Saturday, June 28, 2008

how much for the monkey?

ej had a stoop sale today and i stopped by to get a little fresh air, sunshine, and interaction out amongst humanity. it's funny what we thought would sell and what actually sold. i thought for sure the first things to go would be the baker's rack and the cool t-shirt with the 70's style graphic of a man with an afro doing kung fu that says "clobber the mob -- black belt jones". or maybe the stylin' kangol hats or at least a few of the vinyl records. but no. the first thing to go was a pair of used mens shoes. two extension cords. a dusty, plastic plant.

some hip dude in sunglasses, dressed in black was checking out the menswear, then kept on walking only to return two seconds later to ask, "how much for the monkey?". a small, furry monkey sat atop the baker's rack, smiling pleasantly upon the passersby. he sold for 50 cents. i enjoyed watching that guy hand over two quarters so that he could clutch that little monkey as he strolled down 7th avenue.

the neighborhood zany lady stopped to ask about the red, fold-out, chinese fan.
"where did that come from?"
"was it in a chinese restaurant?"
"because i want to know if it had pesticides sprayed on it."
"no, it's pesticide-free."
so she bought it.

and then there were the two boys that stopped to do some serious shopping. they were both about 12 years old. one was looking through the records, but the other was asking about the flask. he explained that the one he had at home was broken. a hole in the bottom. it looked as if there was going to be a sale, but he put it down when he spied a treasure: a used wok. it was hidden under two very used frying pans, but he brought it out for a better look. he was very excited. to his friend, "look! a wok!"
"a what?"
"a wok! you know, for chinese food."
"ohhh. a wok." the friend laughs.
"how much for the wok?"
"a dollar!"
his friend: "a dollar! you can pay that!"
as he paid for his wok, this boy, this non-asian, curly-haired boy spoke mandarin to ej. "how are you?", he asked. luckily, ej knows a few phrases and was able to respond in chinese. satisfied, the boy walked off with his friend and his new wok, throwing a last "xiexie" (thank you) over his shoulder.

it was a good day to be out amongst humanity.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

the hairball of happiness

yesterday, i visited dean and gypsy. more than good friends, they are my family in new york. they are also my landlords. dean is a veteran of the stage and i enjoy asking him what new york was like back in the day. yesterday, we talked about when he was new to the big bad city. his first visit was in 1944 and he was here for about a month, by which time his savings had dwindled down to just the train fare back to oklahoma. he moved here permanently in 1947, and he remembers that the subway cost only a nickel. of course, there was no air conditioning on the trains back then, so he would ride in between the cars to at least feel the movement of air, hot as it was. this was apparently also a very good spot to warm up the ol' vocal chords on the way to an audition. the image of a young dean standing between subway cars, singing at the top of his lungs, his hair wild with the rush of air as the train hurtles through dark underground tunnels makes me very happy.

he referred to me as a little "ball of happiness" when i was saying goodbye. considering my own moptop, i suggested that "hairball of happiness" might be more accurate, and he laughed. then he started singing to the tune of "bluebird of happiness", but inserted "hairball" instead. we all laughed. they might think that i stop by to be nice or to do dean a favor since he's recovering from a massive stroke. the reality is that hearing dean's stories of days gone by does me even more good than his telling does him.

i dare you to cross that line

i have so much to learn about the world of blogging. i just took a cruise through a few "blogs of note", and they look very professional -- high quality photos, games, polls, links to all sorts of things. i don't really want to clutter up my blog, but i do want it to look more personal than the standard template that i chose, so i've added a photo to my header. i've no idea how to transform it into a long, sleek rectangle like the ones i've seen, and heaven forbid i actually go to the "help" section to find out. no, no, i must learn through trial and error.

i don't know why i'm stuck in this "i can do it myself" mentality. i didn't really realize how much it pervades so many parts of my life until now. a friend suggested that i ask my parents for a loan to finance the purchase of a digital slr camera. if i can't afford it on my own, using my own methods, then i feel i shouldn't own it, even though i've been wanting to upgrade from my point-and-shoot for over a year. i'm reluctant to even use this as an example because at some point my parents may read this entry and i don't want it to seem as if this is some backhanded way of asking for a loan. and how long did it take me to ask actor friends for references in my search for an agent? how many letters to agents did i send out cold, asking for representation? lots. and how many replies? zero. i was even reluctant to go see a doctor yesterday, and why? because i thought i could heal myself? would it hurt to ask for a little assistance once in a while?

