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...a sweatshop of moxie

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Year of the Youtube

I have finally done it!

I've officially joined the rest of you in the year 2006, the "Year of Youtube".

What 2004 was to blogs, this calender year has been to the phenomenon more addictive than smack, jack and crack put together -- namely, Youtube.

I was scrolling around Youtube just now, when I saw a fellow Brit's quirky idea, which I reposted in the vid-detail section.

"Premise: A fellow British Utuber posted a typical lazy Monday afternoon lineup on telly, where he is.

Vide: http://www.youtube.com/watc...

He asked others to do much of the same -- so here is my offering, via ex-pathood in South Florida.

Call it a snapshot in time.

Your turn! ...".

He did a much better job in detailing for those unfamiliar with British television, just what was being shown in the lineup.

But I wasn't best pleased with this snarky little comment of his:

ABC1. Canned laughter American morality sit-com crap.

Oh right, yes, only American sit-coms are crap and have canned laughter. Gotcha.

This may be why I surfed gleefully to the abysmal BBC America, which had one of their usual Benny Hill episodes on.

Now, don't get me wrong.

I love Benny Hill as much as the next woman, especially if the next woman is Helena Bonham-Carter, but please -- his shows have dated as well as 8-tracks and leisure suits.

I won't follow his lead and tell you just exactly what was being shown on the clip.

The channel lineup of my selection is visible, since like his Sky package, I have that digital cable thingie which made the TV Guide or Sunday TV handouts completely obsolete in my household.

(Whenever we want to know what's up, we just scroll ahead using the clicker)

Let's just say that I sat down shortly after midnight, and recorded on my standalone DVD-R a 5 minute stretch of programming, which was in no way studied or planned.

To my surprise, we had nice vignettes of what local South Florida programming looks like.

Everything from that Furniture City clip (with the requisite flamingoes and shot of the Miami skyline above -- and that same woman who has been doing the these adverts for them for YEARS!)...to Honest Abe and Punxsutawney Phil having a heart-to-heart in one of those commercials you go "What?" and wonder what exactly they're flogging...

...to Barry Bonds hitting a weak, un-Balco-like pop up to Dave Roberts in the 8th.

Heh. That rocked. Sucka!

I know this premise is at once hokey, and pointless, as well as possibly giving me free membership to the Geek Squad.

But bite me.

I am having loads of fun with the possibilities this new computer yields.

Just two weeks ago, I had barely heard of Youtube, the craze hitting America like the hula-hoop on acid.

Now, I am a bona-fide Youtuber!

Does it get any better than this?

UPDATE: Wunn't me! Although I thought it was me, for a moment, given my string of bad technical luck.

Youtube is down, currently, for maintenance.

"We're currently putting out some new features, sweeping out the cobwebs and zapping a few gremlins. We'll be back later. In the meantime, please enjoy a layman's explanation of our website..."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Why We Will Win

Having seen World Trade Center last night, I was going to write another film review for Sundries' readers.

It had been a while, since my two last, Goal! and King Kong.

Quitely simply, though, I have two reasons why I refrain from doing so.

  • Despite good word-of-mouth, assuaging people's fears about another chockfull of conspiracy-goodness, peculiarly Oliver Stone world view film, this decent effort is simply the story of real-life joes stuck in the rubble of the World Trade Center. No more, no less.

  • Marrow stirred after I watched it, and I have to make sense of it, by writing it down for you.

  • The first point is easy to write about.

    World Trade Centre is a modern-day parable of survival, interdependency, and faith.

    For all that, it's not a film refuseniks can sink their teeth into, unlike Loose Change, that abortion of a documentary.

    It's not about Bush Derangement Syndrome, or cynically-posed dead bodies, or the latest rockets in flight of Hizboombah.

    No, it's about the simplicity of human circumstances.

    You are born. You live. You die. Finito.

    But back up one moment.

    Surely life isn't ONLY about plug-and-play details.

    We cannot just be so cloned in human experience, that one man's story is exactly like the poor schmuck living in an Afghani cave.

    You may say that the surroundings are different, but pain is pain, as is laughter, love, fear, or insecurity.


    But our circumstances are very different.

