Author Archives: mariela

A World Without Abuelas

Recently, I started thinking about what life would have been like without Abuelas.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • No creamy mashed potatoes that you can pat down into a flat pancake.
  • Nobody saying “Que dios to bendiga” as you bid your good byes.
  • No family secrets divulged in Spain over sangria.
  • No balconies overlooking the hustle and bustle of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico.
  • Nobody to ask you over and over again if you want another banana, or another glass of water, or a third plate.
  • No front porches filled with scorpions or back yards filled with coquis.
  • Nobody to pass you a $5 or $10 behind your Abuelo’s back.
  • No unmatched croquettas made with love and lots of secret ingredients.
  • Nobody to make me and my cabbage patch dolls custom-made clothes, including the coolest, hot pink, off-the-shoulder,  Christmas Formal dress I wish I still had.
  • No glimpses of Spanish-language novelas that never quite sucked me in.
  • No old photographs.
  • No smarties every Sunday.
  • No Jetta I could pretend was mine.
  • No coke that cross-my-heart tastes different in Puerto Rico.
  • Nobody to try to teach English to just for a loving laugh.
  • No frijoles recipe living in my Hotmail inbox for years.
  • No perfectly manicured nails…even at the end.
  • No witches next door with hair down to their knees.
  • Nobody babysitting on nights that brought out the most mischievous in you, like exploding godzillas in microwaves or playing with your dad’s razor.
  • No favorite nights at Pizza Hut with an arcade overlooking the dining area.
  • No house to live in while we were in between houses.
  • No Dulce Maria’s in my immediate family.

A world without Abuelas is a sad world indeed.

Posted by: Mariela

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Women Matter: Modern Family and Parenthood Tackle (Non)Working Moms

Recently, two very different shows about families – Modern Family and Parenthood – addressed the difficult choices many mothers make when it comes to work and family.

In Modern Family, Claire (Julie Bowen) makes a catch-up date with her old friend, co-worker and business rival Valerie (Minnie Driver).  Claire left her fast track to executive-dom behind after she met Phil and became a homemaker, keeping together a loving yet typically insane household of three kids.  Valerie is single, maintains lovers on different continents and gets news that she’s been promoted and will be moving to Paris while at lunch with Claire.

At first, Claire thinks Valerie must envy her stability but then realizes that she actually pities her.   In her effort to one-up Valerie’s promotion, she invites her over to see her awesome family-life in action.  Instead, Valerie witnesses a house in disarray – kids barely dressed holding liquor bottles, a husband stuck in a porta-potty and bragging about having “taken care of business,” and a rat on the loose.  Valerie high tails it out of suburbia, and Claire gets over her initial embarrassment and anger in a sweet, “Gotta love ‘em” dinner time moment.

Parenthood addresses possibly opting back in.  Kristina’s (Monica Potter) former boss is about to announce her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor and wants her to come to Sacramento to help with her speeches, just like “old times.”  The stay-at-home mom’s initial reaction is to say no – life lately has been intense with her son’s Asperger’s diagnosis and her teenage daughter buying sexy Victoria’s Secret bras.  Her husband Adam (Peter Krause) encourages her and the clearly excited Kristina says yes to a three day stint.

Once there, she feels out of place amongst the 20 something campaign staffers sitting in front of laptops, calling each other “dude” and talking about tweets.  But, her moment of triumph occurs at about 25 minutes into the 43 minute episode during a pitch for an important endorsement.  She uses – gasp – a personal connection, a sense of history and a carefully placed “dude” to lock it in.

With that success comes the offer of a full time job and one of the better pieces of writing the show has seen.  Kristina explains to Adam:  “Honestly, while I was there, I felt so alive…It was like I was being seen for the first time in so long.”  And, Adam, perfect husband that he is, soaks it all in and starts making plans about how they can adjust to become a dual working parent household.  But the plans are too much, and the pull toward family even more, and Kristina decides against taking the job.

I’m not a wife or a mother, but I’m surrounded by women everyday making similar choices and being torn in similar ways.  And I can’t say that I haven’t thought about what being a mom would mean for my personal identity and level of fulfillment, and what working full time would mean for my time (or lack of time) with my child.

I was recently at a More magazine lunch about happiness in a post women’s lib world and when one older high-powered executive asked the younger feminists what they are fighting for, temperatures rose.  Of course, there is still a lot to fight for.  Women make significantly less than men, are severely underrepresented in positions of power and our reproductive rights are constantly at jeopardy – not to mention the horrible abuses that women are subjected to worldwide, from being forced to become child brides to being the victims of the sex trade (see Nicholas Kristof’s “Half the Sky”).