i think there's a fine line between self-reliance and pride. and even typing "i think i need to make sure i don't cross that fine line" leads me to believe that i've already crossed into pride. maybe it's not about asking for help at all. maybe it's simply a reluctance to admit that i too am human.

jeez. what an ego.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

your intestines and you

ej had been nagging me to go, and so i did.

this morning, after over two weeks of some mystery abdominal pain, i finally went to see a doctor. dr. patel told me that i have colitis. woohoo! my intestines are inflamed! after leaving $100 and a vial of blood behind, i picked up my antibiotics and went home.

no wonder why i've been so tired lately. i thought it was just my body aging, although i'm sure it's some of that too. thankfully, it doesn't affect my appetite.

at least, i have a good excuse for not exercising.
for now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

june is bustin' out all over

it's been a lucky week for me.
  • i won a gift certificate to ikea.
  • i shot a scene for a short film.
  • i tried another recipe from papa anzani and it looked closer to what it should than my purple risotto did.
this is my first attempt at pasta alla carlofortino.

it has tomatoes, good tuna, red onions, capers, and pesto. i do need to find a smaller pasta. it tasted pretty darn good, but i know i can do better.

a forgotten sign in upscale soho. i just like it.

and then yesterday...
i show up at sunset park in brooklyn, ready to shoot my scene. the day could not have been more gorgeous. i'd never been in this park, so i was happy to discover that in the distance is the skyline of lower
manhattan, and if you have a magnifying glass, the statue of liberty.

this is guerrilla, no-budget filmmaking. The Crew: director, sasha santiago.

he gets his blonde hair and blue eyes from his german mother, and his fluency in spanish from his puerto rican father.

The Cast: myself, and my scene partner, wendell jordan. it's hard to believe that this guy is 35 years old. he looks young in person, but for some reason, he looks sixteen
in this photo.

i hope i wasn't making this face during the scene; captured for all eternity in a film. it looks as if i sucked on a lemon. go ahead, click on the photo, your day will start to look even better.

i think i scared him.

even though our scene was fairly serious, we laughed quite a bit between takes.

we thought we were in the quiet area of the park, but brooklyn being brooklyn, we battled car alarms, police sirens, large, banging delivery trucks, and some arbitrary woman walking through the background of our scene yelling at the top of her lungs, "barbara! barbara!". really, we had no choice but to laugh.

this was my difficult "walking" bit of the scene. i needed a few minutes to prepare; stretching, vocal warm-ups (even though there were no lines for this portion, i wanted to be ready), some sense-memory exercises to tap into my emotional well. i think my technique brought an organic feel to the moment; an authenticity, particularly the way i'm suddenly looking directly into the camera. very natural. i'm pretty sure i'll get some sort of award for this.

it was a good day and we went for mexican food afterward (huevos rancheros con salsa verde -- not bad, good cheese). during filming, sasha had been very open to any ideas we brought to the table and it made me want to do more, make more films, surround myself with people i respect and enjoy working with, all toward one common cause. the fact that the sun was shining and the birds were singing didn't hurt either. it all made me giddy and i found myself jabbering on during lunch in a way that i normally don't. or perhaps my brown brethren slipped something into the salsa verde because words were spilling out of my mouth a mile a minute, as if i'm only allowed to socialize with other humans once a year. i'm shaking my head at the thought of it.

still, seeing sasha out there with his camera and seeing how much he enjoyed it reminded me that making films, or really, making any kind of art, is completely within the reach of anyone who wants it. i love that. that's the kind of reality i want to live in. that's what gets me excited. you want to create something?
do it.

i just love that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

back on brooklyn time

so, i made risotto for the first time the other night. i mostly followed the recipe given to me by laura's dad, papa anzani. i didn't have any saffron to make it milanese style, and although it's not the same thing, i did add some zucchini like in the risotto i had for dinner in bergamo. papa anzani's recipe calls for a small glass of red wine to be added. i think i put in too much wine. is the risotto supposed to be purple?

it did taste pretty good, despite the color.

ej and i also visited the art exhibit of my friends, ayumi and aaron. this show had its opening reception while we were in italy, and it made me so sad that i couldn't be here for them. it did make me pretty happy that i could still see the show when i got back. actually, looking at this photo, i appear freakishly happy to see their "worlds of wonder" show.

