Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dressing Up (Sort Of) In the Vz

For what Venezuela was -- an aristocratic republic (or at least it aspired to be) -- it sure ain't what it is now. You see pictures of Romulo Betancourt in a well-appointed suit, and you think nothing of it -- president wear suits, especially if they're going to be on the cover of Time. But if you spend any time watching floor debates of the Asemblea Nacional here, you can see in that Bourdieusian sense why people think this country's going to the pooper with case of the poops: checkered cotton shirts, leather jackets, suit jackets that are too long, no ties. I had this sweater when I was in high school. In other words, things that would tip you off to people either so comfortable with their class that they don't care or people so uncouth that they're not even trying. Carlos Escarra, you might ask? Nope, only some of the time -- I guess only when you're chiding your colleagues for not working with the people.

I don't know what the traditions are for dressing up in the Venezuelan National Assembly. What I do know is that even in the Philippines where you might be tempted to rock the leather jacket in 80% humidity, the legislators (some of whom have dubious class backgrounds to be "traditional" legislators) still wear barong tagalogs to work (sorry for the macabre photo), and the ladies the exciting pantsuit. Even the Cubans wear suits, so the Revolution hasn't done them in on style (errr, well, for some. The best part is that it's Chavez who's telling him to stop being a slob, basically.) That doesn't mean that the Vzs Assemblypeople don't dress up: they do, like most of us, for important occasions.

Relatedly though, and going back to the TV topic again, Globovision's reporters have been quite aggressive in calling out the sartorial choices of Chavistas. Here an interviewer calls out two students for not wearing clothes produced by Venezuelan cooperatives, and here a reporter asks how someone can support socialism if his tie and shoes are Louis Vitton. Gotcha there, bud. Now the only thing to do is to cut down these interviews into these clips and play them on your TV station as filler, which, of course, makes you even righter (as in correct). If Orwell were alive today, it would suggest, he'd be sending out mass e-mails with the last scene of Animal Farm, just like these dudes.

So for a country so obsessed with looks, it would appear that no one knows how to dress. Though as this ghetto Wiki site about business dress suggests, "Venezuelan women tend to be meticulous dressers who closely follow European fashion... You may find it an asset to wear exquisitely made watches, jewellery [sic], or other accessories made by prestigious designers." Thank you, Jackie Collins. I assume then that the excessive cleavage comes from a close following of European fashion? Doubtful. Seeing as the operative act here is "flaunt it if you've got it," and European fashion is all difficult-to-wear pieces on hangar-thin models, something ain't right here.

That doesn't say much for men, though, for whom it appears that a fanny pack, white loafers (only the kinds with rubber on the soles), and your garish AE/Abercrombie/AX t-shirt, matched with the fake jeans is on the first page of the look-book. And those are the ones that aren't buying their clothes from the Chinese almacen. For older men, it seems that you can't get away from the tucked-in polo shirt in your jeans (khaki isn't popular, it seems), with all your phones (and I do mean all) hiding in their belt clips. Or, if you're trying to be hip, you stick your iPod down your shirt and string the headphones up through your collar. For a people afraid of being mugged or kidnapped on a daily basis, these obvious displays of your consumerism seem unwarranted, or is that your cynicism showing through?

"Well-dressed" or even appropriately-dressed is a limited subset, but as many people have pointed out (all two of 'em [only post listed under the tag "cleanliness" btw] on the internets), that Vz'ers don't stank and "some street dwellers may even shave every day." Look, while slightly more people in Quito had B.O. on the Ecovia, the sheer number of suits and pantsuits in that city -- even if they were poor-fitting -- makes Caracas look like it's sartorial Gini coefficient is through the roof.

I was going to end this post with some screed about culture. I won't. I'll say this: get me out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Your Video Fix #4

Cynthia Freeman and Cosmo teach us about the mysteries of life, and how to prevent them.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oogling. Gross, Gross Oogling.

Today at the gym, all the meathead weightlifters (whom, let me say once again, lift about as much as I do and I'm half their size), all stopped their meatheady weightlifting and oogled a woman who had come in to, I guess, inquire about joining the gym. I debated earlier whether or not I'd describe her at length here, since part of me wanted to explain why this woman got so much attention, and the other part of me wanted to not be completely completely sexist (um, previous comments about short, curvy blonds notwithstanding).

