In the last 50 years or so, I have seen a gradual but definite fall in the levels of respect of humans for their own humanity. People seem to equate humanity with the animal kingdom, comparing us to greater apes with an opposable thumb, seeing our more bestial side (wars, genocide, suicide bombings, etc. have made this only too easy), and –with the rise of reality TV, there is now an open theatre for humanity’s stupidity, ignorance and vanity which gives credence to the theory that we humans are just another form of animal. What people forget to see is the good, thoughtful, nurturing side of their fellow humans, the part of us that is uniquely able to reason and to change our environment, and so they do not take into account the dignity of being Human. Whether one takes the view that humans have inherent dignity because it is God-given, or because of our innate ability for creativity, morality, justice and self-knowledge, it is plain that humans ARE different from animals. Yes, we share their physiology, we can be classed as mammals, but to me this shows only that we have a common creator, not that we belong to the Animal world. The difference between even the smartest chimpanzee and the dumbest 3rd grader is even greater than the difference between that chimpanzee and an amoeba.
While I sympathize with animal rights activists, I can also see the harm their work is capable of—yes, it is sad that rats and monkeys must be afflicted with diseases and experimented upon, however, if that experimentation saves the lives of our children, that makes the necessity a moot point. Activists tend to emphasize the likenesses between ourselves and the animal kingdom as a way of promoting sympathy for their own cause, which is, essentially, a good one—nothing shows the dignity and intelligence of a man or woman like the way in which they treat animals and even their fellow humans. If someone is cruel to an animal, or to another human, especially those who are helpless, such as children, the elderly or the disabled, it will lower them in the estimation of their fellows. However, it is a failure of those activists that they often equate the value of animals and humans, and in doing so make us all doubt our own specialness.
When an animal looks up at the sky, it does not ponder the greatness of the universe, wonder about the composition of stars or see his own puniness in comparison to the infinity of space. Humans are unique in this aspect. A chimpanzee, when it uses a stick to dig ants out of a rotten log, indeed uses a tool, but that tool will never change—it will not become iron or bronze, or be improved mechanically or sold to make more tools. A male peacock, for all his gorgeous feathery display, does not think to improve the beauty of his surroundings, he simply shows himself for the benefit of finding a mate. A dog who uses his different tones of barks, growls and howls, does so to gain food, protect his space, or communicates his physical needs to his owner—he is not able to improve his growls into a song, compose music to howl by or write a novel to show how he feels about his environment and family; his verbal ability is extremely limited and has specific goals which will continue his existence and health. Improvements and innovations are the domain of humanity alone.
Another aspect of our two species is that an animal, other than moving to a new area of the woods or ocean, does not change his environment in any meaningful way—he remains trapped by his inabilities. Human kind can build a new house, design a better environment, if only by planting a garden, and can dream of better surroundings. Animals do not dream in the way of humans—they may reenact their daily activities during sleep—hunting, running, mating, fighting—but they do not have the complex psychological theatrics running through their brain that humans do. Our dreams, both as we sleep and as we daydream, can also cause major changes in our lives—to obtain a better job, find a new partner, live in a different country or develop latent skills and talents—our dreams, infinite and varied as they are, are both impetus for change and a catalyst which can transform our daily lives and perceptions.
It is to our credit as humans that we can even consider the ‘feelings’ of animals, that we can work to make their lives better or their time on earth more meaningful—to love an animal, to care for it, to empathize with it, is to bring that animal into a higher state of being: Love changes. Animals can develop deep attachments to those humans who are kind, who actually care about them, and, I believe, in doing so, they lift themselves from the animal group soul to a higher place—interacting with humans can be a way to improve both their own lives and the lives of those who love them. This is a great Gift. I have been asked over and over when a beloved pet dies if their owner will see them in the afterlife, and I always answer with a resounding YES—because in loving and attaching themselves to a particular human, those pets have risen above their simple daily survival mode and been transformed—they can move beyond incarnation from the animal group soul to abide with that beloved human. Our dignity as humans is only enhanced by the care and love with give to our animals.
We live in a world where our interactions with other humans and animals can both upgrade our own lives or bring them into brutal alliances where both are lowered by cruelty and exploitation. This capacity for true good or true evil is OUR unique Gift. We must learn to see the higher level where we exist as special position, apart from our physiological likeness to the animal world—a place where improvements to our species, our creativity and generosity, our awareness of Creation can better the lives of our fellow humans. We must accept that that innate dignity gives us a responsibility to use our differences wisely and well. Animals are trapped by their own instincts for survival but we humans can do much to make their lives and the lives of those around us, more satisfying—we cannot do this if we lower ourselves to the standards of the animal world—we can only improve and make innovations to this world through our own dignity and specialness as Humans.
I just recently finished these two very interesting books by Tom Standage, and wanted to share them with my readers. The subject of both is the ways in which food and drink have manipulated mankind’s history--while it may seem a light subject, upon reading these, you gain a fuller understanding of the huge influence that sustenance has wielded.