together, ayumi and aaron are known as apak. they're based out of portland, oregon and do some amazing work. this tiny painting was one of my favorites. it was only about 5 inches tall. it's even better in focus.

i first met ayumi when we were both custom picture framers in berkeley, california. we bonded over food and she became like my "imouto" -- my little sister.

it's been years since we've seen each other in person, and i can't wait until she can meet ej and we sit down at a meal together again.

this past week, i also auditioned for a short film in bushwick. and i got the part! it's a small role, but i like the director's work. we shoot my scene on thursday.

this was on the subway. it's by e.b. white (author of "charlotte's web") and i just liked what he had to say. (you can click on the photo to enlarge it.)

ej and i walked through prospect part on our way to the central library in brooklyn. whenever we go to the park, we tell ourselves that we really should spend more time there. leafy green, cooler, relaxing...this is right before i boarded the alien spaceship.

the central library is a wonderful place. the park slope branch is cute, but it doesn't really doesn't hold much.

ej wanted to check out some scores to study.

i've been aching for a book called "tender at the bone", a memoir about food and growing up by ruth reichl. i found the book right away, and then enjoyed browsing through row after row of shelves filled with books. i'd forgotten how wonderful it was just to wander through a library. the smell of it. so many possibilities to read. so much to learn! i limited myself to just three books from the biography section. libraries are such a brilliant idea!

we also visited a place called chelsea market. it used to be a biscuit factory, but now it houses assorted shops with yummy foods. this is behind the scenes at amy's bread.

they were advertising a job opening as an entry level pastry assistant. i could learn how to bake! and i could practice my spanish! i got very excited until i saw that the shift was 6pm to 2am. i did not apply. this photo below reminds me of the other day when i was in a local bodega with my friend, lalita. there was a large, black man in line in front of us with whom we were chatting and he good-naturedly asked us, "you know that all the food in new york is mexican food, right?"
i asked, "because all the food is made by mexicans?"
he said laughing, "yup. there are mexicans in every restaurant kitchen in new york."
so true, so true. i can't wait for more of my mexican cousins to open up their own restaurants so that authentic mexican food can be more easily found in new york.

we stopped at the ronnybrook milk bar for a serious milk shake.

it was delicious.

the other night, ej and i helped our friend, dawn, celebrate her birthday. we joined the party at a mid-town pub called blaggard's. ej says the name is misspelled. here dawn applies some lip gloss that i brought her from milan.

dawn's boyfriend, pete, dawn, and us.

when ej occasionally drinks, he's loyal to the brew of his people: jameson's irish whiskey.

i love steve carrell. he was hosting saturday night live that night.

yesterday, i visited dean and gypsy to say hello for father's day. their grandson, tyler, is visiting and he brought his wii game. i'd never seen this hi-tech video game before, but i was soon playing. using the wands, the characters we've created on the screen move with our movements, so we can play tennis or baseball or other assorted games. i think we were bowling at this point. it was fun! jordan, one of the day attendants, is in the background, and dean is taking a break in bed, but keeping an eye on the game.

my wrist needs a break from computer work.

Friday, June 13, 2008

milano on the brain

i've been home a full week now and i'm still thinking of italy. sure, i can communicate more smoothly and quickly here in new york. i know where to get the good ice cream in chinatown (the ice cream factory) and that i can't transfer from the F train to the uptown 6 at broadway/lafayette without going above ground, and even though i was stumbling around like the ignorant newbie that i was in milan, i'm still thinking of it.

ej and i noticed that we never, never saw anyone in italy walking around with a coffee to-go. even in a busy city like milan, there were no suits hurrying down the sidewalk, yammering on their cell phone and carrying a paper cup of hot coffee. it was civilized. more than once, i witnessed people who were in a hurry, park their scooter, go inside and order an espresso, drink it at the counter, and two minutes later they were speeding off into traffic. now that's what i like to see. making time, even if it's just a little, to give the important things in life the attention that they deserve.

and it wasn't just a coffee thing. i noticed that food in general is a priority and is treated that way. when matteo brought back two tubs of gelato from rigoletto, they were carefully wrapped in paper as if they were gifts. the canoncini from the good bakery near the duomo gently placed our order of those baked delicacies on a tray and wrapped it with paper and tied it with a ribbon. the best focaccia bakery in the world is in recco and they wrap their warm-from-the-oven bread the same way, and when laura requested a plastic bag to carry it in, the bakery resisted stating that the plastic would make the focaccia sweat and would ruin the wonderful texture of it.

