Friday, February 29, 2008

Quito - 21st Century; San Francisco - 19th Century

Standing in line at the 16th and Mission Wells Fargo ATM this afternoon, I was taking a deep breath and trying to transport myself back barely 36 hours early when I was at the wonderful Cafe Cultura in Quito's La Marisical. In theory the U.S. is the "world's leading nation," and San Francisco is its golden child, a quaint, artsy city with perfectly swept streets and serves as the epicenter of the vanguard of technology and progress. Reality could not be further from that myth.

Granted, I'd heard of recent machete hold ups in La Marisical, but there is no question it is infinitely more civilized and classy than any spot in the Mission.

As I saw an inept technician pulling paper out of the ATM and a MUNI bus creaking by jam-packed with smelly, sloppily dressed passengers, I could not help but long to be back in Quito, the largest city in a nation with 60% of its population living in poverty. Yet, it has an amazingly effective bus system modeled on those of Curtiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Colombia. Both cities' bus systems are incredibly effective. Passengers enter a raised, glass enclosed structure and pay their fare in order to enter the sliding glass doors of the bus stop so they enter the bus without having to deal with the driver. Since the buses and platforms are at the same level, people in wheelchairs simply wheel in without any hassles. The buses are filled with clean, well dressed polite passengers similar to what one would see in Barcelona.

San Francisco, the alleged technology center of the world, has MUNI, a public transit system using 19th century technology, rude and incompetent drivers who are often crack addicts and earning $100,000 or more a year. Even a recent TV investigation has brought about no action or progress on the feces of humanity that drive these buses. If you are in a wheelchair, getting on the bus is extremely difficult. Out of desperation, many passengers enter illegally through the back door and are insulted or assaulted by the drivers. That is why I usually walk in this city.

I have worked nearly 20 years in a field that has taken me to many similar "third world" cities. Many times I am told that first and third world conditions exist in the same place. However, I am increasingly convinced that the U.S. is destined to become the capital of the New Third World by century's end, a place filled with exploited, deprived masses as the tiny ruling elite hunker down in their walled mansions. Bogota, once the most violent cities in the world, now has a crime rate lower than that of most major U.S. cities.

Need I explain why I hope to retire in South America, not the U.S.?

Labels: , , ,

Gasp (This Is Not a Tech Nerd Blog)

Besides having a shoe collection in the triple digits, Junk Thief has an obscenely high count of MP3s (over 50,000) and multiple times that in source materials. Sadly, more of those are on CD than the far superior vinyl, but at least he has held onto at least 3,000 or more of the original vinyl 33.3s and 45s. And then there are the heirloom and vintage store 78s.

Junk Thief has thought himself pretty clever over the past eight years or so for being able to convert these to MP3s with varying and never completely satisfactory results. It's rare that Junk Thief will gush over 21st technology, but this time he is going to make an exception with today's purchase of the above Ion USB turntable. Forget plasma screen TV and Blue Ray, this baby is eargasmic. He'd held out on a USB turntable, still being partial to his still fully operational 1977 original issue direct drive Technics turntable (one driver, high mileage, in mint condition) and a back up standard Ion turntable purchased about a year ago.

He recorded his first track on the new USB model with mild optimism, but when he hit "next" for to begin the save process and it started connecting to Gracenote, found the appropriate track into and within a fraction of seconds was booming through Airtunes to the mixture of 20th and 21st centuries speakers, he let out an audible gasp and shed a tear. The quality is impeccable and require so little work compared to past rigging and mixing of old/new technologies. The thought of being able to have his original issue Abbey Road (age 13 birthday gift from Grandma Polley) streaming through his iPod as he walks the mean streets of the Mission is bone chilling.

Labels: , ,

'This Is Not a Meat Blog' Visits Otavalo's Market

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Prodigal Ladrón Returns

Eight days. Seven beds. Several thousand kilometers. Undocumented numbers of cuys and llamas. No diarrhea. Many memories. Details to follow. A preview is offered for now.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Junk Thief´s Last Live Andean Post

Hola, Amigachos. So much to write. I am happily back in Quito for my last night in the southern hemisphere until my next visit. After a week in the campo, city life is a bit odd. It is wonderful to be back in the San Francisco like weather of Quito after a day in the Chota Valley. Our driver Francisco had near heat stroke, and fortunately we had a wilderness first responder to attend to him and all is well. It was a week of many adventures --from health clinics to farmer field schools to a condor rescue reserve. I was especially fond of the snow owls and harpy hawk.