In the first book “A History of the World in Six Glasses”, Standage sets the 6 important beverages as:
You may not realize how very long beer has been around, but the ancient Egyptians made it from their barley and it was considered an everyday drink for most of them. Standage presents the ancient story of Gilgamesh as containing references to beer, its importance in ritual, and traces how it made its way to
In “An Edible History of the World” one can see how mankind moved from a hunter-gatherer society to one where agriculture was the mainstay, and how the growing of cereal crops such as corn, rice, barley, maize and millet sustained human life for millennia. Standage shows how the growing and storage of crops led to those storage places as temples of worship, and how food was used in warfare and for a show of political power. He also explains how these cereals began as wild foods that humans eventually began to genetically engineer for larger yields—fascinating! Corn was originally grown in
Ah, Valentine’s Day! I absolutely love it! Every year I look so forward to the day, even when I didn’t have a beloved to celebrate with—and now that I DO, I love it even more. There’s something about all those red hearts, pink roses, white lacey cards, diamond jewelry advertisements and heart-shaped cookies that just sets my heart aglow. Even though my children are grown and out, I still love to shop for Valentine’s Day’s goodies for them—chocolate hearts or lips, flowers, fun Valentine knick-knacks, lipglosses for my daughter, glowsticks for my son, cookies, and of course, the perfect card. This year was no exception. For Raul I don’t usually buy candy, because he’s not really into sweets, but I try to get him something I know he’ll like: this year it was a great, thick cargo coat with grey flannel lining, to keep him warm in these frosty cold Southern winters (and yes, it DOES get cold down here). He gave me a lovely pair of 10k gold earrings, which I’ve been wearing a lot lately!
This year we celebrated a little early with dinner and a movie (Avatar) on Friday, relaxed on Saturday, and then went to Jimmy’s birthday party on Sunday. It was a small affair but really fun! Some of my favorite people came, including Rosemary, Ricky and Jennifer (Iris’ kids).
(Iris singing a Peruvian Birthday song to Jimmy)
I fixed a big platter of Spanish deviled eggs & olives, and Iris brought her famous chancho (Peruvian pork)—Maria supplied the wine, cake, candies and cheese tray, and we all hung out, laughing, talking and taking photos.
One of their neighbors had had a birthday party a little earlier in the day, and he brought over a bucket of oysters, complete with oyster knives and sauce, and the guys had a field day, slurping them up and getting’ razzed by all the ladies because oysters, as you may not know, are considered an aphrodisiac!
After the party we all went our separate ways to celebrate privately with our honeybears,--which was, of course, my favorite part of Valentine’s Day!
This time of year brings to mind those particular couples that I keep close in my heart—couples who have been together many years, some have raised children together, some not, but all of these seem to me to have an especially close bond. It does my heart good to see them together because they're not shy about showing their love and tenderness for each other—you feel this so strongly when you're with them, and it’s a pleasant and hopeful thing to be around. Hopeful, because so many couples these days seem to grow angry, bored or just plain stale after a few years, and end their marriages on these least complaint. These friends of mine genuinely enjoy each others company, and so, when you're with them, you enjoy being around them too! They make any gathering more delightful, more fun, more interesting.
Would they ever divorce? Well, I make no predictions, of course. These particular couples, however, seem to me to be such happily mated, caring, warm and loving people that I take them as an example of what a wonderful marriage can be. It would shock me greatly if any of these ever broke up—really, when you’re around them you just could not imagine such a thing. I know many married couples I like, and I intend no insult to those not included here—these are just the ones that strike me as being the closest, who are still in love in spite of their differences and many years together, who still seem to have that subtle glow of romance and aura of affection and tenderness. So, I’m presenting them here, to honor what Valentine's Day is really about….Love you guys!!!
(Of course I have to include Raul & me, cuz even though we have had only 3 years together so far, it feels as if we have been together much longer, and cannot imagine my life without him! Te quiero, mi amorcito!!!)
(Iris & her buddy Gary)
(Iris & her buddy Gary)
Ok, as I was uploading that last entry, it occurred to me that I was writing about only my female friends, and that I really needed to acknowledge—with a big hug!- my wonderful male friends, especially those ones who have been with me so very long, and whom I could hardly imagine life without! I know there are those who say that men and women cannot be friends, but I am here to tell you, that just ain’t so, folks. My guy-buddies have been a source of warmth, friendship, laughter, help and emotional stability for a long, long time, and, other than a brief let’s-try-and-date with one of them, they are all platonic, lovable and a joy to my existence.
(At one of Iris' parties with Carlos & Gary)
Now, I’m a thorough “girly-girl” according to my friends: I love perfume, high-heels, Victorian teas, long skirts and spiral perms, and yet, I need those male pals around—not to pet me or praise me, but to just hang with, talk to, and feed the need for the brother I never got to know (Mark, another long story). I was always closer to my male cousins than my female ones, and my favorite was my gay cousin Paul, tall, dark and handsome, with a fine mind, a creative spirit and the craziest sense of humor this side of Bette Midler on crack. I guess he was the original inspiration for seeking out male friends, and I never looked back!
(Alvin, Sobeida's hubby with his fake beard, and Rosie's John, at Halloween--two great guys that always make a party better!)