But one issue that the different generations agreed should be a major one to rally around is making life easier for working moms.  There’s a new book by Brooklyn-based mom Sharon Lerner called “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation,” in which she argues that the U.S. federal government needs to have better systems in place to support moms, including mandated paid maternity leave (it’s alarming to hear that only 42% of moms take off 12 weeks off after giving birth), a public daycare system and solid flex work options.

I’m going to keep tabs on the White House Council on Women and Girls as they tackle these and other policies that’ll help create that “21st century workplace to meet the changing needs of the 21st century workforce.”  They recently hosted a Forum on Workplace Flexibility that seemed to kick things off.

In the meantime, let’s thanks mom this Mother’s Day for her hard work, whether it’s in or out of the home.

Posted by: Mariela

Matterful Art: Marina Abramovic is Present, Indeed

Start on the sixth floor at MOMA, and enter the fascinating, disturbing and compulsive world of Marina Abramovic.  Decide what to look at first:  her “Freedom” series where she screams until she loses her voice, speaks until she can’t find the words or dances until she collapses of exhaustion; the props used during her most famous “Rhythm” piece where she turned her body into a passive object that would be invaded by 72 different props for six hours; or the photos of her stabbing between her fingers repeatedly with knives.

Notice the nudes standing between the doorway and stare for a while before you decide to go the other way because you have too many bags to squeeze through such a tight space.

Enter the room where she meets Ulay, her collaborator and lover for the next 12 years, and realize you share their mutual birthday.  Think maybe you should amp up your adventurous side, but not quite to the level of Rest Energy below.

Stare at their series of 22 staring matches they did around the world in the least likely of places, from an empty museum in the middle of the night to a dirt pit in a war-torn country.  They went on in this immobile way for hours on end.  A commentator says:  “They’re doing their utmost to do nothing.”

Read about their Great Wall Walk, which was supposed to lead to marriage but instead led to separation.

Continue through the next few rooms where you realize her later solo work was just as bold and possibly even darker, with images of war and blood throughout.  The years did not mellow her.  There’s a naked, heavily breathing woman splayed on a table weighed down by a skeleton.

You’ve seen her age from her 20s to her late 50s.

On the second floor, you share a room with her at 64, live and engaged in ongoing staring matches with random strangers.  A beefy guy gets up after going head-to-head with her for some time, walks away and breathes heavily before he says to his friend, “That was intense.”  You can check out more peaceful, emotional, pensive, dulled and focused contenders here.

You leave MOMA thinking “present” is the most active verb around.

Posted by: Mariela

Where Have All The Theme Songs Gone?

“You take the good, you take the bad you take them both and there you have…”  That takes me straight to Tootie, Blair, Jo and the Facts of Life gang and noon sandwiches at home after swimming lessons.

“Here we are face to face a couple of silver spoons.”  That one makes me wish desperately for a rideable indoor train, if only my apartment was big enough.

“I bet we’ve been together for a million years.  And I bet we’ll be together for a million more.”  That was the motherload, Thursday’s Must See TV that welcomed the slow but oh-so-stylish Mallory and the charming and forever young Alex P. Keaton.

In the last month, I even managed to get the theme songs for Disney’s Adventure of the Gummi Bears and Dear John stuck in my head and dutifully song bombed them forward.

Because they are memorable.  Because they wisp you back to a very specific time, when TV schedules mattered and brought people together.  Maybe it’s because I just watched more TV back then?

All I know is that, these days, theme songs have all but been washed away.  Blink and you’ll miss them.  Modern Family’s lasts all of 10 seconds and 30 Rock’s a mere 18.  A quick review of the 15 top rated TV shows last week showed, first off, that only six were original comedies or dramas (the rest were reality TV, the NCAA Championship Game and 60 Minutes).  Of those six, only one could be categorized as good and that one is “Who are You?” written and performed by The Who for CSI.  The rest all sound like a version of the same sort of Muzak.

So…what happened?  Is it a theme song revolt against our multitasking lives, impatient viewing habits and too-quick-to-fast-forward fingers?  Are the writers saying: “Enough is enough.  If you won’t respect us, then we won’t respect you!”

I bet that’s part of it.  And I even bet that shorter theme songs are part of the revolt.  The shorter they are, the harder they become to zip through in order to get right to the storyline.

I zip through them myself, but I do think it’s a shame that we’ll never find ourselves, late at night, having group sing-a-longs to any theme song post 1995.  And maybe that’s being generous?