    There are some people who make history. And then there are some people who have history happen to them.

    By this I mean that some are passive actors in the play of life, content to let history define their lives, rather than making things happen, which is almost a subversion of fate.

    Americans have played that role in the latter part of the twentieth century and now, in the early moments of the twenty-first.

    These are a proactive people, not just content to let things slide into chaos without outcry.

    This is why Katrina had legs -- because though a natural disaster is no time for organisational genius at any level, one expects one's government to be on top of things nonetheless.

    But this is also why, if I were to ask you, which citizen would you prefer to be:

    A poor Indonesian peasant from Banda Aceh, or a poor black person from New Orleans, I don't even have to await your answer.

    We all KNOW which of the two, it is better to be.

    What it takes for that to happen is the quality of the people.

    Let no one misunderstand my words.

    It's not that Americans are better. It's that they expect better.

    This is what this film highlights to well, in its smallest details.

    Two lower-middle class guys who mean very little in the great scheme of things, have every chance of living because their lives are precious; each, irreplaceable. Not just for their families, but by their society.

    A world could be coming down around them, but if humanly possible, they will be saved.

    (The parallel with the Israeli soldiers whose kidnapp sparked off the second major Lebanese-Israeli conflict, is surely not lost on anyone)

    World Trade Center is not a polished film, like Stone's JFK, nor is it on par with Talk Radio, for its intense look at the banal.

    It has good supporting roles, well-developed character studies, and believable acting performances (perhaps Nicolas Cages' least self-conscious acting to date, and he has earned himself an Oscar nod next February).

    And yet, it's not the World Trade Center film so many want to see.

    These people want blood and gore -- to see the plane actually go into the Twin Towers, with piercing screams in THX, and slo-mo on the skulls as they implode on impact with the windows.

    Until that film is done, many many years from now, the kind of person who attends 9/11 feature-length films is the kind most likely to want to see human drama, the better to be reminded of what 9/11 really stood for.

    More fly on the wall, than fly me into the Towers.

    I am that kind of person.

    And so far, I have been fortunate to have been given three excellent reconstructions of the events of that horrific day.

    Not exploitative. Not maudlin. Not in the least hateful towards others.

    It's not about THEM. These films are about US.

    That is precisely the high-moral ground that is not due to posing, but to living, which we represent.

    Commentarists will never say this in mainstream film reviews, but there are unspokens in the West.

    The fact that most of us, no matter how rancid our personal conditions may be, would ever trade what we have, for what others take for granted.

    Societies which are choking in their own sputum of hate and doubt, forever putting off the messy realities of democracy. Terrorist organisations, which make a mockery of a country's government from within.

    Infrastructure, recovery time, and even bureaucratic byplays.

    All of this is better in the West. Much better. Infinitessimally better.

    It hurts them to admit it, and we are embarrassed to say it, but it's gospel truth.

    What hurts is for them to be reminded that a country is only as good as its people.

    A people whose shared cultural trajectory promotes certain expectations.

    So far, our films about this tragic event have been about people. Each one of us has a mirror image of ourself which to relate to on those planes, in that rubble, amongst the victims and heroes, both.

    In other cultures, feature films about this tragedy would be about hatred and violence for the sake of violence, the better to whip up loathing.

    Is there anyone amongst us who would tolerate a major Hollywood, anti-Semitic film about 9/11, a short 5 years after the event? How about a true conspiracy one, like Capricorn One was about the moonlanding?

    Only the most marginalised kooks, would do so.

    So instead, one of the foremost conspiracy theorist directors of our time, comes out with a simple story about two cops whose beat just got very messy.

    No doubt, every audience member in that theatre was thinking carefully, as they were watching.

    These five years have given many people a chance to reflect about their lives.

    Life often doesn't turn out the way we wanted it to. It's that expectations word again, raising its now ugly head.

    But it seems to me that no matter how unsatisfying our lives can be, that our shared experience elevates us.

    It becomes less a matter of me, than of we. That we that needs to be protected, because even if we don't have it so good, it's a lot better than what others have.

    This is when something deep inside made me sit up bolt upright during the film.

    One of the greatest claims after 9/11, is that extreme Islam cherishes death as much as life, and in this, our weakling Western culture is no match for their 72 black-eyed virgins.