At social gatherings, except with my mom & sisters (where the vibe is distinctly female, bitchy and rather loud), I tend to be drawn to the area where the guys are smoking, bullshittin’ and laughin’, while the beer bottles go round and round. I like to hear their deep voices, smell the pipes & cigars, enjoy their naughty, politically incorrect sense of humor, and even try my hand at some Spanish translation with my Latino buds. I just like being around all that intense male energy! When I worked at the Catholic school, it was all women teachers, with one small exception of the computer tech who came in once a week, and I just craved some masculine vibes around there—all the bitchy, paranoid, suspicious females and their intrigues, their fake nicey-nice smiles, and jealousies just drove me NUTS! Oh, what I would have given for one tall, hefty, warm-hearted, red-haired football coach, or perhaps an insouciant, intellectual, black French teacher to laugh with! But alas, none appeared while I was there.
(Wayne, looking really young, holding my daughter, Melantha)
I’ve had my red-haired guy who was like a brother, Wayne, in my life since my daughter was a baby. He was dating my sister Lori at the time, who later threw him over, but somehow he just kept hangin’ around the family, and eventually just became part of it. He’s a chubby Santa of a guy now, with his beautiful red hair and beard almost completely white, but he still thrills over the new Star Trek movie with me, and grills one of the best damned steaks around. My kids love him, and he has always been a part of their lives as they've grown. He's a warm-hearted guy who loves his family, his brother and sister & their kids, and is the best Uncle ever. I always feel so comfortable and at home in his little carriage house apartment, and we've spent many an hour there drinking whiskey & Mountain Dew and watching episodes of Babylon 5 or Star Trek. We're planning a cook-out at his place before this February ends and I'm bringing his favorite red-potato salad!
(My Georgy, a few years back, with his hair still black and curly!)
George I met through my daughter’s real father, who I dated in school—they were best friends and David kept saying, “You gotta meet George—I just have this definite feeling you two would hit it off big time”—and we did! He walked into the livingroom at David’s house one weekend, I looked up, somehow “recognized” him immediately (though I’d never even seen a photo) and said, “Oh, there you are! It’s so good to see you again!”—at which he answered,”Yes, it’s great to see you again too, it’s been SOOooo long!”—everybody fell OUT, but honestly, that’s how it went! He was a spiritual guru of mine for years, an emotional pillow to cry on, and just the best friend a girl could ask for.
(Mikey at a party at their house-full of good beer and good cheer!) Mike—or Mikey, as I like to call him—is my friend Iris’ hubby, and one of the sweetest guys I know. He obviously adores Iris and I love being around the two of them. He’s Peruvian but was born in
Bao Huai is a good friend of mine in
(Danny & I at his Halloween party last year)
Danny you may know if you have looked through my studio website, Angel Illuminations (http://www.angelilluminations.com) -his portrait is right on the homepage and is included in the Portraits section as well. I met him 3 years ago at the Savannah Greek Festival, where I saw this dark, beautiful young man standing by his mom, and decided right away I had to PAINT him! He ended up coming to lots of our parties, meeting Iris and Sobeida and Rosie and just being a never-ending source of drama, humor, creativity and fun—he’s also a GREAT drag queen!
Last, but not least, is my computer Genii, Falko. We met back in 1984 through a guy I was dating, Philip—Falko was the computer tech at the engineering firm where Philip worked. We went there one night so Philip could work on his project for an hour or two before we went to dinner—he told me to go in and talk to Falko because we had so many interests in common, and indeed, we did! We ended up gabbin’ for 4 hours! He later upgraded the computer that
I love all my guy-buddies dearly, and these are only just the top 6! They have loved me, stuck with me, kidded me, teased and put up with my quirkiness for years, and I adore them, each in his own way. Any woman would consider herself lucky to have friends such as these, and honestly, I just don’t know what my life would’ve been like without them. Double hugs, youse guys!
I was watching “The Women” (2008, w/ Meg Ryan et al.) the other night and immediately thought of something I wanted to write about. Friends. Such a lovely word, eh? Did you ever stop to think of the different kinds and levels of friendship we indulge in? How about the “shit-to-goodies-ration” (thank you, Sylvia, for that pungently descriptive phrase)--the measure of the good to bad in the relationship? As Sandy (Terri Garr) says to Michael (Dustin Hoffman) in “Tootsie”, “No, we are not friends. Friends. I don't take this shit from friends. Only lovers.” I’m kinda the opposite—shit I take from my friends, no WAY would I take from my husband. Would you let your boyfriend call to say he’s coming over for lunch, then never show up or even call? Would you put up with your guy smokin’ dope on your back porch at Christmas time, when you live right around the corner from the police station? How would you react if your best friend forgot your birthday? Or borrowed your favorite embroidered Mexican blouse which you KNOW you will never see again? I can tell you—if my husband borrowed my things and lost them, or forgot my birthday, there would be hell to pay. And yet, I’ve dealt with those same things from girlfriends. When is enough, ENOUGH all ready?
Maybe it’s chick thing. Women put up with a lot to be close, so they can say that ‘Yeah, I have a BFF’. Because our friends know us in ways that perhaps our mates do not—women pay attention to details. “Yeah, that’s a lovely necklace he got her for her birthday—if she were skinny and 16 again!”“I could tell you’ve been feeling depressed, so come on over here RIGHT NOW and I’ll fix you a glass of iced mocha coffee with whipped cream & chocolate shavings—and don’t forget the whiskey!” “No, I didn’t forget she hates cilantro in her salad—I made this one especially for her!” Like picking out a pair of shoes for you—the backless kind with the perfect 3-inch chunky heel (she knows you hate high spiked heels now) and in just the right shade of pale yellow (because she remembers that you are totally into this light butter yellow shade this summer). That’s a valuable thing, a precious commodity! So, we put up with amazing amounts of crap to keep that ego-nurturing in gear.