Details (and 600 plus photos and three hours of video) to follow once I fly home EARLY Thursday via Miami.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Junk Thief - Live from Guaranda

Greetings from the cobble stone streeets of Guaranda. I have just come back from Salinas, the cheese and chocolate capital of Bolivar Province and head off to the northern highlands of Ecuador tomorrow. Today there was an extensive visit to a health clinic here in Guaranda that was, sadly, robbed last week of $25,000 worth of medical equipment. Considering this will cause challenges for them being able to pay their staff and provide deliveries to indigenous women f0r $50 or less compared to the local average of $200, this is tragic. But a happy ending and solution to the crisis are already in the works.

This internet cafe on the main plaza does not take SD cards, so no photos here until likely after I return. I did get some nice photos of cuys (live, not on the grill) in a village yesteday.

Special note to Bryce Digdug -- I saw a couple of vicunas mixed in with llamas on the road yesterday, but the van was moving too fast in the rain for any decent photos. I´ll continue to search for one if Bryce promises to vouch for me at customs when I fly into Miami next Thursday.

Hasta luego. amigachos!

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

By the Time I Get to Otavalo

By the time most of you read this, I will be off to the land of cuys, volcanoes and the pan flute. Just when I was starting to get a few Catalan words down, now it will get all muddled up with Quechua, or more accurately Kichwa in this part of the Andes. Perhaps if I'd not fallen asleep when my exes forced me to watch those boring Star Wars (or is it Star Trek) movies, I could have picked up some Huttesse which is supposedly based on Quechua and Aymara.

Have I eaten cuy before? Yes, and the old standby of "sort of like chicken" doesn't apply here. It tastes like greasy, disgusting rodent meat. So even if it is the year of the rat, I will make every effort to avoid it.

Actually, the trip will be focusing on the impact of toxic agri-chemicals, reproductive health, global warming, water harvesting and the Humanist movement. Since I never write about work here (and it's about as far removed from ascots, doorknobs, Weimar culture, and the Criterion Collection as one can get. If anyone is interested, I'd be happy to share details by email.

Oh, and I'll be on the outlook for vicunas for Bryce.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Seven Minute Fiction: Gypsies, Tramps & Ascots

As I mentioned Sunday, I have been a member of an intergenerational writing workshop for nearly nine years but have written less and less for the group as life, work, this blog, my house take up more and more of my time. Fortunately we've gotten back to writing in class exercises instead of bringing in pre-crafted work. Having worked in my early career in noisy, chaotic news rooms, I do my best when being in a public environment and under a very short deadline. So I've enjoyed having to write on the spot more often. I really want to get back into it and have thought about launching a second blog called "7 Minutes Fiction" to display some of my recent and past exercises.

Here is last night's seven minute exercise which is not 100% fiction and is backed up by some facts. In other words, it's not entirely true but also not entirely false... I had had enough of San Francisco and announced to my circle of fair weathered friends over dinner at Boulevard that I was leaving this city that had brought me nothing but alienation and boredom.

Raising my glass of Rías Baixas Albariño I let them know that I was moving to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to open an ascot shop called Knots Landing.

Marianne Worthington de Hamasaki, ever the catty soul that she was, brayed, "Oh, Vivian Skyfe-Sappington has an ascot shop by the same name in Laurel Village. She'll sue you for every wretched penny you've got."

"Just let her try, " I snarled back.

It really didn't matter since most of the people in Coeur d'Alene pronounced the shop 's name as Kuh-naughts Landing and that was just fine by me.

"Why would anyone try to open an ascot shop in Idaho? There is nothing up ther but potato farmers and Mormons," Tarquin Wong Ferguson asked, stroking his own crimson brocade ascot with such smug superiority.