Nearly the entire gym stopped lifting weights or watching a godawful Madonna concert video ("I apologize for revisionist thought," she said, followed by cheers), and while some of the women looked too -- then looked away disgusted at either her or the men -- the guys were not hiding the fact that they were burning holes in her, gawking, mumbling to each other loudly, basically giving each other mental high-fives. It was the guys that drew my attention more than anything and I thought at that moment, "fuck, no wonder some women don't want to go to the gym." It's not the first time I'd thought it (gotta keep up my liberal cred), but I guess just the absurdity of this beer commercial scene was enough to get me to make me feel bad to be a guy. I mean seriously, I felt guilty for being a dude.

For her part, I think she knew she was being watched, and whether or not she enjoyed it at all is besides the point: she never moved her head, never looked at anyone except the tour guide and I guess her mom (no, they weren't looking at her mom), and kept perhaps so poised as if she were trained to be oogled, like so many Venezuelan women aspire to be.

To be sure, I looked at her and she was stunning -- way, way out of my league, but in that way where you don't even consider thinking about it anymore -- but I tried so hard not to look that I can't even remember what her face looked like.

And so adds another rock on the scale of Venezuela, tipping it more towards "Get Me Out" than "Cool Place, Dude."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Things Are Moving

I planned an "escape" of sorts on Sunday, since there was going to be a Father's Day party at the house and I didn't want to play nice. Turned out I just ate a lot too quickly, played with the kids, and then took a nap while the hurricane blew over, so to speak. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but I'm still feeling a little down.

A few days beforehand, I called up the Philippine Embassy here in Caracas to see if they had anything planned for Philippine Independence Day, which was June 12th. First of all, it became evidently clear I was speaking to a Filipina, as her Spanish was littered with "sen(y)or". I asked her if there were any cultural events happening today, and she said no. Puzzled, I said, "you have nothing planned for Philippine Independence Day?"

"Where are you calling from, sir?" she asked (the Philippines would have celebrated Independence Day the day before).

"From Caracas," I said.

I could hear her flipping through her calendar. "Oh yes, today is Independence day," she said.

"And you have nothing planned? How about this weekend?" I asked.

"No sir, I'm sorry," she said, sounding like a Philippine bureaucrat speaking Spanish.

The moral of this story is that I'd like to take credit for reminding the Philippine Embassy that it was Independence Day, but with a few days' retrospection, it could very well have been that they celebrated Independence Day on June 11th, since in the Philippines it was technically June 12th. Still, it makes very little sense for an institution whose partial task is cultural exchange to not have any events for their own country's independence on the date of said celebration. That's absolutely nuts. Of course, because Philippine bureaucrats aren't exactly the best critical thinkers in the world, either, they could have had a celebration (or might still have one), but of course, just not tell me. Minus 10 cool points to the Philippine Foreign Service.

Still, I made a research breakthrough, as I'm meeting with the National Coordinator of Clase Media Revolucionaria tomorrow. CMR is so far my only in with the group that makes more sense for me to study, Clase Media en Positivo, whose web presence probably died sometime in 2004 -- when I wasn't studying the middle class, of course. Problem is, when CMR showed up in mid-2006, two of the leaders of CMenP were cool to the idea of having a political wing to their social organization. As it is, they've been cool to the idea of maintaining their website and e-mails and I can't contact them. Nor have I been able to contact their regional branches for, well, the same reason.

While I'm absolutely grateful and relieved to snag an interview, I'm still getting the impression that nearly everything here is a mess. I had the same feeling in Ecuador, but on a "Barrington Moore" scale (blasphemy!). This "mess" sense I have here is more akin to the sense of mess I have about the Philippines: that I'm seeing and feeling that maelstrom that Marshall Berman talked about -- that Modernity throws everything up in a frenzy, while the best-laid schemes of men do more to dislodge us from what we can brace ourselves against than give us anything to grab onto, people must somehow come to grips that instability is the status quo -- however unsatisfying that is.