Then there are the different kinds of friends and how they mix. There’s the party-hearty-vaguely-white-trash gal with whom you love to hit the bars (and once, long ago, you shared some fine herb with) whom you would never ask to lunch with your educated and funky artist friends. There’s the manic, talkative, immensely interesting friend who would probably give you the shirt off her back, yet somehow would not mix well with the old college friend with whom you were close-to-for 20-years-but-now-don’t-talk-to-much. There’s the interesting
(ewww, I know, so cutesy, but I wuv-em!)
I’m grateful for all my girlfriends. There are friends who are younger than me, like Rosemary, age 18, a curvy Peruvian chick with a kind Virgo heart, who
(Jennifer, Iris, Moi, Rosie & Sobeida @ my birthday party last year)
(Me & Sylvia @ Boo's birthday party, about 2002)
P.S. Any entry on friendship would not be complete without my daughter, Melantha Naomi--she is one of the crystalline JOYS of my life and she is definitely one of my BEST friends, always has been, always will be. She holds a high and special friendship in my heart. My niece Annie, who is my sister Lori's daughter, I always said SHOULD have been mine. I think of her as a friend as well, and am happy when she confides in me.
Once again it’s that first Saturday in February, and that means we celebrate Peru’s National Pisco Day, and my Peruvian husband and our friends all gather to dance and party and feast and enjoy each other’s company while celebrating that wonderful white grape brandy—the national drink of Peru! We all met at Sobeida’s neighborhood clubhouse, brought Peruvian goodies to eat, and Raul was the DJ. He played a great list of salsa, meringue and other Latin music all night, and helped create a cheerful atmosphere.
He had also made a pan of papas rellenas, a Peruvian dish of mashed potatoes stuffed with beef, olives and eggs, then deep fried—needless to say, they disappeared fast! It IS wonderful to have a man who cooks, yes, indeedy! At New Years, for Jorge’s party he had made them as well, and even cold, they are SO good, that they were all gone in about 10 minutes!
Well, we hauled ourselves out in cold, rainy weather to go and though it was like sitting in a freezer sometimes, when we went out to smoke, it was still a great night.
Rosemary, Iris’ daughter came as well, and I was so happy to see her! We sat outside a lot smoking and talking, while another couple of young people joined us. We got into this conversation about anime and how teens love the style, at which point I had to interject some information—many American kids adore anime and go to sushi bars here, and end up crazy about Japan, but they do not research the history of the country or look very deeply into it. I’m all for Asian culture, but when they asked me why their Chinese friends hated
(Me & Miss Rosemary)
Iris had us all toast with Pisco Sours, which are always delicious. The original recipe calls for pisco, plenty of fresh lime juice, fresh egg whites and sugar, then place the mixture in a blender, pour it out and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top-magnifico! That night they used a pisco sour mix, then put on a bit of Angostura bitters—another way of drinking it (but my favorite is with FRESH lime juice), then Iris performed a Peruvian dance with the Pisco on the floor, swirling around the bottle and generating much applause.
Recently, my friend Bao Huai in
I’m sure most people know about the “game” Ouija, which is not actually a game, but is a board with letters and numbers, the sun and moon, Yes & No, printed on it. It uses a device called a planchette--a triangular plastic piece on 3 very short legs (tipped in felt to make it move smoothly) & a clear window through which you can see the letters/numbers. Two people use the planchette, placing their fingertips lightly on one side or the other, and then ask questions of the spirit world.
Fuji is the Chinese version, probably the ancestor of Ouija, which requires two people who hold either a peach/willow twig, or in some areas, a basket shaped rather like a turtle shell with a pointer—they are called ‘jishou’ 乩手 "planchette hands". The Chinese call upon a ‘shen’ 神 "spirit; god" or ‘xian’ 仙 "immortal; transcendent", usually a specific entity, rather than simply addressing whatever spirit happens to be around at the moment (like many Westerners do). Since Chinese writing uses characters, not the ABCs, a table or special flat box, covered or filled with a shallow layer of sand is used instead of a flat board—the planchette will then write the characters in the sand. There are three essential helpers who are thus needed to operate this medium: 1) a ‘dujizhe’ 讀乩者 "planchette reader" who actually reads off the characters as they are written; 2) a ‘chaojizhe’ 抄乩者 "planchette copyist" whose job is to write down and record what is written; and a ‘pingsha’ 平沙 "level sand" who smoothes out the ‘shapan’ 沙盤 "sand table" when the next character needs to be written.