what a beautiful thing.

there were a few other things i learned about life in milan:
  • the drivers honk much much less than the drivers in manhattan. in nyc, the honking is virtually constant and expected. heck, they put up signs in some neighborhoods prohibiting it. in milan, i think i heard a car horn twice the whole time i was there.
  • many people ride bicycles in milan. business people. in suits. and skirts. we saw one guy all suited up, smoking a big stogie while cruising on his bike.
  • contrary to the stereotype in my head, the trains run on time in italy. at least, the trains that we took. on a couple of occasions, this worked against us.
  • the stop signs all say "stop". in english.
  • "bruschetta" is pronounced broo-sket-ta (not broo-shet-ta) and steve buscemi's last name is properly pronounced boo-sheh-mee and not any other variation that i've tried.
  • it's not unusual to see the honor system in use there. get on the bus and have yourself a seat. you can enter from any of the doors and you don't have to show a ticket. we tested this many times, successfully, until one sunday when javi was trapped on a bus where officials boarded to have a surprise ticket check. he had to pay a 30 euro fine (approx $45). we made sure we had tickets after that. one of my favorite cafes also used the honor system. they had a huge table laden with baskets of fresh pastries from which you could help yourself. when you left, you simply told the cashier how many you ate. and that's how i learned to say "seven" in italian.

Monday, June 9, 2008

five hours in venice or, ciao italia

for some reason, the earth has tilted in such a way that nyc is significantly closer to the sun now. it's sweltering. supposedly the heat wave lasts one more day. tonight ej installed my air-conditioner. now i just won't leave my a/c for the next 24 hours.

so, venice.
last wednesday, ej and i took the train to beautiful venezia. of course, we packed snacks.

deerdog posed amongst the pomodori.

when we arrived, we walked the labyrinth to piazza san marco. this was the first venice photo of the day.

so much to look at.

so many narrow walkways to explore.

imagine living where the streets are canals and your car is a boat.

just park out front and step into your house.

walking along, we saw fancy buildings,

piazzas that made me feel as if i were on the universal studios back lot tour,

dogs out for a walk,

and tourists.

lots and lots of tourists. this one was very enthusiastic about visiting italy and wanted the world to know.

because the way to the rialto bridge and piazza san marco were thoughtfully marked with signs, there is a parade of tourists following the exact same route.

and all along the route, of course, the shops cater to foreigners.

the best item i saw was a calendar. it was next to this one, which i would kind of expect, of gondoliers.

what i didn't expect, was a calendar of priests. young, handsome priests.

i wasn't sure if these were actual priests or not. some of the photos look like they caught them off-guard as they were coming from hearing confessions, but march looks as if he's been working on this moment in the mirror for a long time.

navigating through the throngs of tourists was a challenge to my patience. we really wanted to get to piazza san marco so that afterward we could break away from the crowds.

this is my window.

part of my Dogs of Venice series.

venice was definitely the most touristy part of our entire italy trip.

saw a lot of this.

and this.

i just liked these signs.

our first glimpse of piazza san marco!

and there's the church!

and the people! so many people.

i was hoping the threat of rain would deter them, but once again, turisticus animalis proved to be a much more resilient creature than i had anticipated.

i started to embrace the idea that each and every one was simply another opportunity for a photograph.

ej was less enthusiastic about the crowds.

there were lovely distractions.

and eventually, we had to admit that we were tourists too.

unfortunately, there were no photographs allowed in the church of san marco, but we did shuffle through in a steadily moving line. it was dark in there. the mosaic floor was warped from flooding and age. walking in the front door was free, but every little chapel or staircase had an admission fee. we didn't indulge.

back outside, even though it was overcast, there was a glare.

i love how the tree thoughtfully reaches out its branches to cover any embarrassing bits.

killer pigeon comin' at me.

i can't say no to the doggies.

there were churches everywhere. we didn't go into this one.

but i loved the outside of it.

here on a wall of some arbitrary building, anyone can make a monetary offering to the Virgin Mary.

i had to take a photo of this guy. he was so smartly dressed, complete with ascot.

there were hidden hotels that faced the grand canal.