    The theory goes is that we are too soft, and too spoilt by our "expectations" of life, to fight for it like our enemies can -- a choice which grasps martyred death with white knuckles.

    You know what?

    That is one of the greatest lies ever told.

    Since when do people fight for nothing?

    Americans and the West have the best life circumstances in the world, and it's time other people realised that some of us, at least, will die to keep that going.

    The proof is that we do -- there are any number of people who, if pushed by tragedy, will give their life for their fellow man, in droves.

    Look at me.

    I love life. Every day I thank God that I have lived to see another day. When I think of a time when I am no more, I grow dumb since I love this crazy world of ours so much.

    But I am one of those people, who would give my very life for what I have.

    And more than that.

    I would not do this because I have nothing. I would do this because I have EVERYTHING.

    We have EVERYTHING to fight for, to sustain, to continue, and to better.

    They may seem a self-obsessed, materialistic society, half rent asunder by its own political correctness, half unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices others are born making.

    But what they should see is a people determined to make things work, because history is a progress of liberty winning over tyranny, at every step of the way, no matter how slow or how obscure it is, to those living in the moment.

    We will win.

    If I had to explain why to a child, I would use a poker analogy.

    Every time the stakes have been raised, our society has met that bluff with an unflinching face.

    Maybe not everyone will finish their hand, and some will undoubtedly fold.

    But no one walks away willingly from that size of a pot.

    To the superficial, this is a monetary allusion, typical of what Americans find important in life.

    But it's nothing about the money that pot represents. It's about ourselves, and how we find our courage and savviness, in these circumstances.

    It's the challenge to the self, with the love we have for others, that keeps us going.

    So fear nothing.

    Let them rain death on us. We fight for life.


    This is my fourth time composing a post explaining my protracted absence.

    Suffice it to say, I'm tired of Blogger's little games.

    Let me just say that as I get back into blogging, I have to "retrain" my parents to allow me the time to blog -- especially late at night, as was my custom for almost a year.

    Fortunately, I now have a second brand-new computer (a notebook, this time), that may be of some help to me in this.

    As far as birthdays go, this was a very fruitful one for me.

    Hopefully, you shall soon share in my bounty.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    My Favourite Lesbian

    Modern-day lesbians are as dull as dishwater, and almost as blog-worthy.

    Either they're in long-term commitments, juggling the same boring mortgage, 2.3 (adopted) kids, and testy menages which heterosexuals have had to deal with since the year dot...


    They look like dishevelled, crop-haired lumberjacks who wouldn't know about lesbian chic if Karl Lagerfeld smacked them upside the head.

    Whatever happened to dazzlingly fun, intriguing lesbians, half inside the closet, half bursting out of it with Souzaphones blaring, like Elsa Maxwell?

    If you've never heard of Elsa Maxwell, shame on you.

    She was only the most famous society hostess of the 20th century!

    Ahh, what a world that must have been: where your livelihood could actually be described as "society hostess".

    Try that today, and see how far your resumé takes you at Goldman-Sachs.

    Here are some quick biographical hits, to better aquaint you with this one-of-a-kind lady, who just happened to fancy other ladies, but didn't make a big song-and-dance out of it (unless someone footed the bill).

    They are the reasons why I love the memory of this rotund American, the hostess with very much the mostest.


    "I make enemies deliberately. They are the sauce piquante to my dish of life."

    Like that wonderful bugger, Oscar Wilde, she was never rude unintentionally.

    As a hostess, she knew nothing makes a party take on a more electric charge, than the meeting of two people who loath each.

    She would deliberately invite ex-husbands and wives to grace her parties, or men who would just as easily duel each other at 30 paces, as eat canapés across the ballroom.

    This is brilliant.

    Of course, to successfully pull this off, you have to throw a party for dozens, if not hundreds, else fisticuffs or Dynasty bitchslaps might break out. Restraint, after all, was never the forté of our post-nuclear generation.

    But still...she hated smarmy niceness, as all sophisticates do.

    And though she was an unrepentant American, I've no doubt the current "Have a Nice Day" attitude of her compatriots would have her climbing the walls.