The Chinese, when using
Now as to the Ouija board: it is the descendant of various means of divination that arose during the mid to late 19th century during the Spiritualist movement. The board that most people are familiar with today, with it’s natural wood color and black graphics of the sun, moon, etc. was made popular by the game company Parker Brothers. Ouija was very popular in the 1920’s and 30s, and even the great illustrator Norman Rockwell painted its use on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
To anyone thinking of using the Ouija board, let me issue this warning: IT IS NOT A GAME AND IS NOT TO BE USED LIGHTLY FOR ENTERTAINMENT!! I say this from the depth of my own experiences with it, and those of my family. Keep in mind that there are many, many worlds beyond the one which we perceive moment to moment, with entities who are fully functional, active and eager to communicate with us. Would you go out into the dark night, blindfolded, and grab anyone who came your way and drag them into your home to answer questions? I think not. However, this is what most people who use the Ouija board do when they just sit down and start calling out to the spirit world.
If you feel you must use the Ouija board, take a hint from those people who have been using something similar for the past thousand years, the Chinese. To convert this into Western terms: draw a circle of white chalk or salt around the table and chairs where the board is to be read. You would draw the circle, leave a small space for you and your partner to walk into it, then enter and close the circle. Light incense and use a WHITE candle for purity. Say a prayer of protection and call on the power of the WHITE LIGHT to watch over and surround you. Announce that ONLY spirits aligned with the White Light may enter the circle. Compose your requests respectfully, then put your hands to the planchette. If at any time during the session you contact a spirit who is cursing, hypersexual, blasphemous, vengeful or angry, TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE PLANCHETTE, dismiss the spirit, and immediately ask God/dess to protect you—I also visualize angels surrounded me and my partner.
After the session is over—whether the spirits were negative or positive--, and this is VERY important, call on the power of the White Light once more and thank, then DISMISS the spirits who have answered you. ONLY when you feel the air around you is positively charged and clear, should you break the circle and walk out. I cannot stress this enough—to use the Ouija you must take these precautions, which are actually the bare minimum. I may write later on an incident or two that happened in my own family, but for the moment, do yourself a favor and play it SAFE.
Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love
Americans (and other nations, but I’m dealing with my own people here) want low prices, as low as we can get, on many items we buy every day, every week—our economy is riding out a recession and times are tough. When our importers found that China was quoting extraordinarily low prices for their products, many retailers hastened to sign contracts without really getting to know the culture or the people they were buying from—and this leads to major problems. Midler, who is a sort of liaison between Chinese manufacturers and Western importers/retailers, uses the example of one of his bigger clients to show how these problems occur. When the “China Price” is quoted to the Westerner, he was amazed, wondering how they could give such a low price. The Chinese manufacturer, a fairly new business called King Chemical, wanted the business of this big importer, and even set up a temporary fake factory, full of busy workers, to impress him. New manufacturers will do anything to get that first order—once they can say, I work for THAT big company, other orders will follow. They give a low, low price per unit to get that business—in this initial phase of negotiations the Chinese are helpful, happy, eager to please. So, the importer/retailer sends them the specs for the product line—in this case, it was a line of personal care items such as shampoo, body wash and lotions. Very specific instructions from how the bottle and label should look, to the chemical composition of the products are given to the Chinese manufacturers—be assured of that!
The manufacturer takes a profit loss on these products, and so he had to begin, very subtly at first, to shave off a small amount of plastic from the bottle, or use a cheaper brand of chemical or scent, make the label a bit smaller—all things that would not be noticed right away. The more they scrimp on the original design, the more money they save to go into their own pockets--Midler used bottles as one example. In the beginning, the first couple of shipments were perfect, and then things started to get a little dicey. Eventually, after a few months, there were complaints from the retail stores that the shampoo bottles were not holding up, the walls of the bottle were too thin and broke during shipment causing a mess—at one point the bottles were not much more than slightly stiffened bags! In another case, the shampoo had begun to gel up instead of flowing smoothly, especially in cold areas of the country. The Chinese way is to keep things pleasant and not to cast blame too much OR accept blame either. Thus when confronted with these problems it was difficult, to say the least, to get an explanation, especially if the Chinese seemed at fault. King Chemical even refused to show their product ingredients recipe to the importer! This situation is known as “quality fade” and it is nearly impossible, with the low quotes, to avoid this problem in Chinese manufacturing. Most factories do not have on-site Western monitors to keep up with how the products are made, and, in their opinion, if something needs to be fixed, the onus is on the importer/retailer. When the shampoo turned out so shoddy that it could not even be sold in
Another problem, one of sanitation and contamination, is addressed in Midler’s book: he notices a young man with scaly, red, peeling hands filling body wash bottles, and asks the manager why that worker is still on the line--this, to the factory manager, is a cultural/moral dilemma—why take that worker off the line? He is fast and does good work—if you take him off the line he will perceive it as an insult or a punishment, so, he stays! Midler says he stopped using body wash after this, of any kind! This is all just the tip of the iceberg, folks. This problem of “quality fade” reaches into all areas of industry, from buttons that pop off your sweater because of cheap thread, to cheaply made metal parts that cause your cell phone to break down, or melamine-laced dog food that kills your pooch. Our importers/retailers are so eager to get that low price, and the pressure to keep it low is huge for the Chinese manufacturer, thus, the game goes on.