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote through one of his characters in We that "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite... only children fear infinity", which you could interpret in that horrible way that the wikipedia article did (by the by, points for me for remembering the rest of the quote), as a brain prop for "incomplete revolution," or to remind us (well, me) that to be modern is to live with constant change. Which, as usual, brings me back to my existentialism -- why bother to do anything, then? -- and back to my sociology -- why do people bother to do anything, then?

A billion points for editing this post to fit the title hours after it was posted. So far, I'm up one billion six or so. You've got some catching up to do, Philippine bureaucrats.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Here's another amazing post entitled "Well..."

I'm still trying to get up early and be like a yuppie, minus the money. Today I managed to get up, but didn't go anywhere for having not slept well last night -- it was more hot than usual. So I've been doing some processing today, watching the film adaptation of Northanger Abbey (because of Felicity Jones), and wondering how to save money: another activity I do besides not working.

Yesterday, I was quite proud of myself for spending Bsf 4.50 on three ham-and-cheese empanadas and a cup of tamarind juice, and then was shot back down to earth when I tried out this place that weighs your ice cream (Bsf 10.90!). Plus, I thought I scooped out lemon, when in fact, it was bubble gum.

Today, I've spend Bsf 0.00, but $1,000.00 or so on my flight to Boston for ASA. Jen D suggested I stay for a bit longer in the States to recover a bit (a great idea), but I don't have the cash for it (oh well). Still, considering how much plane fares are this Summer, $1000 is par for the course and maybe even pretty decent if things get more expensive.

TV watching here with a decent command of Spanish and speed reading skills, you get to see some strange, strange translations. Mind you, most of the stuff that's subtitled in Spanish is broadcast for the Mexican, Colombian, and Argentine markets, since, well, they don't show English-language stuff on local TV. I really have no idea what kind of people the Mexicans, Colombians, or Argentinian are like, but maybe those three countries would like to explain why there's enough softcore and unblurred breastisises to make me think this was Europe or something. Speaking of which, the amazing (terrible) film, "Dangerous Passions" was translated as "Dangerous Passions" -- but with an accent.

Two nights ago, I was watching a documentary on Indian call centers, which was pretty decent, though one scene was just absurd. An instructor who had lived in Australia was trying to teach his soon-to-be call center students Australian slang, which, if you think about it, is like two or three layers of translation as it is. But, translating that discussion into Spanish was pretty hilarious:

"Ok, who knows what this is?" (teacher points to the image of a chicken)

"Chick," one student says. They shout out different variations of "chick."

"Very close. When you want to say 'chicken' in Australian, you say 'chook'," the teacher responded.

The Spanish translation went something like this (excuse the missing accents):

"Cuando quieren decir 'pollo', digan 'pol'"

And then the teacher asked, pointing at the picture of a thumbs-up, "how do you say 'cool' or 'awesome' in Australian?"

The answer, my friends, is "bonzer". The Spanish translation substituted the word "macanudo" -- a very Argentine thing to say.

Anyway, that was strange. Here's to not going to bed on time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Count Duckula Karaoke

I wonder when I'll take this blog down the path of maturity. Though if I think about my writing-for-me-for-other-people over my lifetime, I've come a long way since my second grade writing journal, where in one entry I tried to recall the lyrics to the theme to Count Duckula from memory (I also snuck in some peeks at The Making of Star Trek to copy the terrible lyrics to that show's theme, too).

Actually, that's all I wanted to say, since I spent a good ten minutes cracking myself up trying to remember the lyrics to Count Duckula last night. As it turned out, I was confusing the lyrics to the Count Duckula outro with the Count Duckula intro. Hi-larious.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Water War

I got up pretty early this morning to try to fit in my gym time before my day started. Overall, it turned out all right and there was a very cute short, curvy, blond at the gym (this has to be some sort of pathology). Otherwise, I did get up early enough to watch the national anthem on TV (which, in contrast to the Philippines, they play in the morning instead of at the end of the broadcast day), and the song has been stuck in my head. I talked about it before in an earlier post -- it's got this little minor chord moment that's just awesometastic -- and I've been trying to remember the words all day (and the exact tune of that minor chord). It's one thing this country's got over Ecuador. Which leaves us with the question: where are the rest of the verses to this one?