    Niceness is all very well, but save it for Sunday sermon.

    I say this with a heavy heart, mind you. One of the greatest disappointments of my life, was that I was born depressingly nice.

    Not that I'm not capable of being a total harridan, you understand. Just that my Aristotelian personality demands balance at all times -- and niceness is the best antidote to daily extremes.

    I would never have cut it on Elsa's party circuit.


    She invented a game called the International Daisy Chain.

    Basically, it's like Six Degrees of Separation to Kevin Bacon, only with leather boots and Wesson oil.

    It goes like this:

    One person throws out two names.

    The next person has to come up with another name, which slept with the first one, prompting the next person to shout out another name, who slept with the second.

    At the end, you have to have connected the first person to the last, sexually, in as few hook-ups as possible.

    Ooh! Me next!

    Laura Bush and Madonna.

    Your go!

    ...actually, Noel Coward paid Elsa Maxwell the best compliment of them all.

    He said that, alongside the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Cole Porter, Elsa Maxwell was the best international daisy chain "card" to hold.

    She could connect Greta Garbo to Eleanor Roosevelt, in no time at all. Heh.


    Elsa Maxwell was born Keokuk, Iowa, whilst her heavy-with-child mother was watching a performance of Mignon at the local opera house (good grief, there's opera in Iowa?).

    From these humble but not unaccomplished beginnings, there burned inside Elsa Maxwell, an irrepressible sense of not being quite good enough.

    All her life, she had the sensation that there was a better place out there, which was barred to her, but instead of sulking, she was determined to kick down the door.

    Once, when the richest little girl in town gave a party down the street from her in San Francisco (where she grew up), Elsa was the only girl not to be invited, seering her soul with a deep resentment of how the rich and powerful can be so cruel with their power.

    It was then that the germ of her later immortal parties, was formed.

    One day, she would throw parties where the rich and titled came to humble themselves, gladly, in her presence.

    Stories still abound of the time she made the Queen of Spain, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and Gloria Vanderbilt the Elder sit on the floor, around in a circle, trying to see who could blow a feather off a pillow, the farthest.

    Why? Because!

    It was an Elsa Maxwell do.

    And what's more, they liked it, too.

    But most of all, I like Elsa Maxwell because she was the quintessential American success story.

    Without wanting to, she embodied that American genius for being born without a sous, and by dint of your own personality, you take nothing and make it into something.

    She did all of this, times two, and on top of that, she did it in 3 continents.

    Unlike American expatriate salon hostess, and railroad heiress, Nathalie Barney, she wasn't a TFB at birth, luxuriating her time between petit-fours and poetry readings with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

    Unlike Colette, she wasn't particularly GOOD at anything.

    Elsa Maxwell's best-known accomplishment in life, apart from having been born with perfect pitch (which ironically, made music almost unbearable to her, as one false note would send shivers down her spine), was that she did "impersonations".

    In her autobiography, she is seen dressed up as William Jennings Bryan, giving one of his fiery "cross of gold" speeches.

    Close your eyes and picture a 300 lb woman dressed as America's finest early 20th century (male) orator.

    Musta been somethin'.

    And finally, unlike her old pal/nemesis/knitting circle wannabe, the already mentioned Duchess of Windsor, she didn't even marry to improve her fortunes.

    No, Elsa Maxwell did it on her own.

    At the end of her life, she was seen tooling around St. Moritz wearing lederhosen, riding around on the back of a motorcycle, holding onto the waist of some butch gay guy.

    All right. She did it on a dare.

    But the lesson of Elsa Maxwell's life is, she DID it.

    And what's more, she did it in style.

    When presented to Queen Mary, she took the old queen's hand, started her curtsey, and promptly keeled over like the Titanic on all fours.

    She got up, dusted herself off, and carried on as if nothing had happened.

    See, she was a living testament that, if the spirit is sufficiently alive to life's possibilities, nothing can keep a good woman down.

    Except maybe three Brandy Alexanders.

    Why Thank You

    Cake's on me!

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Kuwaiti Dreams

    Yesterday, I was exceedingly busy running errands, which included ferretting my father around in the car.

    This provides us good quality time together, and on top of that, I get to drive his monster German ride, which I love to do.