(Workers who lost fingers while working in their factory)
Not mentioned too much in Midler’s book is the case of the workers, the killer hours (usually 16 hour shifts, 1 or less weekends off a month), poor safety measures, bullying and exploitation, health problems, crowded living conditions. When you look at the “China Price” for any item, these things should be taken into consideration as well. It is not a case of “sneaky” Chinese trying to put one over on greedy Americans—there are, as I said, many levels of reasoning and before judgments are handed out, it is best to do a lot of research.
Other excellent books on this include Leslie T. Chang’s “Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China” , or James McGregor’s “One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in
"In the end, as much as the responsability seems to lie with
This afternoon my daughter Melantha came over for a visit, and brought “Oklahoma!” for us to watch—it’s a family favorite and I loved every minute of it! If you have seen the original Oscar & Hammerstein movie with Gordon McCrae and Shirley Jones, you know how it can bring a smile to your face. One of my favorite parts of the movie is the Dream Ballet sequence, where Laurey, pondering over what to do about her two beaux Curly and Jud, takes a whiff of the ‘Elixir of Egypt’ and falls into a dream. The parts of Laurey and Curly are taken by two professional dancers and the whole sequence is played with no words, only music, ballet and evocative gestures. Laurey is a Maiden, virginal, sweet and naïve, and though the dancer who portrays her is perhaps not quite as young, she manages to delicately convey the character’s innocence. You see her being courted by Curly, then amongst her friends who are preparing her for the wedding.
A white veil floats from the sky, the maidens gather it up, and take Laurey off to don a lovely white wedding dress. She walks up to her beloved, with her head bowed under the white veil, however it is not Curly who lifts the veil, but the corrupt and evil Jud Fry. He drags her off to a saloon filled with beautiful but hard-faced women dressed in black & dark-colored dresses with low necklines and shortened skirts, patterned stockings, and elaborately styled hair dressed with tall black feathers.
I always relish the complete contrast between the Maiden Laurey and the Whores. She runs for help from woman to woman, from man to man at the gambling tables, but receives only stares—in this nightmare no one will help her. She knows nothing of such women and their lurid lifestyles--her expression is horrified and a little dazed.
Three of them, two short red-heads and a tall, dark woman with a cold face, walk up to her, to a rendition of Ado Annie’s “I Can’t Say ‘No’” made up of squawking brass horns—they lift their ruffled skirts to expose long legs sheathed in fancy stockings, shaking their petticoats at her with a smirk on their faces. Laurey looks shocked as the tall dark one drags her up, rips her white dress off her shoulder and tosses her to Jud—the woman then walks away with a roll of the shoulders as if to say, “That’s how things are, babe—get used to it!”
There are men who hang around the bar, groping the women—the backdrop is deep glowing red, with a fiery black chandelier hanging down from the ceiling—the grinning men grab the whores and dance crazily with them hillbilly style, and at one point they hold the women up like stiff, painted dolls. The whores hold up their legs and spread them open--even with ruffled panties, the idea is very plain—their rigid poses, arms squared and draped loosely at the elbow, legs up, heads tilted to the side, expressionless face tells us exactly what they are: puppets, sex toys used by the men; pretty, lifeless playthings who serve as receptacles for male Lust. All the time Laurey is watching horrified, yet somehow fascinated.
One of the men grabs her and throws her to the group of whores, who make her join their dance, though she does so with her hands covering her eyes. Then Jud, thinking that she is now ready to be ravished, takes her roughly by the arm—she escapes him and runs up a tall set of stairs that seem to lead nowhere, but actually are the entrance to the whore’s hallway of rooms…Laurey is trapped--Curly comes up to try and defend her but is strangled to death by Jud. . Jud seizes her and carries her off. The dream ends in a haze of red smoke.
I remember seeing this movie when I was young and innocent, and though, by modern standards, the sexuality of the movie and the brutality of the Dream Sequence Saloon scene is rather muted, it came through very clearly to me. I was wide-eyed, watching the Maiden in her white dress being surrounded by ‘bad women’: vampiric, hard as diamonds, yet darkly beautiful. I felt the pull of the dichotomy presented—yes, sex is a shadowy world where women, no matter how beautiful, were used by men—and yet I also hoped for that noble and handsome prince/cowboy to appear in my life to save me from the profane passions of the users, the cads, the perverted. It is a powerful part of the film and always made me sit up and take notice.
** I have shortened the description of the dream sequence here, but I suggest you rent the movie and take a look at it. It is highly symbolic but perfectly presented: the music, the backdrops with glowing red (lust) or a swirling cyclone (representing death and destruction), the costumes, the gestures, the choreography—all of it just superb!
The Great Gonzo’s Comet Explodes Over
24 Feb 2005
Ding, dong, the King is dead! Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, that mad, bad and
dangerous god of Gonzo journalism, has finally cashed in his chips. On the
cold, grey morning of February 20th he stuck a pistol in his mouth and sent
his brains hurtling the length of the leopard-print carpet of his Woody
Creek mountain compound in
-- a death that amazed, but Colorado
somehow did not surprise, those who knew him well. For a man whose hallucinatory
writings and vodka-soaked vitriol incited writer’s envy and high political
teeth-gnashing, who spent fine afternoons shooting propane tanks with a .357
Magnum, or dosing himself with the pineal extract of male iguanas, his was
the ultimate Exit--not for the Grand Gonzo sad days of depression and
despair, wasting away in a hospital after an accident had almost crippled
him last year. Even his final request, to have his ashes shot from a cannon,
has given fans one last chance to salute his individual brand of bad
****<these are the 1st and last paragraphs only--copyrighted 2005>
Did the great Gonzo fall prey to despair? Did he accidentally shoot off
one of the many guns he had stashed around the property, as some have
suggested? Was it a fatal loss of courage or a lightning strike of insanity?
