisoners whose infant children were taken, Alicia begins to wonder exactly what the circumstances were under which her suspiciously well-connected husband obtained their now 5 year old daughter.  She meets Sara, a woman whose daughter was among the disappeared, and who wonders about the whereabouts of Sara’s child.  As Alicia presses to learn more, her husband Roberto’s connections are collapsing and the entire situation blows up in a violent confrontation prompted by Gaby’s absence and Alicia’s accusing question “how does it feel not knowing where your child is?”

It helped that I was familiar with some of the history of the Dirty War, but it’s not necessary.  Alicia–like many Argentinians at the time–didn’t really know the depth of what had happened during those years.  If you walk in ignorant of the history, it’s okay, because the whole movie allows you to learn right along with Alicia.

And even if you want to set aside the value of the subject matter, it’s just a well put together movie.  Norma Aleandro (who, incidentally, I learned was exiled from Argentina during the military junta period for her left wing views, and only returned in 1982 when the junta fell), gives an absolutely fantastic performance as Alicia.  You don’t need any Spanish vocabulary at all to get the weight of what this woman is going through.  And some of the well-played parallels (Ana’s story, followed by what happens on Gaby’s birthday;  the story with which Alicia opens the movie, coupled with the ending with Gaby in the rocker….).

Even the things that initially had me giggling–the painfully 1980s look (honestly, I kept thinking I was going to see Bruce Willis and Cybil Sheppard cruising in the BMW blasting “Beat It” with MacGyver clinging to the roof)–turned to something more sobering.  The kid in question, Gaby, is my age.  The desaparecidos (including ones like Sara’s daughter) are my parents’ age.  It’s not that I didn’t know this logically from reading articles and that one Latin American history class I took, but the nostalgia I felt at seeing the fashion and decor added a whole new level of concreteness to the situation.  It also brings home that this movie was made so incredibly close to what happened.  The junta fell in 1982.  This film came out in 1985.  You can’t tell me that wasn’t a raw wound at the time.

All in all, I give this five full jars of peanut butter.  Highly recommend this one, and I will definitely watch it again (and special note to Kristy and Mary–you should watch this one if you haven’t already).

And Your Silly Website Too…

This week I review a foreign film for which I didn’t need subtitles (except with all the sexual slang.  No one taught me those words in Spanish class).

Y tu mamá también (2001)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón

Summary: Two young men, Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), from Mexico City go on a cross country trip with an older woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), in the process discover some things about class, sex, and friendship.

Things I liked: When Jano calls Luisa to tell her he cheated on her she’s wearing just a shirt and panties, and the panties are borderline granny panties.  It’s not attractive, but it makes her seem that much more vulnerable and a little pathetic when she gets the news.  There’s also a sequence where Julio is running around in his tighty whities and it’s very unattractive, but kind of supports the idea that he’s not half the stud he thinks he is.  I love the highway scenes on the highway because it really shows the weirdness that is driving the highway in Mexico.  The narration about Tenoch and Julio using each other’s bathrooms highlights the class difference between them very well—it’s a nice way of showing it without hitting you over the heads with it.  The movie seems really determined to constantly bring you back to the harsh realities of life for most Mexicans.  In some places this works wonderfully, but in others it’s just distracting.  One place I particularly liked it was a sequence where Julio, Tenoch and Luisa are driving and through the windows you see a truck of armed soldiers pass them then stop and go after some poor men standing by the side of the road.  What’s particularly telling is that the characters don’t really notice it.  I like that the actors look like real people; okay, I don’t know anyone who looks like Gael Garcia Bernal, but I feel like I could know someone who looks like him.  They aren’t glammed up.  The note that Luisa leaves Jano on the phone really got to me for some reason.  It’s the combination of what she says—a few things that hint at what she’s really feeling then a lot of menial details (“pick up your clothes from the cleaners” etc); that combined with the camera work is really effective.  The camera shots are often distant and that almost makes you feel like a voyeur.  Like you’re spying on these people and aren’t supposed to be watching.  It also allows you to see everything that’s going on and get a full perspective on the characters’ reactions, etc.  When Luisa and Tenoch have sex it’s very obvious he doesn’t know what he’s doing which is realistic when you consider his age.  The camera work when Tenoch and Julio are in the leaf covered pool is beautiful.  Tenoch getting so upset to learn his girlfriend had cheated on him with his best friend, when he has just fucked his cousin’s wife and apparently slept with his best friend’s girl shows a common type of sexual hypocrisy, once again without beating you over the head.  I love the shot where Luisa is saying goodbye to Jano on the phone and reflected in the glass next to her you see the guys playing ping pong.  It beautifully illustrates the differences in what this trip means to him versus her.  I like the way the movie tells you the fate of so many of the people they run into, including the pigs that wreck their campsite.  It kind of highlights the way so many people come in and out of your life and you never know what happens to them.  For whatever reason it’s sadder to me that Julio and Tenoch never saw each other again than it is that Luisa died.  Though to be honest, neither was much of a surprise.  The last line of the film is  a double entendre that doesn’t really translate:  It can either mean “Give me the bill” or “I had a realization.”  Not only do I think that captures a lot about the moment, it allows me to show off my knowledge of Spanish.

Things I liked less: The scene at the beginning with the traffic jam caused by the pedestrian from Michoacán being killed is a little random.  I get that that’s the point, but for me, it really didn’t work.  The scene in the restaurant where the camera leaves our characters and goes into the kitchen where the poor people are cooking and dancing and listening to music.  I get that it’s trying to show the social stratification, but it’s very strange.  Not sure what I think about the way the narration is inserted, where it goes totally silent before the narrator comes in.  I like the narration, I’m just not sure I like the way it’s incorporated.  I wasn’t that bothered by it, but I feel like it needs to be said that there’s a lot of penis in the movie.  Like naked time all over the place.  Don’t watch this one with the parents.

Rating: I was surprised by how much I liked this one, because I’m often annoyed by all those films that are about the “gritty reality of modern life”.  Four out of five jars of peanut butter.