I let him know that I'd already built a healthy online trade and now was ready to open my show room on Oak Street in posh Far North Coeur d'Alene down the block from Restoration Hardware at the corner of Moroni and Fontana.

I also let Tarquin know that Spokane, just 35 minutes away, has the largest Gypsy population in North American and as we all know, Gypsies are obsessive about ascot collecting which they wear to any formal occasion.

"But they'll never pay you for them," Tarquin said. "Everyone know that Gypsies will steal you blind." He began cackling haughtily as I lunged across the table, knocking over wine glasses and half eaten creme brulets that crashed to the floor with a mighty force as I grasped my hands around Tarquin's neck, screaming, "You worthless racist snot!" I pulled the far ends of his ascot as he spat out Viennese champagne, arugula and braised goat cheese all over my Hugo Boss suit.

Marianne hit the back of my neck with a broken crystal goblet, screaming, "Stop before you strangle poor Tarquin with his dickie!"

"It's not a dickie, it's an ascot," I shouted back, as I tightened the knot.

CODA: I was curious to see if there was actually a Tarquin Wong Ferguson out there. Unfortunately I didn't find one, but I discovered Tarquin Thornton-Close (an equally cool name, and pictured on the right) who is a student at Earlman College in Richmond, Indiana. Boy, does he ever live up to that name in the photo!

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 18, 2008

Comedy Most Terrible

In a number of conversations tonight, the works of various Russian authors came up and all of their wonderful bleak sensibilities. Chekov, whose works spoke to me more as a youth than they do in late middle age, called many of his works comedies. This got me thinking about possibly one of the most obscure summer replacement sitcoms of all times, Ivan the Terrible that ran in the summer of 1976 for less than a dozen episodes with Lou Jacobi in the title role and Despo Diamantidou as an in-law with a bawdy laugh. It was a big, extended working class family living in a dingy high rise public housing project similar to the one on Good Times except it was in...Moscow.

As I recall the theme song had the in a horse drawn sleigh in Red Square as the theme music went something like "Vee are livink in Moscow, livink in in Moscow tooo-Day!"

I am amazed to see that Amazon even has videos of the series available since it was so bad and so obscure. Somehow a Soviet Archie Bunker just never caught fire in the era of Brezhnev and détente. Perhaps jokes about the KGB and moldy cabbage went above most viewers heads. Though it makes me glad to know that obscure oddity is out there, I can now forget it for another 32 years. Now I am curious to recall what else I so clearly remember Despo Diamantidou appearing in other than Never on a Sunday and Love and Death, though simply as Despo.

Labels: , ,

President's Day: Inside the Book of Life

Labels: , , ,

Tear Down in Downey

A vivid memory of my early adolescence was the Grammy Awards (back when I actually watched it) and upon being handed the Best New Act statue by Karen Carpenter, Bette Midler quipped "She's so white she's invisible." I thought I was quite hip at the time for being such a fan of Midler and was very closeted about my fondness of the terminally unhip Carpenters.

Today Karen's hipness knows no boundaries and Bette is about as hip as...white bread. Isn't She Great? anyone? I think the last time I bought a record of hers was Married Men back in 1979

So imagine the sacrilege of the news of the famed house in Downey that has even been serenaded on a St. Etienne album is facing demolition. Why isn't it a public shrine already instead of being a private residence anyway? It so resembled similar places I frequented during that time for zilch parties while listening to Schilsson Nilsson.

Expect riots to rival White Night or Stonewall as Orange County finally finds its place on the geo-political map, or at least in a good way.

Labels: , , ,

Interactive Monday - And Where Do You Blog?

Since my pantry shot got such an enthusiastic reaction, I thought I'd pull the camera back a bit and show this view of where I find myself increasingly spending my blogging time. Since I work from home, I try to keep my paid work station free of the blogging, vlogging, personal email distractions. So I tend to flit around the house with the VAIO but find myself increasingly ending up here on the bar stool that I bought after the holidays with a gift card from my sister. The kitchen has some of the best light in the flat and speakers to the system where I can stream Airtunes. It's a wild, wild, wild, wild wireless world, so this seems like a logical spot to blog.

What's your blog station look like? Post a link in comments if you are so inclined so others can be inspired by your example.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sweet 16 - Let There Be Jewels!