Looking back over his life and work, I believe he decided it was simply time
to leave this crazy place, his physical body just crashed and burned for the
last time, like an exploding star, and could no longer support that
simmering and poisonously gifted mind. My only real surprise is that he
didn’t take the house and family with him, in a grand flaming finale. He
left a glowing streak across the sky and a corpus of work that will cause
generations to wonder, be appalled, amazed, disgusted, fascinated and reach
for the next book a sadder but definitely wiser person.
"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone," he
once said, "but they've always worked for me."
Copyright 2005 Cheryl BaisdenAnd just for the helluvit, a few of my favorite Hunter S. Thompson quotes...
Well, since my computer was blitzed from mid-November on through my birthday, I’m going to put up a few photos, just a few, to show what I’ve been up to through the holidays. I kept pretty busy, but somehow didn’t take a lot of photos this year. It was a rather slim year financially, and worrying about getting together good presents for everyone, rent, groceries, etc. kept me away from grabbing the camera I think. In November Raul and I attended the Paso Horse Festival in
The festival was up at Andrea and Angel’s ranch, Rancho Loma Linda, and gathered quite a few folks to enjoy the horse show and rides. I had a lot of fun educating the gringos on the delights of Peruvian food, like Iris’ chanca sandwich, aji de gallina and anticuchos (see 2 July 2009 entry), selling the hell outta some chichi morada (sweet purple corn drink) and tembleque (Puerto Rican coconut pudding). Iris looked wonderful in her white dress and ornaments, and Andrea, who usually dresses pretty casual for the ranch (jeans and t-shirts, boots) put on a gorgeous pink dress with long skirt, ruffles and lace for her ride. When everyone had left, we all had a ball drinking Pisco and Rum, munching on chancho sandwiches, laughing and riding ‘round the ranch on the golf cart. Andrea was so kind and let us spend the night up at the ranch house, where Raul stayed up late fixing anticuchos for the next day’s festival booth.
Thanksgiving was a small affair this year. Like always it was a big decision as to WHO was having the dinner—my sister Lori was out (she hates having anyone over and also hates to cook)—Mary was working all day at the port—Boo and Mer had decided to give it one last year at their Grandma B.’s house and went to dinner with their dad (no kids this year, boo hoo!), sooooo, I decided to have a little dinner with my old buddy Falko, his wife Suzy, his mom Margot and her boyfriend Angel. It was a relatively small dinner for me, but then, I love to cook and dinner just isn’t FUN unless you have at LEAST six people at the table. I set up the lovely china with the yellow flowers and gold trim, the gold flatware, and made a little arrangement for the table. Margot brought me a box of those wonderfully delicious little hazelnut-cinnamon cookies, made in
The turkey was so tender it almost fell apart, but I threw the grapes and orange halves on the platter anyway and hoped for the best. The vegetable dip was a big hit too, as was the sweet-potato casserole, and of the huge pan of dressing (which somehow escaped the photographs!), I had only a small square left—it’s a policy of mine when giving big dinners to make sure everyone has a nice plateful of goodies to take home, and the dressing was a favorite this year. Oh, and Raul made a very handsome Head of the House Turkey-Carver!
***A little note aside here…I remember, when I was growing up, my mom would always rise early on Thanksgiving, and one of the first things she’d do is put the giblets and turkey neck on to boil in a big pot, along with celery and onion halves. I eventually figured out that this was for the broth to make the dressing, and have continued the tradition myself. Also, the divine smell of onions and celery cooking in butter would make the mouth water—she always cooked this early too, for the dressing, and would toss them together so they could flavor the breadcrumbs. I absolutely love this smell! When I boil the giblets and neck of the turkey (for about 3 hours, with bayleaf, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper), it makes a rich broth for the dressing—then I take the meat off the neck, and chop the giblets very fine to add to it (no chewy chunks, ewww). It gives the dressing a subtle meat flavor and herbal fragrance that really makes the meal more grand.
Every Christmas I do a lot of baking (though not as much as usual this year), but the most fun we have is with the Christmas cookies! Instead of the traditional sugar/butter cookies, this year I made homemade gingerbread—from a magazine which published McCormick’s Spice Company’s recipe—and they turned out PERfect! Boo was working so Merlin and I sat there and rolled out and decorated all the cookies—about 7 ½ dozen in all! We used Cookie Icing in the tube (red and white), with touches of purple gel icing, raisins, red and green sugar sprinkles and rainbow sprinkles.
As you will see from the photo, we created quite a spread! Merlin, being his usual lovable weird self, decided to make some of the cookies his own special way—including a couple of wounded teddy bears, a Xmas Squid, and what was supposed to be a bell, but turned upside down to make a face with a bloody mouth…Deck the Halls, folks! His buddy Corey came by later and made it a point to scarf the weird ones (for which I was thankful!).