Anyway, sometime overnight, a water line blew out on the subdivision's main street. The city had been doing repaving and I guess exposed the tube, and it was a matter of time before someone drove over it and loosened the fastener. When I passed by it this morning, it was in a little less than a gush, but still wasting gallons of water, sending it in a suburban waterfall down the hill.

So on the way back, I decided to be a good citizen and try to fix it. I mean, it didn't look too hard to do: two surprisingly small rubber tubes and a metal fastener that linked the two together. One plus one, right? After a few minutes of trying to coax one end into the other -- made difficult since, well, gushing water makes hollow things quite rigid -- I gave up, having known I tried and having become incredibly soaked. When I left for the biblioteca, someone threw a big piece of broken asphalt on top of it, which really didn't make much of a different in terms of the quantity of water, but did make it a little more zen-fountainy, I guess.

Of course, some idiot decided that he or she should just drive over the rock, so it cracked and now we've got a gusher in the middle of the street, as you can see above. The picture admittedly sucks: the water's shooting up at least seven feet up and now no one wants to drive over it. I kinda found it interesting that none of the neighborhood kids were out prancing underneath it, though would I really want to play on unsmoothed, exposed asphalt, even if I were under a refreshing geyser of water? Not a happy combination. Also, considering how inconsiderate these kids' parents are when they drive, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near a street (I have a hard enough time avoiding getting hit by mototaxis on the sidewalks).

Luchy said she called the municipio this morning, but followed with "since this is not the USA, you know..." Yes, I know. Some other neighbor would have fixed it already.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Death By Exchange Rate

I had the fortune of living in Quito for four months in the middle of my stipend. As those of you who keep up with this blog know, now I'm ever-so-daintily perched above a giant spear aimed directly at my butt here in Venezuela. Well, in terms of money, not like in terms of being attacked by unknown tribes in the Amazon. Said spear grows closer and moves away at the invisible hand of the black market exchange rate of the dollar.

I'd link you to stuff, but most of it's in Spanish, however the Wall Street Journal did a story just today on the topic. As it points out, Chavez is selling a whole bunch of dollar bonds to fight off the black market, which is funny since the best way to end the black market would be to let the damn exchange rate float. As a friend said, this country is like studying Market Distortion 101.

And then, of course, is my growing obsession with the City of Heroes/City of Villains market, where you can sell imaginary things like "Ancient Artifacts" for imaginary money (well, it's not really money in-game, either). It's like playing the stock market, only except you don't make real cash and you waste just as much time in real life.

Make A Hot Girl Laugh: Quinn It To Win It (Episode 9)

Ok, so besides Rob Schneider (good company!), which Filipino comic is the funniest to non-Filipino people? Maybe (not) this guy? I really wanted him to finish the "once you go Filipino..." joke.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Arroz a la Cubana: Take that, Cuba!

I just got an e-mail from my friend Greg who's basically going the long way from Ecuador to the Brazilian coast. It's a great e-mail, all adventure and pushing boats off sandbars: stuff you'd probably not see in this blog since (1) I'm not quite sure I could take it and (2) the fact that my I'm my mother's son would be plainly obvious as I'd have too many things bagged in plastic "so they wouldn't get dusty" or in this case, wet. But good luck to Greg as he is about to have the most panty-dropping stories to tell until panties become obsolete.

Anyway, what I got instead is food, that is, my adventures in making it, which aren't really that adventurous but again, what do I do that is? The more I think about it, I really should have figured this stuff out a long time ago -- cooking, that is -- since it's both apparently genetic (like me playing golf...) and absolutely necessary if I want to live past 28. As I'm still alive as I write this blog (but as Lisa Loeb says "dying since the day [I was] born"), I figure I've done all right in the feeding myself department, though not panty-droppingly well, let's say.

I have, however, become an expert at creating perfectly rounded arepas in the arepero and am working on getting them impeccable on the skillet, too. As a Filipino, bread is sort of a funny contrivance for people who haven't figured out how to boil rice. But, as a Filipino without a rice cooker and not so much time on his hands, arepas manage to fill a void that satiates my carb cravings while preventing me from sullying my fingers with loaf bread (by burning them. a lot).