This afternoon I went to the 84th birthday for George Birimisa who leads the intergenerational writing group I've been a member of for nearly nine years. George is a pioneering gay playwright and coeditor of the book Return to the Caffe Cino, an anthology and memoir of the theater where he and other ground breaking writers launched their works in the 1960s.

Jewelry seemed to be in abundance as gifts at this year's event, and, as you can tell, George shares my fondness for eccentric headgear, though he tends to favor the brimless crowns of a heretical sodomite priest as opposed to my fedoras, porkpies and flat caps. Obviously it was a room filled with a galaxy of blog stars, including Bryce Digdug (center) and Jim (right) of The Blue Elephant. Before the party, I helped Jim load some of his videos of recent peace and reproductive rights rallies. Jim, some may recall, had a popular video here when he house/cat sat while I was in Catalonia.

Happy Sweet 16 George!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday's Stroll

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Closets, Pantries and Cabinets of Glory

Say what you will, but one of my favorite things to do as a child was to hide in my sister's enormous walk-in closet, snuggled up in a far secret corner behind rows of shoes and sweaters where no one could find me as I read Uncle Wiggly books and an atlas or two to study the many far off lands that I dreamed of visiting some day. (And, with a few exceptions, now have.)

It's a big, wonderful world out there, but we all need a closet to call home.

I felt so safe in there in that perfectly ordered little box in our rambling house where I felt I could control the entire universe with a flashlight, books and my imagination as I sat on a throw pillow and explored the far corners of the real and imagined world.

A group of straight women (wait, and one lesbian) were at my house this week and while I was pouring one black rose tea, she started oohing and ahing as she caught the site of my pantry (pictured on the left). She said it was her dream to someday have such a well ordered little corner. All I could think but did not say was, "Gee, doesn't everyone's kitchen look like that?"

I actually love bringing order to my closets and cupboards and always feel bereft when they are in disarray. Yet I have yet to gain a walk in closet equal to the one my sister had.

About a year ago, I started learning about the ancient concept of cabinets of curiosity or wunderkammer, but this concept of weird science or bringing together the natural and unnatural worlds really speaks to me. Like Steampunk, its a sensibility I have long had without having a name for it.

On that note, I have been very happy to recently discover a great kindred spirit on this topic. Heather McDougal's Cabinets of Wonder is a great site on such curiosities and more. It helps that her writing is several notches above the typical "blog" and is well researched and referenced. Excuse, I think I'll end this post, sit on the floor of my pantry and peruse Heather's blog.

Labels: , ,

Up & Down Mission Street on a Sunny Saturday

Labels: , ,

An Open Letter: V.I.P. = Very Insulting Prejudice

Dear Sir Richard Branson,

J__ and I were down in Union Square last night after dinner and I picked up a few DVDs, something I do if not once a week, at least three times a month. Thus I am a card carrying member of your V.I.P. program. Your overall business philosophy and commitment to philanthropy are laudable, but I must admit I have a bit of an issue with a coupon I was given last night.

As an old Jew I am all over coupons and appreciate the frequent discounts I get at your store. Sometimes I roll my eyes at certain ones -- discounts on tickets to see Barry Manilow in Vegas, $10 off your "fashion" -- but on the whole they are straight forward such as frequently a coupon for $5 off any item for my next purchase. Thanks, and I appreciate that you value my business.

Last night I got a $10 coupon in honor of African American History Month. Great, a huge percentage of my music collection is by African American artists. I'm all for that. Okay, here's where I started getting upset: the coupon qualified that it is to be used for any jazz, hip-hop, rap, blues, soul or R & B disc. Sure, I have plenty of interest in discs from those genres, However, it implies that I can buy works of white artists in those categories such as Chet Baker, Emimem, Eric Clapton, Paul Whiteman, Hall and Oates, etc. with this coupon? However, it would not apply to African American artists in other genres, i.e. Audra McDonald (classical/pop vocals/cast albums), Scott Joplin (opera/ragtime), Leontyne Price (opera), Charley Pride (country). And what about people like Joshua Redman, decidedly a jazz musician but with mixed racial heritage. Would you apply only 50% of the coupon? Okay, jazz, so that applies 100%.