(Mama earlier in the day @ Cracker Barrel)
(Mama earlier in the day @ Cracker Barrel)
Christmas this year was odd. My sister Mary had the party at her house, but was in too much of a hurry to do anything special with the food (we ended up snacking back at home)—she’s working a lot at the port and didn’t have time, I guess. But we did have everyone there—my family took most of the photos—and she was so sweet to Raul—made him sit in the special lounge chair she’d just bought for herself, fixed him a plate, and made sure he was comfortable and supplied with a big rum and coke.
(That's me and Boo, then Lori and her son William below)
The only one missing from the group was my Mary’s daughter Crystal who has moved to
(My sister Mary & her guy, Ron)
Lori’s was painted with a basket of apples, and her plaque also had apples and dogwood on it –it was a sign that said “Welcome to Lori Ann’s kitchen”, which she also loved. One of Mama’s gifts was a plaque with the Family Tree painted on it (the roots were her mother and father, with her siblings included), leaving room for the children of her three daughters—and hopefully, later, our grandchildren. It made me feel good that they loved their gifts. Later, at home after the party, Christmas eve EVE, Merlin, Raul and I gave each other our presents, then went to bed early—Raul and I had to get up early Christmas eve to drive down to his brother’s home in Florida—we spent Christmas with them and his sister and her husband—more on that on a later post!
New Year’s Eve I officiated at the wedding of one of Melantha’s old friends from school, Marlina, and her man Stephen--Melantha was her Maid of Honor. They had a sort of Goth/Renaissance wedding held at a “castle” in
My birthday is Epiphany, January 6th, and though it was much quieter and leaner than last year, my daughter made it special in her own way. She, Denise (her roommate), Merlin and I had dinner at Carabbas, a fantastic Italian restaurant here, and ate like kings! The shrimp scampi there, big, tender shrimp cooked in a lemon-garlic-butter sauce is to die for—Melantha tried it for the first time and had the same reaction I did when I first ate it—eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head GREAT! We came back here for the dessert, a rich chocolate, raspberry-filled, cream-cheese iced cake, with coffee and rum & cokes! I also now have the fifth season of ‘House’ to enjoy!
So that is some of what’s been going on in my life while my computer was being fixed up by my computer genii, Falko. I hope everyone’s holiday was special and full of JOY! God bless you all!
Another delicious dish from Cecelia Chiang’s cookbook—this time Hong Shao Rou, otherwise known as Red-Braised Pork, or Red-Cooked Pork. This rich and aromatic dish is a favorite of northern Chinese, especially in
Here are the ingredients for Hong-Shao Rou—
You may have some trouble finding pork belly in your local supermarket, but talk to the butcher who can probably order a few pounds for you, or seek out an Asian or Chinese market. The dish calls for PORK BELLY, NOT pork maw, which is the stomach inside—the belly is from the OUTSIDE of the pig. It keeps well in the freezer, and in the cold months it can be quite comforting to know you have a supply on hand whenever the craving for red-cooked pork arises! The meat is fatty, very tender and the outer skin, though it seems tough and hard to cut (at least for my poor old knife!), will cook up tender and tasty. Fresh ginger is an absolute! Powdered ginger just will not live up to the proper strength and flavor! Shaoxing wine gives the dish an intensity and the dark soy sauce (I use mushroom soy sauce here) gives the dish it’s characteristic color. Use a good quality brewed soy sauce, like Kikkoman for the main soy sauce. The recipe is as follows—
2 lbs of pork belly
1 24 oz bottle of ShaoXing cooking wine
1 cup of soy sauce
3 TBSP dark soy sauce (like the mushroom soy sauce)
Fresh Ginger root --Six good slices (do NOT peel)
3 pieces of rock sugar OR 3 TBSP sugar
You will need a very sharp, good quality knife--cut the pork into one inch cubes—don’t skin the pieces, the skin will become fork tender as it cooks. Cut six good slices from the ginger root and set aside.
(pork after cooking for 10 minutes, then rinsing)
(pork after cooking for 10 minutes, then rinsing)
Put the pork into a heavy pot and cover with cold water 2 inches over the meat. Cook on high for 10 minutes until the foam arises to the surface of the water—skim foam, pour meat into a colander, discard water. Rinse meat chunks with cold water, wash out the pot and place them in the pot again. Pour in the bottle of ShaoXing wine and the ginger slices, then cover with just enough water to 2 inches over the meat. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a medium simmer and cook for 50 minutes until meat is fork-tender. Pour in the soy sauce, uncover and cook for another 30 minutes. As a last addition, pour in the dark soy and sugar, stir well, and cook another 10 minutes on a little higher heat until sauce thickens. Pour into a large dish and garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with rice.
I stir-fried two bunches of Chinese oil cabbage (you cai) with two cups (packed) of fresh bean sprouts and a TBSP of minced garlic, in 1 TBSP sesame seed oil and 1 TBSP vegetable oil. When oil is heated well, stir the vegetables around to coat, stir-fry for 3 minutes, then pour ½ cup of chicken bouillon over it. Stir until cabbage is slightly wilted, but still crispy, then pour into a bowl—this makes a great accompaniment with the pork dish. Let me know if you cook this dish and how it went--comments welcome!