But I've been homesick or depressed or one or both of those things, so I made some rice on the stove and I asked my mom for the recipe for arroz a la cubana -- something she makes a lot of... a LOT of... and freezes in Gladlock stacks in the freezer like an igloo of ground beef and raisins. The woman Luchy has come during the day made some ground beef dish a couple weeks ago, and I think I was the only one who ate it and used it to fill my arepas. All it did was, though, remind me of arroz a la cubana.

If you look above, you'll see that I need to work on making poached eggs. I did some following, some adjusting of my mom's recipe. Next time I'll cut down a bit on the soy sauce, continue to put a ton of pepper in it, and maybe put a few more raisins in, but overall it turned out all right. I gave some to Luchy to try and she cleaned out her bowl.

So now I've got about five or six days of cubana to eat, which means we'll find out soon how cubana tastes in an arepa.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


So Barack Obama became the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party yesterday. I bet you knew that already, though. Did you know that he's the first black man to ever win the presidential nomination of a major party? Yes, it's true: no black men ever were nominated as presidential candidates for the Democratic-Republicans or Whigs (I checked).

Did you know that he was black? For all intents and purposes, he's run as "a black man", though a year ago Time said he wasn't black enough (err, well, it finally concluded he was too black). And after Iowa, Christopher Hitchens was his usual crumudgeony self, declaring "The more that people claim Obama's mere identity to be a 'breakthrough,' the more they demonstrate that they have failed to emancipate themselves from the original categories of identity that acted as a fetter upon clear thought."

You also probably already know that Obama is half-white, and his father was from Kenya, which in some circles (e.g. this piece by Salon a year ago) by doesn't make him "black" as in "descended-from-slaves". On that point, The Guardian's Gary Younge tries Hitchens' argument without being so mean, but maybe by being too liberal arts:
Most intriguing, in all of this, is how those who wish to police these racial borders claim that Obama's mixed-race heritage denies him essential blackness. They certainly must be forgetting the famous black people who are of mixed-race parentage, from Bob Marley to Halle Berry; or the basic truth that race has no basis in biology or science; or that, thanks to mass rape during the slave trade, nearly all African-Americans are actually mixed-race
Or, as someone said during a school-wide meeting at Conn a few years ago, "when I see the ceiling, I don't see white, but I see beige". As a professor put it to me afterwards, "after the artists started talking about the color of the ceiling, I was outta there."

But Obama is definitely black enough for people to be afraid he could get shot -- an early Secret Service detail, his wife talking about it candidly on TV (then getting misquoted). As our history shows, these aren't unsubstantiated fears. Though, if Wolf Blitzer's "best political team on television" was right, Obama's nomination was historic... by of course, trying to one-up each other on important dates, such as:

- 1808, the year the slave trade was abolished (initially stated as "200 years ago, slavery was ended)
- 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (40 years ago)
- 1961, the year of the Freedom Riders. "And in that year, Barack Obama was born."

All of those were followed with "we've come so far." Yes we have, thank you.

Actually though, I think those of us young minority types in our twenties might look at Obama and go both "damn, finally" and "oh, shit, is THAT what I'm gonna become in twenty years?" Because seriously, while he's my candidate, the guy is a goof. For example, how many forty six year-old people can pull this off with cheers instead of laughs? Exactly one: Barack Obama. Or, manage to do a fist-bump with his wife at a 20,000 person rally (Slate did a nice little summary of how the press tried to figure it out, proving that the press is white). Yes, yes, inspiring (I'm inspired), a leader (he's leading), etc., but come on. This isn't "street Obama" leaking out, this is an upper-middle class, Harvard-educated lawyer doing shit that he does at home, maybe in his underwear when no one's looking. It's hilarious, or bemusing, or quirky, but not ironic -- he's not Rainn Wilson at the Grammys (whom I guess plays himself?). In other words, none of this is Obama looking for street cred or him being black or white, but someone on the tail end of our generation -- just cool enough to be charming, innocuous enough for all you oldies to think highly of him: the psychic projection of all us hopeful youth, but with enough stiffness to nag at our subconscious, pre-midlife midlife crises.