    I had just dropped him off at a Ft. Lauderdale hospital, when I decided to revisit that Lebanese food mart where I had bought my Caffe Najjar that time.

    I sidled up next to a black car, which didn't look like much from behind, until you got closer.

    That's right...

    ...a shiny, spiffy, black Bentley.

    The kind Puff Daddy rides around in, as well as any Brunei potentate worth his salt.

    The Queen, of course, wouldn't be caught dead in one of these, since she favours the hearse-like Daimler -- but then she's a true aristocrat who sends her bedsheets to be darned, and recycles hundred year-old kilts, because thrift is how you show your breeding.

    I peered into the Bentley, ever so discretely.

    A woman, about 25 I would say, but already heavy-set and careworn, covered in a floral white headscarf -- you know, the kind which makes President Chirac plotz, a hijab.

    In one motion, I took in the scene, wondering what a woman like that was doing inside a Bentley in the middle of Ft. Lauderdale, with a claustrophic heatwave reaching 100F, at the same time pretending I was opening my handbag for something or other.

    I went into the shop.

    A tall, ruddy-faced American man was seated on a chair, wearing a bluetooth headset. At the back, there was my old buddy, the shopowner, serving a little guy no more than 5'2 at the outside.

    I waited, checking out the racks of Arabic-languaged newspapers and magazines (hmm, they have the same cheesy need for gossip about their stars, as the National Enquirer assures us we do about ours).

    Near that, were the DVDs and CDs, showcasing the best of Arab talent, and let's face it, they need all the help they can get.

    I finally chose one called "Arab DJ Tops Hits, Vol 5" (hard to imagine there could've been 4 before), which had yet another version of that famous famous pop song, Habibi by the Egyptian Ricky Martin, Amir Diab.

    Just in case you're curious, here's the .ram version.

    Starts out a bit Cuban salsa-ish, I thought, before descending into the interminable hook, Habibi...Habibi...Habibi.

    Talk about milking one hit song forever, Captain and Tenille.

    But back to the shop.

    I waited by the till, when the little man came to pay for his items.

    The American guy was still seated, but something then told me, he wasn't a customer. He had the air of a bodyguard -- a touch of brutality about him, combined with an all-business demeanour.

    He certainly wasn't going to wrestle me for the last baklava, I thought.

    As the shopowner rang up the little man's items, I gave the chap the once over.

    Slight, about 40ish, thinning hair, swarthy complexion, bird-like features. I noticed he was wearing those rather loose shorts favoured by many in the so-called Third World -- like swimming trunks from the 1970s, and just as colourful.

    His were orange.

    He paid for his two calling cards (special rates to the Middle East, no doubt), his coffee, his sweets, and his magazines with a Platinum AmEx. Hmm, okay.

    The little man was nondescript phyiscally, but something about him said he thought himself very important. He had the quiet expectation of someone who is used to being served.

    I waited as the shopowner and he finished their business, with many "Inshallah"s being bandied about (but no "Allah" I noticed, which is not surprising since the shopowner is Christian Lebanese) as he left.

    The tall American guy, I noticed, opened the door for the little man as he went out.

    Hah. I know -- he must be an ambassador, or some such.

    Of course, I was curious to know more, with a Bentley outside, with his big galoot of a bodyguard, his hijab-wearing wife and his Platinum American Express.

    After selecting my pita, and babaganoush, and yes, taking a few baklava home with me (for my dog), I broached the topic.

    "That gentleman looked important. He's an ambassador, perhaps."

    "Who, that man?"


    "An ambassador, heh. No, no, he's a regular guy. From Kuwait."

    "Oh really. How jolly interesting."

    "Yes. He and his wife are here in South Florida with their baby son, who is ill."

    "Oh dear."

    "Yes. The Kuwaiti government is paying for everything, you know."

    "Wow. That's fantastic. But you said he's a regular guy -- surely he must do something important to warrant such treatment?"

    "No. At least, he didn't say that.

    He told me that the Kuwaiti government gives any citizen who has to have hospital treatment outside of the country, round-trip tickets, provides them accomodations, pays for the hospital bills in full, plus gives them a chauffeur-driven car, bodyguard/translator, and on top of that..."