Mind you, I am all about honoring African American history and its wonderful impact on the U.S. culture, but I'd suggest that in the future you use a wider lens in defining it. I'm a tad insulted but will likely continue to shop at your store. However, I'll be curious to see how you handle Latvian Pride month come August. I'll be watching.

Junk Thief.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tea of Crimson, Distractions & Life

As someone with background as both a Unitarian and former journalist, I have a horrible, typically North American flaw of knowing a smidgen about millions of things and inability to focus in depth on anything (or anyone) for very long. Unless I get obsessed, and then I gnaw on it like a dog devouring a bone until there is nothing left.

That's been the case with my now six week hiatus with Junk Thief TV. I get crazy about making little opuses and then seem to get distracted. I really would like to get back at it in March post Ecuador, especially to return to the Junk-mation approach. Not surprisingly, I've heard no outcry over the fact that there have been so many weeks with no new episodes.

A real inspiration is the above Blood Tea and Red String that has such a simultaneously quaint and sinister feel to it. Has anyone seen the full movie? The music feels almost like Vashti Bunyon to me.

Labels: , ,

iPersonality Test

Thanks, Huntington, for this suggestion. I don't respond to tagging anymore or "meme" post suggestions, but I do like this one.

Instructions: Open up your iTunes and fill out this survey, no matter how embarrassing the responses might be.

How many songs total: 41,688
How many hours or days of music: 347 days, 6 hours
Most recently played: "Mistaken for Strangers" by The National
Most played: “Proven Lands” by Jonny Greenwood
Most recently added: "Woman in the Shoes" by The Dengue Fever

Sort by song title:
First Song: “Absent Friends” by The Divine Comedy
Last Song: “’60s Medley” by Mina Mazzini

Sort by time:
Shortest Song: "Lost Swedish Penpals" by Julian Nation (One minute, eight seconds)
Longest Song: "Stinking Seventies Mix – Number Zwei" by Junk Thief and featuring various artists (Two hours, twenty-two minutes, and five seconds).

Sort by album:
First album: At the Movies by Al Jolson
Last album: Zweifrau by Zweifrau
First song that comes up on Shuffle: "A Heart-Warming Flower Will Eventually Wither Away and Become Dirt" by Susumu Yokota

Search the following and state how many songs come up:

Death - 808
Life – 3,880
Love – 1,383
Hate – 78
You – 10,843

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obscure Love

One site I visit several times a week is Obscure Sound where, unlike most music sites, I like about 85-90% of the tracks they feature. Today they have a great Valentine's Day mix. If you've not already made plans for the night, I recommend doing what I will be doing of downloading and playing this nifty little mix to enjoy over a glass of wine while reading a favorite new book, in mine a biography of Borges. That's what I call true love, though I don't really feel one bit lonely, not even alone.

UPDATE: Adding to my pleasure this V-Day, I was able to track down what I think must be the last available copy of the Criterion Eclipse Series release of the Lubitsch Musicals which was well worth the search since its release on Tuesday when it was nabbed by everyone else at the six outlets I scoured around our little berg. What a joy it is to see Jack Buchanan in Monte Carslo who is pretending to be a hairdresser and singing about "trimmin' the women". On top of that is The Love Parade with Amy Winehouse precursor Lillian Roth years before rehab singing "Let's Be Common". Speaking of rehab and 12-step programs, I've discovered this groovy Criterion addict support program administered by, oddly enough, one dude in Brooklyn and another in Oklahoma. As they say, it takes all kinds. "Hello, my name is Junk Thief and I am a Criterion addict!" "HI JUNK THIEF!!!!"

Labels: , ,

Best in Show: SUPREMELY Rich

Thanks to The Angry Young Man for pointing out that my favorite madcap heiress had a big win at the Westminster Dog show with her French Bulldog Diva. La Hearst-Shaw never ceases to amaze me, and I think she has nimbly continued the wacky, fun-loving heiress tradition begun three quarters of a century ago in the films of Claudette Colbert and Carol Lombard.

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I thought I'd share this video tribute from about a year ago that also features a clean-shaved Junk Thief. I've been considering going back to that look. Any opinions?