by this point, we were making a concerted effort to find the streets where the real venetians lived, sans tourists. it wasn't easy.

we passed this open door and it was beautiful inside, but i wasn't sure if it was the entrance to someone's home or if it was the lobby to apartments or what.

and then we stopped on a bridge. i was compelled to watch gondola after gondola pass with their load of happy tourists. perhaps it's cliche to ride in a gondola in venice, but really, these are probably people who have seen venice only on tv and in movies and dreamt of going there, and for years saved up their money, and when the dream finally becomes reality, what else would make it complete but a ride in a gondola through the canals? it's really kind of sweet that so many people from around the world share that same desire.

so here they are, living the dream, sipping their champagne and greeting the foolish tourists who are watching from a bridge.

i think these old ladies were pretty excited about their handsome gondolier.

this gondolier does not seem to be into it.

somehow the romance of it all is tainted when the sheer quantity of boats makes it look like a ride at disneyland.

in case you were unsure whether or not this is a catholic country.

even though we saw plenty of canals, i couldn't stop taking photos of them.

we were finally finding some open spaces and rewarded ourselves with gelato. it was cold and sweet, but it did confirm that not all gelati are the same. this one had nothing on rigoletto in milano. maybe they thought that foreigners wouldn't notice.

this leaning tower reminded me of mexico city.

but what's down this way?

i was so happy that we ventured to this spot! and thankfully, ej had his video camera because it sounded like we were facing a music school.

we heard a violin squeeking out a tune, and someone taking a voice lesson, and a soprano practicing an aria.

it was great! so we sat down and had a snack and enjoyed Behind the Scenes in Venice.

to the left

to the right

finally some peace and quiet.

when we continued on our way, i smiled at this sign because it made me think that she specialized in dr. seuss.

someone thought there was plenty of room between these two buildings to fit a tiny, skinny building.

we'd been searching for the name "tagnoli" because that's the last name of ej's oldest friend. we never found it, so we settled for his first name.

i think the Dogs of Venice should be a calendar.

the grand canal.

as i was trying to take a photo of myself in my traditional manner, a helpful tourist asked if i'd like a photo of myself. this has happened before. this time i declined.

this shop was closed, but they sold cool mirrors. we're standing outside the doors.

and then we found this quiet little courtyard. some older woman was just coming home for the day. it must be odd to find people taking photos of what is essentially your yard.

and your laundry. i kid. it wasn't her laundry, it was someone else's.

was this cobbler row at one time?

the token cat amongst all the dogs.

and then it was time to catch our train back. we hopped a ferry which is essentially their bus.

nice bus route.

what a crazy, wonderful water city.

the happy people waiting at a bus stop.

passing under a bridge we say goodbye to venice.

when we get back to milano, we remember that de santis is open until midnight, so we head over there to pick up a quick dinner for while we pack, and a couple extra sandwiches for our flights back. this right here is poetry in motion.

hiding behind bowls of mozzarella and ruccola, our delicate slices of salame await.

artichoke hearts, pomodoro, funghi, brie...don't hold back.

this was a regular customer who wanted to know why i was taking photos of the sandwich guy when he was ugly and had sausage hands.

the Sandwich Guy is master of all that he surveys.

he shook hands with us when we left and wished us a buon viaggio. i didn't think his hands were sausage-y.

the next morning, we didn't have electricity in our apartment and it doesn't get a lot of natural light, so i was hoping i wasn't forgetting anything in the dark. i realized that i hadn't taken any photos of our apartment, so i took a few quick ones before we left. please forgive the flash.

that old cross beam has been there since the dawn of time.

once the bags were packed and the photos taken, we had to leave. we took the malpensa express train to the airport. you can see that milano cried when we left.

unfortunately, ej and i were not on the same flight back to new york, but i enjoyed alitalia. they don't charge for wine (i stuck with water),

they actually gave out peanuts!! i was excited.

the food was pretty good. i had the fish. that's it under the green sauce. i'd eaten my de santis sandwich at the beginning of the flight, but when they came around with these trays, i didn't want to miss out on anything, so i ate this too. the flight attendant came by with the drinks after this and laughed that i always seemed to be eating when he walked by. so true, so true.

and every seat has its own remote control, so once i figured it out, i watched a few movies. it helped to
pass the time .

when i got back to brooklyn, my roommates had cleared out. i breathed a sigh of relief.