    "$15,000 per month for expenses."

    "Good LORD."

    "Yes. It must be good to be Kuwaiti."

    I looked at him carefully. I smiled. He smiled back. And then I said,

    "Listen, don't take this the wrong way, but we're talking about a man who has a baby in hospital, but who himself wears orange shorts, whilst his wife is wearing a carpet from head-to-toe in 100 degree weather, stuck inside a car almost like a prisoner.

    All in all, I'd rather be a Lebanese shop owner, or a British expat woman, in these United States. Even without a Rolls and $15,000 per month."

    He at first stepped back, taken off-guard by my frankness, and then said smilingly,

    "You're right", chuckling at the crazy girl who dared to listen to Amir Diab long after his sell-by-date.

    Sometimes, you know, all the money in the world cannot make up for the little freedoms we were born to expect.

    Sure, some people have it good, and some people have it better.

    You just have to know which one is a dream, and which one is a reality.

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Hook Up

    Finally, I have hooked up all my cables, rigged the monitors, assembled my brand-new workstation, and am ready to get hoohah on the 'net with my new computer!

    But that still doesn't mean I'm back full time, since as I said, I've set myself the target date of August 7, this Monday (Lord Simcoe Day to you in Canada).

    Bear with me, guys.

    Until then, I'll be light-blogging, both in spirit and in quantity.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    El Chou De La Calle Ocho

    Miami doesn't have that ONE spot which to celebrate important events.

    That's part and parcel of being a relatively new city, with laid-back neighbourhoods all splayed around each other, like strangers on a park bench.

    Unlike most American metropolises, we don't have a Chinatown. We don't have a Little Italy -- alas! for post-World Cup 2006 celebrations.

    And though we have a Liberty City, no one really "celebrates" there, unless someone just hit the lottery to buy a luxury condo in Goulds.

    Only the Beach comes closest, but even that is a schlepp for the poor folks down in Hialeah (serves them right, I say. Poor tu madre, who lives in Hialeah??).

    But we do have one thing going for us:

    We've won major championships. Recently. A lot of 'em, too.

    Just earlier this summer, Miami's various thoroughways were convulsed with joy after the Miami Heat won the 2005-2006 NBA Championship. South Beach, as ever, was the best destination immediately afterwards, with which to conga-line the night away.

    Yes, sometimes downtown Miami figures into the mix, with a kind of ticker-tape parade like New York City has, but that's usually a good week afterwards. We demand immediate satisfaction!

    But the only place, the only mind you, where one might term the natural destination for celebrants in Miami, is if something specific happened to make the Cuban-American community, jump up for joy.

    And that place is Eighth Street, La Calle Ocho, in Little Havana, and more specifically still, Versailles Restaurant.

    Versailles is an institution, which is perfect, because their staff are nuts.

    They are well-known for their fast service, which often means spilling coffee unto your new Vera Wang dress, in their rush to get out the cafecitos.

    But it's not the inside bit, that concerned me on 1 August, 2006. Rather, I wanted to be part of the mad crush of people, as news of Fidel Castro's illness spread like wildfire around the community.

    So follow me around another of my trademarked South Florida travellogues, and experience first-hand, what celebrating Cuban-style is all about!


    Little Havana, until recently, had gone from working-class but genteel neighbourhood, home to thousands of ex-pat Cubans, and who consequently evoked old-time Havana in its architectural landmarks, to a kind of rubbish-strewn Central American slum, which I not-so-privately called, Little Tegucigalpa.

    I stopped going to Little Havana after a while, since the viejitos who played dominoes in droves on park tables, had gone the way of Maspons Funeral Home, or worse (Hialeah).

    In their stead, there were bandana-wearing, underwear-showing, Crips-and-Blood wannabeing males of all ages, who hung around street corners looking like watered-down versions of Tupac Shakur. Let's just say, that's not my scene.

    Such was my surprise on Tuesday, when I saw Little Havana spruced up. Wow, what happened?!

    Gone were the rubbish, the lay-about hoodlums, and the dingy buildings which peppered the streets, in one decaying layer after another.

    Take this Baptist Church, for example. It glows, confident in its new-money architecture, and squeaky clean pavement.

