Talented Eyebrows?

Yeah, right!  Today I am going to go back to the heart and soul of my website and gripe a little.  I usually try to stay away from big issues of the day, but this time I feel compelled to say something because from what I can tell, no one has.  There is a 36-sec video that has gone viral which features a pretty young Austrialian girl who is able to move here eyebrows in a comical way to the beat of some pop song…sounds a little Indian, but I am a loser when it comes to modern pop music so don’t take my word for it.  The image and title of the clip was plastered on my Yahoo! home page for so long I finally gave in and took a look.  Yes, it was cute.  I’m not sure if it was viral material, but it was cute.  She certainly had an amusing way of making them dance, but her ability was no more remarkable than the kind you see from a person who can wiggle their ears or bend their fingers backwards.

      Now let’s be honest with ourselves, because that is not the only reason she has had nearly 10 million visits in a week.  It’s because she is very pretty too.  Almost stunning for her age.  But there’s the problem, her age: she’s only 13.  As a result of her success, she has decided to open a Facebook account for her “fans”.  Can you believe it?  Of course, I went from the article where I read about the video to the page to check out what was there, and the girl had some 45,000 “likes” to date.  Thank God the “Friend” options had been shut down.

     But there were comments, oh yeah, plenty of them.  Most remarks came from men, many were adults, and you could find such endearing comments like “You are very sexy” or “I love you very long time”, etc.  The vast majority were neutral compliments, but that doesn’t mean anything.  So is “Would you like some candy?”  Thank God, one person suggested she close the account, go outside and enjoy life in a different way.  But that wasn’t the prevailing mood, I tell you.

      I realize that the girl may have had only the most innocent intentions when she uploaded the video (though the Facebook account makes me suspicious, and I also get the feeling she is getting help here), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole slew of issues that need to be addressed and which haven’t so far.  At least they hadn’t the last time I scanned the net.  So, I just had to write and possibly be the first one on the planet to publically denounce the “eyebrow girl” video for several reasons:

  • Search engines and media like Yahoo! and the Huffington Post give unnecessary attention to these activities (In a sense I am doing the same, but I refuse to add a video link or even give the girl’s name) and by doing so also encourage others to believe that all it takes is for a simple 30-second amusing but innane video for world fame to land at a person’s door.  They champion fame at no cost and ignore the benefits of effort.
  • I know this is an old one…but what about all of those other 13-year-olds who are brilliant musicians, artists, writers, students, scientists, athletes, etc. and who get only limited recognition (in most cases limited to friends and family) despite years of hard work?  Do you ever see a chance for them to go viral?  Do these other pages feature a pinply-faced kid bringing down the hall with a prodigious rendition of Bach?  Maybe sports players get their due at best, but the rest are completely ignored.  And throughout the world where these achievers must number more than the visits she has received, it seems just a little unfair.
  • In a year when pedophilia scandals have rocked our society, and where a great deal of criticism has been placed on certain individuals for having had a moral obligation to do more to prevent such heinous acts, shouldn’t that same standard be applied to those who are trumpeting this video and even adding links to the Facebook account so that people, and I mean anyone, can have more access to this girl?  Would she be getting all this attention if she were much more plain-looking?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.
  • What do her parents have to say about this all?

       Call me hysterical.  Call me nuts.  Call me what you will.  But in a world where there are more than a billion internet users, it saddens me to think that no one has blown the whistle on this.  I will be greatly relieved to find that I am wrong.

I’ll Be Home For Xmas 1

So, I just keep saying this but it’s totally true.  I’ve been in this kind of new dimension that deconstructs your molecular makeup and sends it in a universe of directions without any assurance that it would every return to its original state again…and yet it has.  It has emerged in Greenwich, Connecticut, of all places, the land of my childhood and youth. Defining this town can be done in a number of ways, but it all depends on where you come from and what you think of the town to begin with.  I came up with one a couple of years ago:


One Sunday evening in mid-October of 2009 I went to my Yahoo! home page to get a quick rundown of what is going on in the world, the way I usually do several times a day. I was feeling bored and unenthused about life in general and listlessly perused the screen.  I don・t know what it is about those moments, but they tend to get me in trouble of some kind. Anyway, after scanning the list of news headlines, I noticed something that puzzled me.  I turned away and looked up at the wall at the other end of the table, staring at it until my eyesight got fuzzy. Something I had just read wasn・t quite right. Then I went back to the screen again and reread it in search of whatever it was that was making it seem a little askew, the way I do when I read a poorly written sentence, come face to face with most modern art or watch certain French comedies.  I・t immediately put my finger on it, so I gave it another chance. And this time, bingo!  There it was!  There was no mistaking.  I sat back in my chair and chuckled. Yeap. That was it.

I decided to copy and paste the list for keep・s sake on a file, and now I have copied it for you. So, allow me to put you to the test and see how you do. Here goes:

Iran threatens U.S. and Britain after Guard bombing

Nearly a third of Afghan president・s votes thrown out

Obama offers Sudan incentives to end genocide

Autopsies expected after 3 die during Detroit marathon

Heene・s lawyer weighs in on the charges facing family

Analysis: Is life tougher for biracial children?

Rain cuts Greenwich dog show short ・ Greenwich Time

Coach says 2 teammates with victim during stabbing ・ New York Post

Queens neighborhood flooded after weekend of rain and high winds ・ New York Post

       Did you see it?  Did you pick it up?  Something make you shudder?  Was it the tragic deaths?  The godawful violence in Teheran?  The unending terrorism? The fate of biracial kids?  Please.  Not that electoral fraud and stabbings aren’t newsworthy, or that three fatalities in a road race don’t stand out as extraordinary and deserving of suspicion; and yes I did wonder about what kind of incentives the Obama administration was making to the Sudanese to reduce total annihilation of a specific ethnic group.   Yet, as eyebrow-raising as they were, they didn’t quite match up to the bombshell somewhere in the middle of the pack.  That’s right.  You got it now.  Rain cuts Greenwich dog show short.  There you had it my friends.  Looked at globally, a lot of pretty serious stuff was affecting the rest of the world at that very moment, I mean a lot, and yet in the southwest corner of Connecticut, there was a town, my hometown, a town drenched in personal wealth to a degree most people find unfathomable, a town which owes much of its national fame to its unmatchable excusivieness, which lamented the premature suspension of a canine festival due to the untimely arrival of excessive precipitation: Rain cuts Greenwich dog show short.  I repeat.

        Brilliant.  That pretty much said it all.  There is something pithy about that headline, don’t you think? Almost artistic, if you know what I mean.  A haiku of sorts.  A handful of words from a headline can tell us a lot about certain realities, I’ll have you know. Almost like a Warhol painting of a can of Campbell・s Soup. In fact, there was so much embodied in one single title that I decided to keep it. I printed it out and for a moment considered framing it as a statement about the world. A statement that screamed: This is Greenwich, Connecticut, Prepville, U.S.A. A world where nothing ever happens. A world apart. An existence oblivious to the harsh truths beyond its borders. These accusations may irk a large number of residents there, and I don・t blame them. Who wants to hear that? And yet whenever something like ・Rain cuts Greenwich dog show short・ pops up on the list of headlines aside homicide and ethnic cleansing, there is a tendency to want to say, ・See? I told you so.・

      Which is why I paused and gave some thought to this all.  Could that have been all that the town had to face that weekend?  The only tragedy inflicted there?  If that was its only problem then maybe it truly was a blessed land after all.  Such was the despair that it stood out above any other piece of news the local paper had to post that day on my homepage.  So, looked at this way, folks, it was newsworthy indeed.  Newsworthy beyond all that is imaginable.

         On a personal level, what was even more distressing is that Yahoo!, which monitors my reading and clicking habits, apparently felt that this was just the kind of news about my hometown that might interest me, me of all people!  As if I had nothing better to do with my life than fret over the fate of some soggy poodle. It just might come up, you never know.  It seems that the Greenwich Time placed this recent development high enough on the scale for it reach me 3,000 miles away, lest I should return in a few months and be unable to comment on it at my next dinner party.  And sadly enough, I guess they were right.  So, they hit it right on the nail.  But maybe not for the reasons they suspected.

He ISBNeado. Pero Tomé Precauciones.

Por fin conseguí terminar la solicitud del ISBN.  Hice caso a todo lo que me dijo la chica de la agencia y parece que está todo en orden.  Rellené todo lo obligatorio e añadí incluso unas cosas demás sobre la encuadernación.  Es un poco surrealista estar describiendo un libro físico que aún no se ha diseñado del todo.  Te da margen a ser creativo – dentro de lo que es posible en un formulario.  Bueno, cuando uno hace estas cosas, a veces entran las ganas de divertirse un poner bobadas como me llamo Pedro Picapiedra, o que el título es El Resplandor: Cómo mejorar el brillo de tu baño en solo tres días.  O algo así.  Pero, claro está, necesito mi ISBN y no se trata de jugármela por una broma infantil. 

        Así que, cumplimenté cuatro formularios, dos para cada libro y de ellos, uno para la versión física (no existente de momento) y uno para la versión digital (algo más existente).  Vamos, llego a vivir en los States y me soplan1100 pavos.  Y llega a estar la SGAE detrás de esto y vamos, ni mi casa.  Ya me puedo invitar a mi agente (yo) y a mi editor (un servidor) …y a quienquiera apuntarse…a una buena mariscada por todo lo que me he ahorrado…y así gastármelo en algo que merece la pena…y no en un número de 13 cifras.  Por cierto, ¿A quién se le ocurre establecer 13?  Que sí, soy supersticioso. 

        Pues nada.  Hay que esperar unas dos semanas…o menos…a ver que opinan de mi nombre de pluma, Shrek. 

You’ve gotta be ISBN-ing me!

Most books have what is called an ISBN, or an International Something Book Number.  The “something” is not true obviously.  I just couldn’t remember what it stood for when I wrote the sentence.  It actually represents “Standard”, so once again: MOst books have what is called an ISBN number, or an International Standard Book Number.  This is essentially the book’s ID, and it’s yours to keep as long as you want it.  Owning it gives you full power over your work.  I liked the sound of it.

        The problem is, in the United States, there is an agency called Bowker, which somehow has got an absolute monopoly on the ISBN service in that country.  The company was founded back in the 19th Century by a German immigrant named Frederick Leypoldt.  He was the one who decided there was a need for a more efficient classification system in the book world, which is something you would expect from a German.  So he started up the ISBN way of doing things.  And it worked.  Today it is the universal identity tag for publications.

       Getting one costs you about $280 (thank God I make euros) but, after that, the book is all yours.  Still, the administrative fee seems a bit steep, more so these days now that it’s all done electronically.  In fact, according to their website, your number is assigned to you immediately via email (after purchase, naturally), so just how much personalized service is needed in those 300 bucks is beyond me.  But they’ve got you cornered, which is exactly the way monopolies like things.  It may, however,  just be one investment worth, well, investing in.

     Was it like that around the world?  Did the long arm of the Bowker reach Spanish territory too?  Apparently not that much.  But I didn’t know that at first.  I had read in this article that other countries, like Canada, provided this service for free.  That seemed typical the Canadians because they are such nice people, except when you are in Vancouver after a Stanley Cup Finals loss.  But aside from that uncalled for comment, they do things in a socialized human manner, and it made perfect sense you could get one there for little more than a smile and a handshake.  According to the same contributor of the article, most other countries were equally generous in handing out numbers.  I had my doubts.  This was just the kind of thing the Spanish would know how to pinch our pockets with.  I mean, in this country, getting your driver’s license drains you of about $1500, and the blatant relationship between overpriced compulsory Driver’s Education classes and passing the exam has been remarked upon and recognized for some time.  I’ve had to pay for pretty much everything official here…why should this be any different?

      It was.  TBC

PODs: Pain-in-the-butt On Demand

I know I tried to avoid it but I just couldn’t help it.  I did my best to keep off the subject and move on to something else more worthwhile; something that will be engraved in the universal mind of universal literature, or maybe the universal literature of the universal mind.  Let me give some thought to that.  But I don’t think so.  I just had to get it out of me and myself. 

         I wanted to be a rock star as a young man, still do.  That’s all I wanted to do.  I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and perform Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird solo, and blast it from a balcony looking over some city street, even if it wereBucharest.  Now I can’t even qualify as an old rocker because I never was a young one.   Which is partly why I write and publish books.  Or at least try to.

         I’m going through my first self-published job, and it shows.  I shout at my family, ignore my friends and am generally just in a pissy mood day and night.  I’m hoping to get it out as soon as possible, but as I move along in this process (move is not really the right verb, actually), I realize it is not going to happen over night.  I now see that when Kafka wrote The Castle what he was really describing was the publishing world. 

         Let me explain.

        When it came to churning my books out onto paper, there were a number of options to consider.  One was getting a publisher to do it for you.  And without a literary agent.  Ha!  And in this day and age!  Yeah, right!  La crisis! La crisis!  And any future crises too.  They told me about meetings they’d be having months down the road to discuss their new projects, but I know what that means.    

          Until recently, publishing was horrible.  You were at the mercy of a handful of companies…and, as I said, you often needed an agent to help get your work through, if you ever did.  You still need all of these to make it to the big time, but thank God modern technology has allowed for the meek and cheap like us to sidestep it and test our luck without getting someone’s approval.  It’s not about necessarily making it big.  It’s about saying you’ve got a published work, because you think it deserves it.  And it doesn’t necessarily mean that what you have done is good.  But at least you don’t have to rely on someone else’s criteria.  If you’re satisfied, that should be a good start.

       I’ve already got two books out there, but I was lucky; but that wasn’t enough to ensure eternity.  Being a total no-name, you still have to go through the works every time.  It’s like starting over from the beginning.  I could resort to more extreme methods, I guess, like committing suicide, but only as a marketing strategy, mind you.  But I have my reservations.  First of all, it may not work; that is, I may not succeed in killing myself.  Secondly, even if I do, that doesn’t guarantee post-mortem achievement.  And, finally, if I did, who was going to place all those publish-on-demand orders for me?

         Now I’m lying in bed next to half a dozen Chilean flags (don’t ask) and wondering just when I’ll get this off the ground.  I’ve joined a dozen publish-yourself sites, downloaded so many programs the damn laptop is bloated with software.  I’ve PDFed this story and PDFed that article, I’ve ePUBbed every and anything that can be ePUBbed.  I’ve uploaded, downloaded, streamed, run, installed, upgraded, downgraded, confiscated, eliminated, and just plain denigrated the sanctity of this art in the hopes of holding in my hand a volume of my latest work.

        I’ve investigated as far as a human should possibly do.  Research, research and research.  That’s the kind of advice I read about on the internet.  You could literally spend the rest of your life reading up on the subject without ever getting up from your bed.   Nurses would have to come in and bathe you, and cure the sores and scabs off your back and butt.  And the only conclusion you would come to is that it’s an endless waste of time; the minute you think you’ve found the right support for you, there comes some smart-ass website trashing your choice inside and out and promoting a better, more cost-efficient service than yours.  And it’s backed by dozens of fellow readers…each giving their particular vision, approach and strategies on how to self-publish.  It boggles the mind how few will coincide in their opinions.  It’s madness.  It’s vomitous (and yes I know that’s not a word…how’s barf-inducing as an alternative?).  That is why you have to stop, step back and change your perspective.  Maybe committing suicide isn’t that bad after all…please don’t take me seriously on this point!

      I think I’ll go watch Hurricane Irene on NOAA and cool off. 


Be back. 

The Desperate Artist (August 1)

Well, we’re off…and never a better moment.  It took us til three in the morning to fall asleep.  I’ve got a lot done.  Got my passport.  The Embassy has redeemed itself more or less, so that’s good.  I’ll tell you about that at some point.  But, as I said, we’re to cooler spots.  It’s a tradition people in Madrid have observed for centuries…be it Aranjuez, Segovia, even nearby Carabanchel….there has always been a need to escape…and today is going to be a blister.   Just hope everything fits in the car!

    I’m still Twitterless at the moment.  I’ve signed up for just about everything under the sun…just not that…but I am sure I will succumb to its charms…

     See you whenever I see you…be it soon…be you soon…be you it…it be you…whenever.

The Desperate Artist (JULY 31)

“That’s all right,” I replied.  He did…he did… clearly try to look his best under the tragedy of his circumstances. 

      “And I apologize for having to change places but they are redoing the parquet on my floor and the place is a mess,” he told me in Spanish.

       “Jaime, please.  You have an exam.  Everything must be in English,” insisted his aunt.  “You’ll never pass.”

       “I thought the exam was last Saturday,” I asked.  At least that was the impression I had.  At least that was the impression I had.

       “That was the impression I had too,” said Jaime as if he had been reading my mind.  “But it turned out it was the accounting phase.  Imagine my surprise when I showed up with a dictionary and not a calculator.”  He laughed, as did his aunt, but feigning a scandalous expression at the same time.

        “So, it’s this weekend.  What do you think of that?  Two Saturdays in a row, as if we didn’t have anything better to do in our lives?” He sat down and sipped his coffee.  “And if I don’t pass this one, then I can’t take the English one.  So, that’s it.  Just in case, I might as well start to study.”

       “That sounds like a sensible idea, James.”  She called him “James”.  “I’ll leave you two to get started.  I’ve got things to do.  Tati isn’t here this morning because her husband is ill.  I’ll have to get Mercadona to bring the groceries.”

       “Thanks.  By the way, are we going to hipódromo this week?”

        “I’m not.”

        “I want to.  It’s the final night race of the year and I don’t want to miss it.  Not that anyone is going to be there.  They’ve gone to Palma.  If I didn’t have these goddamn tests I’d be there too.  But I might as well do something in the meantime.  Do you like horses Richard?”

        “No.  I’m allergic to them.”

         “That’s a shame.  I gather you don’t like animals then.  No pets.”

         “I have two guinea pigs.” Guinea pig owners tend to be proud of their ownership.  It says they are people with a complex. 

         “You should come some time.  It’s a great time.”

 The city’s main horse track used to be right smack in the middle of what is the Castellana today.  A little further north where the Nuevos Ministerios now is.  The Nuevos Ministerios was built in the 1930s and it has that endless harmoniously insensitive kafka feel to it, deliciously absent and remote, which partially explains why I had never been in there until the time the inspection came years ago and I had to meet an officer within.  Up to that point the street had zigzagged slightly as it moved north, but now it was one long straightaway all the way to its original end, at the Plaza de Castilla, where the city’s biggest judicial courts are. 

Working backwards, you come to the Plaza de Cuzco, named after the famous town in Peru, and the Plaza de Lima, named after the capital of the same Andean country but famous because that is where the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is, home to Spain’s most successful soccer team, Real Madrid.  This club was voted the greatest football (soccer) team of the 20th Century.   It’s nice to be able to walk to a stadium with a capacity for 80.000 spectators for a change.  Just below that begins the huge Azca commercial zone, which ends at the largest Corte Inglés of them all.  And then back to the Nuevos Ministerios.  This extension was designed to meet the demands of a city which was growing rapidly and, in turn, unplug the increasing congestion forming in the center of town.  It was conceived just around 1920, was revolutionary in its day, but not completed until 1954, making it less innovative by then, but none the less vital to the development of the city.

It still is. 

The Desperate Artist (July 30)

The Castellana is, as the countess put it, probably one of the greatest streets in Madrid, and certainly one of the most important thoroughfares.  It gets its name from a fountain, la fuente de la castellana, that stood in what is now the Plaza de Emilio Castelar.  A small canalized stream drifted all the way down to the Paseo del Prado.  Most people aren’t aware of that.  Though the blueprints were drawn up around the beginning of the 19th Century, building didn’t really pick up until the second half when it was decided that the area around Colón and the lower end of the Castellana would be destined for the aristocracy.  Mansions were put up and fancy Parisian-style buildings were boldly and energetically put up.  That was where Concepción grandfather went to build a new home.  He had a villa constructed a little further up and across the street, where the family lived for several generations.  They owned it throughout much of the 20th Century, but heavy maintenance costs and disinterest forced the family to sell it in the 1980s to a bank…for and advantageous price.  Concepción was always a free-spirit, she told me, and though it was frowned upon at the time, and…although it was frowned upon at the time, she insisted her father give her an apartment another building they owned and rented out for her to make a life of her own. 

       “Even if you aren’t married?” He asked.

        “Even if I’m not married.” She said.

         She never did.

        She said it was the same place where were baby brother fell off a carriage and was crushed by the wheel.  She held his head until he died, she told me. She told me. 

        “It’s a shame about the news of that American girl.  They haven’t found her have they?”

         I told it I agreed.  “No, they haven’t.  And what’s worse is that I think I met her the very night she di…disappeared.  That’s weird.  I was almost going to say ‘died’.  Isn’t that terrible?  Why should I have assumed something like that?”

        “Because,” interrupted the voice of a young man dressed in a white polo shirt with the outsized insignia of a polo team stamped on it, dark blue Bermuda shorts and slippers on.  His hair was well greased back and he had a coffee in his hand.  “She probably is.  I told you Madrid is not a safe city.  Americans come over here thinking they can ust party it up day and night”…because they can, I thought to myself…”and get wasted and not expect anything to happen to them.  And there you have it.  She had a great time, but now she is died, no dead.”

        “Jaime.  You don’t know that,” protested his aunt.

         He probably does, I thought to myself.

        “Hello, my name is Jaime and I am quite hung over.  We were at a terraza on top of a building.  And then the usual up on Arturo Soria until…until sunset…ha, ha, I mean sunrose… and it was a lot of fun.  But you will have to excuse my English today if it doesn’t go.”  He added as he scratched his eye with his pinky.

The Desperate Artist meets the Aunt…

It sputtered to a stop and kind of floated and hovered the way they can, the old ones you know, they wobble like giant scales.  I stepped out and turned right because to the left there was a lawyers’ office and that was it.    

      I rang the doorbell and trilled the way most do which kind of surprised me because I kind of expected a deep and solemn dong or a melodic suite of notes, I don’t know, something countess’ listen to.  The woman herself opened the door which startled me even more.  Tumultuous.  Tumultuous.  I don’t now how I knew, but maybe from years of observation as a teacher I could tell it wasn’t the domestic service but she was no maid.   

       “Buenos días.  ¿Qué desea?”

        I told why I was there and she immediately broke into English.  Very good English as a matter of fact.

        “I hope you don’t mind.  My father made me learn English when everyone was learning French.  He was a visionary.  He said, “Concepción, querida, in just a few years, everyone will want to speak this language, so you better get a head start.”

        “A man ahead of his time, indeed.”  I only said words like “indeed” when I talked to countesses or wanted to pretend I was Anthony Hopkins or someone like that.  I vaguely remember bow slightly as I said it as if I were talking to the Queen.  You never knew.  Maybe this woman held a hundred nobility titles.  They say the Duchess of Alba has the most titles in the world, something like 50, and that if she were to come face to face with the Queen of England it would be Elizabeth who would have to curtsey to the Duchess.  That still sounds a little farfetched to me but you never knew. 

        “My nephew will be out in a few minutes,” she said.  “Come to the window and see the view.  It’s the Castellana.  Madrid’s finest street.  My father built this house her early last century.”

Summertime for the Desperate Artist

What did you think?  That I’d be the only one working in Madrid while the rest goes on vacation? 

          Yeah, right! 

          I’ll still be around and updated this page as often as I can in the coming two weeks or so, but it may be a little sporadic, I’m warning you.  But maybe not.  We’ll see.  Just letting you know.

         My alternative guide to Madrid is moving along, but it has gotten a little crazy of late as a few twists and turns have made it tough to catch up on everything, and there are a few details I’d rather not tell you about until I am fully aware of the facts.  I do this for the safety of some, including myself!   If I had guessed that, when I wandered up to the Fundación Juan March four weeks ago or so with the innocent intent on just rediscovering Madrid on a human scale, I’d been in the predicament I am in now, I just may have reconsidered.  But such is the world of a teacher/writer who can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business!   So the Desperate Artist’s Guide will continue, but beween good meals and siestas, and hopefully everything will turn out all right.  I’m sure it will. 

       In the meantime I’ll be adding more to an upcoming book on my tumultuous relationship with Spanish, and other projects.

       I just uploaded and made available an eBook version of my first book on Spain and Spanish Wine called “Let’s Open a Bottle” (for a nice price too) and my new books on the Camino de Santiago (both in Spanish and English) are just about ready, so hopefully they will be out no later than September 1st. 

       So, that’s the latest.  I’ll just keep posting and rolling…and rolling and posting!

       So, I am keeping busy and doing my best to buoy the struggling Spanish economy…both as a producer and consumer!