Remember, he doesn't bowl well, which has much less to do with his race as it does his class. Though speaking as a Filipino who's only bowled over 110 once in his life and can't hit a pool ball for shit (though I can play basketball. So can Obama, incidentally: "I've got skills", not, btw, "skillz." Oh, and he could dunk.), I may identify with Obama more than I can make fun of him. But what I'm really saying is that when he's misunderstood, we're all pretty much misunderstood, and while we can treat race matter-of-factly in our own lives, explaining that experience it is still a minefield instead of hopscotch.

We already know he's sort of an elitist, but then again, most of us believe that the working class is being duped (prolly not). But the race issue was enough for Clinton to carry West Virginia, so while it's not guns or religion that has allegedly swung the "middle class" to the right, lay down another race mine and watch your opponent spend time trying to defuse it, while Americans -- whom, like all humans, are capable of thinking harder about race -- would rather just walk around instead of help.

So anyway, to make this long post end, I'll say this: if the Clinton era is over -- meaning cynical liberal democratic calculations are out -- then we have to try a little harder to open up.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Not Ecuavoley

I'm trying to reset my body clock so I can face the week without driving my cortisol levels through the roof and taking three-hour naps before bedtime, which as you can imagine, move bedtime three hours later. I'm feeling a little drowsy right now, probably because I half-forced myself to wake up "early" (read: 11am) and then made myself traipse around Caracas to look for an umbrella.*

I decided to walk to the metro station from the house today and considering that I beat the bus there, I may just walk the 20 or so minutes every day. It's not a trip I'd take at night unless I were in a car; there's some spaces under overpasses, crosswalks over freeway exits, and some blind corners -- each of which will probably kill me, maybe in a different way (so many ways to die!) I pass over the River Guaire on the way to the station, which despite last night's rainstorm, wasn't that high. It's quite an unexciting sight: murky brown water flowing over a concrete riverbed, which evoked images of Foster City and downtown Providence, but built for utility, not for beauty (as if Foster City got it right, though).

It seems that Caracas on Sundays is less noisy, either because there are less cars on the road, people are relaxed enough to not hit their horns, or both. The northernmost highway -- La Cota Mil, named so because it reaches 902m above sea level (close!) -- is closed to vehicular traffic and opened to bicyclers and pedestrians. It had rained a bit last night had remained a bit brisk and overcast today, so the air was a bit cleaner and it wasn't terribly hot. All in all, not a bad day for a stroll.

So, I made a detour at Parque del Este, one of Caracas' main green spaces. It's a strange park, I have to say. It seems like they definitely close it down at night -- there's only one entrance and its gated -- and the pedestrian pathways that snake around the premises are very, very wide, almost as if people were as wide as cars. Despite that, it feels far more compact than let's say La Carolina, since it's not built to be as "open" to the surrounding city. The grassy areas aren't as well-kempt: muddy mostly, a bit burnt, overused. And there are some zoo exhibits that either seem empty (the open-air jaguar one, especially) or annoying (the bird cages with very annoying parrots), and a reconstruction of Francisco de Miranda's ship, the Leander, but it seems to have stalled (being built since 2006 with just the keel and part of the hull). But the park was still filled with people happily enjoying their Sunday, people having birthday parties; people sitting on benches, looking at fenced-in grass; and people making out.

What stuck out is that people were playing actual volleyball, not the weak-ass "volleyball" as played by my friends in Ecuador. In a previous post, I noted how Ecuavoley had some strange rules (palming the ball, running spikes [maybe no spikes?]). Since we're in the Vz now, all I saw were dudes clearly not built for volleyball playing a fast-paced game of bumping, setting, and spiking THE HELL out of the ball. It was a power game -- the object being to spike the shit out of the ball, so that it'd clobber some dude in the face. That being said, I saw some pretty decent returns, but no blocks whatsoever. Let's just say that playing long hours at La Carolina will not save any of those Ecuadudes in a game here.

To end, two people asked me for directions today. I'm so totally native. Plus, I'm being called "chamo" ("kid"). Nothing new there.

*Sadly, I still can't find an umbrella outside of rainy days, meaning I'll have to suck it up and buy one while in the process of getting wet.