    And the new condos, shops, and markets which have come about in the 3 or 4 years since I'd been to the area, certainly give Little Havana a much-needed lift, like Botox on Walter Mercado.

    (Actually, that's a simile too far. It's more like Botox on Melissa Rivers)

    Either way, Little Havana is BACK! Yay!

    A word about La Carreta:

    It used to be the schnizzle, back in the day; yes, even more than Versailles.

    These kissing cousin Cuban-American restaurants are located not a few yards away from each other, but for whatever reason, Versailles has taken over as "celebration" headquarters when big news stories happen, like the Elian debacle.

    I had originally gone thinking to have a cafecito at La Carreta (the Big Wheel, seen here over that unwieldy rooster statue), but frankly, the lack of crowds put me off. So I drove on to...VERSAILLES!

    Oh -- a word about the pronunciation. If you've been saying Versailles like the Louis XIV palace, stop right now.

    It's Vehr-sah-yes, okay? Not Vuhr-sigh.

    If you're going to come on my travellogues, you better not show me up by being a clueless gringo tourist.

    As I approached, waving my Union and Cuban Flags from the car, I saw the mad crush of people I had so longed to be a part of.

    People half-on-the-pavement, half-on-the-street, daring cars to run them over; reporters of all the major news networks, including CNN, plus the local television and radio stations; and any number of bewildered but smiling tourists with cameras, taking this scene in so as to be able to relate it back home in Iowa or France.

    Now, that's a party!

    Or is it a wake?

    This is the first thing I saw, when I arrived at Versailles, at long last (please, parking still sucks).

    A made-to-measure "coffin" owned by these two fine gentlemen, just the perfect size for Fidel.

    But wait! That's not Fidel Castro in the coffin, no. After all, the man isn't dead yet...if you believe that story, which I don't.

    You know who that is? Yes, it's mini-Me himself, Hugo Frikkin Chavez!

    Here he is, mourning the soon-to-be loss of his mentor in evil, el Comandante-en-Peste.

    Under his Uzi-toting, guerrilla black effigy, is a placard which reads simply:


    (Chavez, Castro's Widow)


    The Fourth Estate luxuriated around the scene, transforming the pandemonium into something a little more organised than your usual street celebration.

    Here are the fixed-point CNN cameras, which transmit live scenes from the area whenever they pan to it.

    Although that journo sitting there looks a lot like a pampered French photographer waiting for someone to hand him a cafecito.

    Nice job, if you can get it.

    More energetic, brawny reporters (and indefatigable bloggers) decided to brave the crowds themselves, to bring reaction shots from the people.

    Here's one poor chap from Channel 7 (Fox), stuck in the middle of celebrants more interested in raising their flags, and their beer as they toast the cars which pass by.

    Honk! Honk! Yes, broder, esto esta de lo mas loco! Que chou!

    (By the way, see that chubby reporter on his mobile? I swear he looks like the cousin of every Fulanito who lives in Hialeah)

    Not that even the sensationalist Channel 7 would show this gi-normous poster of Castro in his hospital bed.

    Oh, the indignity of just lying there, with tubes up your wazoolo, and countless strangers poking and prodding you -- some of whom are not even Communist Party members!!

    Treble that indignity of being a patient, when you are an expectant mother about to give birth...

    ...to Hugo Chavez.

    Now I know the true meaning of the phrase, "A face only a mother can love".

    It's fitting that in the summer of Superman, we have this young SuperCubana, strutting her Cubanitude around Miami.

    You go, girl! A Superwoman with salsa!

    And speaking of salsa, can any Cuban-American tell me just who this guy being interviewed, is?

    I know he's famous, even perhaps a singer, because of the reverent attitude of the Univision reporter.

    And also because, let's face it, that toupee can only be worn convincingly by celebrities like Burt Reynolds, Ted Koppel, or Marv Albert.

    That Clorox-bleach blonde behind him, looks famous and all. It's not Charitin, surely?

    Very rarely is General Raul Castro Ruz mentioned, by all parties concerned. He's the Bud Abbott to Fidel's Lou Costello, and nearly as funny.

    But the people who penned this poster up, certainly didn't.