P.S. to Paris Hilton: You're on the right track with run ins with the law, movies and designer dogs. However, study the career of Ms. Hearst-Shaw closely to see how a real master does it.

Labels: , , , ,

Taking Back V-Day

More often than not, Valentine’s Day has been a non-event for me. Even when I’ve been in a relationship, even a positive relationship, it’s really not been too significant. And there have been plenty where the day has ground in the pathos of my eternal solitude fostered by my hideous appearance, dysfunctional personality, advanced poverty, bad hair and general lack of marketing skills. Other years I disdain it with haughty superiority and resting content that there is no human male on earth worthy of my companionship, brilliant mind and earth-shattering good looks. One year, as a particularly disastrous relationship was in its infancy, we went to see Leaving Las Vegas and then had dinner at Denny’s. Me: Chicken Caesar; him: some fried/barbecued thing that got all over his face and light-colored pants.

This year I am unusually at peace with Valentine’s Day – neither resentful of it nor feeling that it is forever out of my reach.

For some reason, the song below has always made me think about the day – a song that celebrates something very concrete but just out of reach. It shines a light on the the revelation that despite having been boiled in anger and pickled in cynicism, there is still hope and, more importantly, desire.

I first saw this show during its original run in 1970 with my incredibly hip grandmother who during the eight years she was a widow – 1967 to 1975 – took me to Manhattan where we saw almost every major show of those seasons. Company was one that most resonated with me, one of the last shows in which the music and sensibility were firmly grounded in the times. Plenty of others have since attempted to do that with missteps, but this one felt like the final line of a tradition that began after World War I and fizzled in the Nixon Administration. Plenty of shows that followed would have their share of great moments and songs, but they would never be central to the American psyche the way those were.

The 1970 production of Company had the odd casting of Dean Jones – of countless Disney movies of my childhood – in the lead role of the swinging, sometimes half naked in bed, sexually ambiguous bachelor, which was very distracting and disconcerting.

Even odder was seeing the show 36 years later in 2006 with Raúl Esparza (I just love lisping on that “z” in his name) who was born the year of the original production and was a revelation in the lead role of Bobby. Some people felt he overdid this finale. (The couple in front of me whispered, “Any more vibrato and that poor queen is going to explode!) When he literally screams "mock me with praise", the dissenters and devotees definitely split. The song resonates with me the same way it did three and a half decades ago but with nuance and freshness that he brought to it, most importantly reminding me the amount of hope and fear that I harbor and balance in equal measures today. Once upon a time, when my grandmother took me to a string show that ran from Coco to Pippin to Chicago, the sound of musicals beat close with my heart. It has grown more distant, quaint and irrelevant over the past 20 to 25 years. After five years of dealing with illness, dying parents and others and the general dread of loss, I find I am at such a radically different spot than I was in 2003 when this all began. The thought of Being Alive resonates again this year, in which I can once again embrace that heady mix of ambiguity, fear, longing and optimism, that sound makes Valentine’s Day a holiday I want to celebrate.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Low Income?

Since my readership is pretty national, I was just curious...

In a meeting this evening about my building, I learned the current definition of "low income" for a certain homeowner program. I thought in SF that was defined as $80,000 a year and below. Apparently its now at $98,000-$100,000. I'm just curious what it's defined as being in other places.

Labels: ,

Criterion Empire

Darn those folks at Criterion and their ongoing attempts to bankrupt me. As if reissuing 3 Penny Opera this fall were not mind blowing enough, they've got a line up this spring that not only includes a four disc reissue of The Last Emperor but also The Ice Storm and Hiroshi Teshigahara's review on the life and works of Gaudi. I also spent much of yesterday evening searching in vain for their release this week of the Lubitsch musicals, primarily featuring my maternal grandfather's muse, Maurice Chevalier. Don't worry, it doesn't diminish my love of hokum such as Skidoo and Earthquake, but I know I'll be investing money in these instead of wasting it to see Spiderman 6 at the Imax.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Junk Thief's Crew

Amazing what you see in the Mission these days. Junk Thief now has his own pink loving fans.

Labels: , ,