Posted by: Mariela

Just Did It: A View from the Bridge

Growing up, it was all about The Crucible and Death of a Salesman.  That’s one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to get to know A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s play about a Brooklyn-based, Italian-American longshoreman’s obsession with his niece and the codes and ethics of a close knit community in the 50s.  Another pleasure, of course, was the all-star cast featuring perennial Top Five-ee Liev Schreiber and Broadway newcomer Scarlett Johansson.  But we’ll get to that later.

This play is like taking a mirror to On the Waterfront — both protagonists rat, but with very different consequences — and many people think that Bridge was Miller’s response to Elia Kazan’s Waterfront, after that playwright chose to name Communist names before HUAC.  Miller was also called before HUAC but refused to talk.  Making this circle even more incestuous, Miller wrote the original screenplay for Waterfront, before the HUAC controversies led to a major falling out between these best friends.

The play is swift and climactic.  The narration and plot build the action to the point that it’s impossible to not know that things aren’t heading down hill for Eddie Carbone and his family.  Yet, I was enthralled and somehow still rooted for this fink — he of the “tunnel” vision (did Miller originate this phrase?) with a singular goal to stop his niece from marrying the illegal Italian immigrant who just wasn’t “right.”

I guess I wasn’t the only one rooting for him.  Listen to how lawyer-come-narrator Alfieri closes the play:  “Most of the time now we settle for half and I like it better. But the truth is holy, and even as I know how wrong he was and his death useless, I tremble for, I confess that something perversely pure calls to me from his memory–not purely good, but himself, purely, for he allowed himself to be wholly known and for that I think I will love him more than all my sensible clients.”

I’ve seen Schreiber on stage as the sexy lover in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, playing the great villain Iago at the Joseph Papp production of Othello and starring in Talk Radio.  He never, ever disappoints.  I was very curious to see how Johansson — she of the low, raspy voice, sultry eyes and many times dead performances — would stack up.

Pretty well, I have to admit.  For most of the play, her actions and words spoke innocence, but her body and dress spoke maturity and that delicate balance is crucial to the play’s tension.  When she finally does break free from her uncle’s firm grasp, you may even believe that it has nothing to do with love for her illegal Marco, and everything to do with the fact that she’s never tasted air.

Posted by: Mariela

This Week’s Top 5: Favorite Movies of 2009

Mariola


  1. Summer Hours – This was definitely my favorite movie of the year.  I return to it regularly in my mind, and recommend it as often as I can. A complex, lyrical and passionate question mark about the state of culture, what is it and what does it mean to us. Of course the setting is France where these kinds of reflections have always been nurtured and contemplated. The film is a beautiful mirror of our expanding global culture and the unstable place of tradition and history within that ever-changing horizon.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Charming, fun, pure cinematic enjoyment. Wes back in form. And Jason Schwartzman stole every moment.
  3. Bright Star – A beautiful and lush look at a woman whose inner life and creativity rivals that of one of the most famous poets of all time. I did not want to leave the world created by Jane Campion.
  4. Adventureland – Funny. Melancholic. Terrific soundtrack. Its only missed note was the casting of Ryan Reynolds.
  5. An Education – I am happy to see two films on my list about women and directed by women. another woman’s life whose intellectual curiosity finds an equal partner in her own desires and passions, and who was willing to risk tradition for a life lived.

Jenni


  1. The Hangover – I can’t remember the last movie I laughed so hysterically at.  Every scene had some piece of genius in it, not just the scenes used in the trailers that typically give away the funniest parts of a movie.  I loved the way this movie unfolded: the reverse (and uncharacteristic for a comedy) chronological order of waking up in utter chaos and using the rest of the movie to make sense of the chaos.  Of course it never hurts to have a cutie-pie leading man (Bradley Cooper).  I already own it on DVD.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are – Regardless of whether you are a Dave Eggers fan (he seems to polarize people), I thought this film was lovely and Eggers did a great job of taking an amorphous story and transforming it into a concrete screenplay.  The costumes were superb and amazingly resembled the drawings in the book.  The story was sad but not tragic and the characters were flawed but loveable.
  3. Whip It – This movie didn’t seem like it got much hype at the box office, but it was a lot of fun, it has a great soundtrack and features an all-lady roller derby team!  Directed by Drew Barrymore, she established a definitive style throughout, from the hand-held filming to the opening/closing credits.  It was also refreshing to see Ellen Page play a role other than her normal sassy, sardonic teenager.
  4. