Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sunday, January 28, 2007

italianetz/the italian

This movie is wonderful. Possibly a tad slow for the average action movie fan, but I loved it. It's only playing in one theater in San Jose, and when we went on Sunday afternoon pretty much everybody else was in their 60's, at least. So now we know who has the patience for subtitles.
The film tells the story of a small orphaned Russian boy, who decides to go find his birthmother instead of getting to be adopted by an Italian family.

The film opens with a surprising amount of time spent showing life in the orphanage. We get a lot of the ins and outs of both kids' and grown ups' corruption, kids thin pale sholders, neglect, and lack of appropriate clothing. There is snow and sleet, tea and boiled potatos, and truck drivers picking up underaged girls.

Northern European poverty is not attractive. Women selling food at train stations are cold, their noses red, and they wear uninspiring and dirty jackets, hats, and mittens.

Women doing the same thing in Mexico could be put on posters. They would smile, their clothes would be colorful, and their images would attract tourists. The Russian women you want to forget you ever saw.

And that's why this movie upsets me so. It tells a compelling story about the lives and exploitation of unwanted children. But besides the human warmth that seeps through once in a rare while nothing will make people want to watch this movie. And that's too bad.

watch this everybody

Sad, sad, sad.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

just don't go there on sundays at 11am

It was raining in Los Gatos today.

We had lunch/dinner at Denny's. But of course you have to travel out of Los Gatos to find a Denny's. This is a highbrow little town.

I like Denny's. As much as I dislike many of the themed chain restaurants, I think Denny's is good and solid. Pancakes are fluffy and coffee is hot. What more can you want.

I read this article the other day, that I use for class. It talks about the trend of ethnification (that's a word I just made up) of food in film and popular culture in the US. How food becomes this link to a more authentic life, even if it only comes in the shape of an Olive Garden, or an Outback Steakhouse, and you yourself have no link whatsoever to Italy, or Australia.

In this context, authentic equals ethnic. The image of a grandma with an accent and a pile of secret recipes makes people feel good, even though them themselves may not have had such a grandma.

Denny's, on the other hand, is considered cheap and low class. No iconic grandmas anywhere in sight, just hungry people eating bacon. That's why I like it. Denny's doesn't pretend. And I think that's where grandma goes when she wants to put her feet up too.

Friday, January 26, 2007


So this was cool: My teacher liked the three little scenes I wrote (because that was the assignment) from the field trip last week to downtown San Jose.

This was my first creative writing exercise ever. Or at least since 7th grade, or whenever it was our ordinary teacher was out sick and we had a hip young substitute who told us to go outside and write down what we saw.

I remember writing about the concrete rooster that was our school's only outdoor art object. I remember that the art teacher hated the rooster. He also hated other things. I think he had a temper problem, and maybe a drinking problem. He's dead now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

every day

Every day I take a walk and every day I photograph the mimosa. One day I'll get it.

color of fear

I use a film called The Color of Fear for class almost every quarter. Everybody who teaches ethnic studies classes uses it almost every quarter. It's that good. It shows eight middle aged American men talking honestly about race and racism, and about their experiences growing up and as adults.

The film is powerful because of the men's honesty. But also because that honesty is so rare. Almost never do you hear people talk about how they feel, or what they experience.

Only yesterday on the local news there was a story about a black San Francisco store owner who had had racist words graffitied on the wall outside his shop. "You don't think things like this would happen still", commented the reporter.

Obviously it happens. And we know it, we just don't talk about it. The news story last night minimized it too, focusing instead on the "outpouring of support" from neighbors that the store owner had enjoyed.

Focusing on the positive isn't wrong. But sometimes doing so really obstructs the view.

winter food

Oven roasted cauliflower is really really good:

Cut cauliflower into pieces.
Grind salt, black pepper, a few pepper flakes, and cumin using a mortal and pestle.
Mix in a big bowl with a (largish) drizzle of olive oil.
Pour into a pan and put in a 400F/200C oven.
Stir once in a while.
Take out when brown around the edges. (The brown parts are the best.)
Brussel sprouts are really good this way too, I realized yesterday. Cut them in half if they are large.

Squeeze of lime when they come out is good too.


I have never met Kathleen Davey, but I know her sister-in-law, and I have met her husband and daughters a few times. There isn't much anyone can do. I cannot imagine.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

... and of course the beer and the hard liquor

Yesterday in the San Jose museum of art gift store I came across a designer I hadn't heard of before. For obvious reasons I had to buy a notebook designed by Lotta Jansdotter. (I am addicted to notebooks.) I also got to instruct the store workers on how to pronounce her name.

Interesting to me is how, according to the website, she is very popular in Japan. Design- and foodwise, there are distinct similarities between Japan and Scandinavia. We sure like our salmon and our mackerel, and our faint lines against solid color backgrounds.

Friday, January 19, 2007

this is not san jose

My journalism class went on a field trip to downtown San Jose today.
San Jose makes me think "there is no 'there' there" over and over again. It's not pretty, and not charming. It has multiple layers of history, randomly sloshing together. It has good pearl tea, and expensive parking. It has street names in Spanish, ridiculously fancy "European" cafes and restaurants, and homeless people snoring loudly in the middle of the afternoon.

I wonder what happened to eric and erica

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I almost got one of those japanese iron tea pots. next time.

I went to Japantown in San Jose today.
San Jose is the same everywhere. All sorts of cultures butted up against each other in no particular order. Japantown has Japanese shops and restaurants, and Cuban, Mexican, Korean, and Hawaiian ones. It also has vaguely Chinese-esque buildings.
And an auto repairshop that looks like it's part of the set of Grease.

Monday, January 15, 2007

on the day before christmas...

... I got the last parking spot because no one else's car would fit.

as you can see, at one point I almost slipped

There was ice in the Bay Area today.

The governor declared a state of emergency a few days ago. Which is kind of funny when you think of it at first (the Terminator thinks it's cold just because it drops below freezing at night), but not so funny when you think of the homeless or the citrus growers.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Saturday, January 13, 2007

notes on a scandal

This movie is great because of the great actors.

The only sad thing is that they made Judi Dench ugly. She plays one of those women you may come across once in a while, and you wonder what secrets they have. Now you know.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I don't know what's up with this company and their product names

This computer bag is called The Considerable Embarrassment, and now it's mine.
I guess it's because of the size.
There is also The Dreadful Embarrassment, and the Salary Sacrifice, amongst others.
The Moderate Embarrassment was way too tiny.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

those textbooks were expensive, even though I got the faculty discount at the bookstore

The quarter started and in addition to teaching I am also taking a class from one of my colleagues. It's magazine journalism and it's super interesting and fun and I can see a new career coming on.

And it's citrus season again and that's just lovely. And then I read somewhere that my favorite salad with oranges and black olives is even better with the addition of oven roasted fennel. So that's three favorite things in the same dish and I am thinking of smuggling some gravlax into it too to complete the all favorites in one big bowl concept. How can that be bad?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I wonder if I can pick some

I've seen these trees for months, and I have noticed the fragrant pretty leaves. But now when the yellow flowers came out I recognized them. They are Mimosas!


Lots of people end up on my blog after having googled the word 'julgransplundring'.

A julgransplundring ('the plundering of the tree') is a traditional party for kids where you finish off all Christmas treats, including tearing down the ones that have been hanging on the tree, dance around the tree one last time (yeah, Swedish people dance around their trees), have cake, and then literally throw the tree out the door.

It's usually celebrated on January 13, twenty days after Christmas. Each kid get a bag of treats to take home. You also get a tummy ache.

land of opportunity

A girl from the Swedish Friendster online community emailed me about finding a job in the US. She is finishing up classes in a Swedish communication department.

I think in Sweden the attitude is to find a job, and a salary, that fits your level of education and experience. Ideally it's a one-stop affair. You graduate, apply for jobs, get one, and then you are set, sometimes for life. Stability is a big part of Swedish culture.

My students in the US have one or more unpaid or barely paid internships, they have night jobs and room mates, and they move back in with their parents while they look for jobs, network, and wait.

If a foreigner wants to look for work in the US there is also always the question of visas. Despite the heated discussion about immigration, for the average European person it very difficult to find a way of being able to emigrate to the US. With an advanced degree in an attractive field a university or large company may make you an offer, and they may be able to sponsor you for a green card. But everybody else is on their own.

Immigration to the US is largely family based. Relatives can sponsor each other. And many come here through marriage.

I am in the US thanks to winning the lottery. I had never won anything before in my life. When I had won, the Chinese students at San Jose State asked to touch me for good luck. Immigrants themselves they completely understood the wonder of what had happened.

So, I feel as if I deflated some dreams in my response to the Swedish girl who wrote to me. I told her to aim for setting up an internship for herself in the US, in the industry she is interested in going into. I think that is do-able, even though it would take some work, and possibly quite a bit of money.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

just guess her location

Woman on cell phone, 1:50 on Saturday afternoon, at IKEA in East Palo Alto. Standing all by herself. Composed, but noticeably annoyed. Saying:

-Aisle twenty-six!

Friday, January 05, 2007

those people in 3rd world countries sure know how to appreciate a wide range of california bottled wines

Couple walking past me in the produce section of the downtown Los Gatos Safeway, woman a few feet in front of man. Woman wearing clogs, clap-e-ti-clap on the stone floor.

Man: Walking through here, it's like a third world country!
Woman: Yeah, this one is stocked worse than a third world country!

So yeah Dan and I bought salmon and had oven baked salmon with lime for dinner. It wasn't bad.

the way we get by

Someone I know drives a late 1980's Honda Civic Wagon. One morning on my way to work I saw him from a distance, coming towards me. Then I heard the car. No, I don't mean the engine. What I heard was the music. A small Honda roaring down an empty street at 8am, fueled by Spoon.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

this is so -07

Oven roasted vegetables (cauliflower and turnips) with olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, a few chili flakes, and when they come out of the oven a squeeze of LIME. Ooo0!

Monday, January 01, 2007

it's official. I have a favorite film maker.

Pedro Almodovar's Volver is just lovely.
We had sashimi for dinner.
This year is starting off good.

the blogpost formerly known as 'identity', but my boyfriend said it wasn't snappy enough

On my Swedish Friendster message board a woman is asking how to get around the regulations and cash in on the Swedish state child allowance even though she no longer lives or pays taxes in Sweden. Several people have given her answers along the lines of "you can't" or "you can't, and you shouldn't even think of it".

I googled, and found out that the child allowance program was introduced in 1937, and since 1948 every child, irregardless of the parents' level of income, will receive support until the year they turn 16.

Currently the allowance is $153 per month for one child. If you have several children, the amount you are given for each child increases.

I think the woman who was asking felt she had the right to the allowance. And I think besides the monetary gain in her mind the notion of a right was closely linked to an idea about herself as a Swedish person. I can only guess, but I think she simply feels Swedish, and therefore feels she has the right to certain benefits.

When you leave your homeland you give up rights and obligations, and you also leave a part of your identity behind. From then on you have to negotiate who you 'are' in more complex, and sometimes surprising, ways.

Someone told me a story once about an American traveling in Europe, who had brought with her a large supply of American stamps to use on the postcards she was sending back to family and friends in America. When she ran out of stamps she was faced with a crisis. Where could she find American stamps in Europe? She asked her friends for advice, and when they told her, she had a very hard time understanding that stamps follow countries, not individuals. She wouldn't accept that she, as an American, was supposed to use French stamps.

Sometimes it's hard for people to realize that to some extent the context that they are in determines who they are, or what they are. The world doesn't circle around any of us. It just circles.