    I'm not sure Raul Castro will ever be the jailbait he so obviously longs to be, dropping the soap so that the "mens" around him come to his rescue, but I can guarantee you one thing.

    At 75 years-old, he's no spring chicken, and when he dies, prison will seem Club Fed compared to the fate he will get -- inferno without parole.

    It's hard to get worked up about a badly-drawn piece of cardboard, but darn it, I can!

    As 4 PM approached, more and more people got out of their jobs in Miami, and headed down to Versailles.

    The cars grew more numerous, the gridlock more tetchy, the crowds more exuberant, as they waved to all and sundry.

    It seemed as if every Cuban flag in the world, had suddenly appeared in the streets of Little Havana.

    If I had been a more enterprising blogger, I would've combined business with pleasure, since my little Cuban flag, the kind you can later put on your car window, cost me 5 buckeroos from a freelance merchant.

    5 bucks! Good grief. That has got to be a 500% mark-up.

    Next time there's a Cuban-American crisis-cum-celebration, I'm stocking UP.

    (Oh, but I see that Cubans have learnt their lesson after El Caso Elian -- when "Anglo" Miamians accused the exiles of only waving Cuban flags, and not also, the Stars and Stripes. A fair point, perhaps, but as you can see, an obsolete one)

    No visit to Versailles, can culminate without actually EATING OR DRINKING something at Versailles.

    So off I went, inside the restaurant.

    If you've never been there, the decor is as if someone who had never been to the Hall of Mirrors in the real Versailles, built a down-home Cuban-American eatery evoking its general style.

    Corniches, glass fobs, mirrors, and gilt everywhere, as far as the eye could see.

    As they say though, you go for the glitter, but you stay for the food.

    I had ropa vieja, it goes without saying.

    Shredded beef served on a bed of white rice, plantains, and black bean soup so thick, you'd swear it was molasses.

    God, now I'm hungry all over again!

    Curiously, though, as I was leaving, I saw this gringa reporter interviewing the Versailles manager. She came in, little reporter notebook in hand, surveying the scene with a kind of lofty amused look that screamed:

    "So, this is where the crazy Cubans eat at. That girl with the British flag is even having shredded beef, which is surely a right-wing dish if ever I saw one!"

    Lady, just sit down and eat. You might learn something.

    I ended my meal, as I do my blogpost on the happenings surrounding the Fidel Castro handover of power, which launched Miami into a frenzy of excitement:

    With a loving reference about what is best about Cuban-Americans.

    Few things are as good, as a cafe con leche from Versailles, just the right shade of milk and coffee -- once tasted, never forgotten.

    This combination of light and dark represents the life and death which we will all have to endure. Taken separately, they sometimes feel isolating or lacklustre.

    But taken together, and it transforms itself into a party in a cup.

    This Cuban drink, which exists all over the world to be sure, is as particular as the people themselves.

    Because few communities could gather together in such quantities, without some fight erupting, without counterprotesters paved along the opposite road, trading insults, without perhaps even some kind of police overraction, reining in the crowds from the sidewalks, as they spill over into the city roads themselves.

    But not in Little Havana. Not in La Calle Ocho. Not with Cuban-Americans, you don't.

    Contrary to the opinion mainstream media would like to give you about them, these are one happy, peaceful people who were exiled by a man whose possible death they now greet with happiness.

    Maybe you think they're getting ahead of themselves, and that they'll have egg on their face, if Fidel Castro survives?

    Not a bit of it.

    For what you have seen in my travellogue, is something that hasn't been possible in Cuba for the past 47 YEARS.

    The PEOPLE, speaking their mind, with honesty and with passion.


    UPDATE: I had to jump through hoops to convert this recording of Cuban-Americans singing their national anthem, at the behest of a reporter, but I did it.

    Forgive the warbly bad quality -- but it was sung with heart, which shows.

    this is an audio post - click to play

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Just So

    Configuring one's new computer is more of a hassle, than I thought.

    One has to search for programmes, download them, find your old serials, or registrations, and then, configure the layout to the one you've been used to.

    Fortunately, I feel like I've gone from a pony-and-trap to a Rolls Royce, with this thing.

    The speed, hurrah!


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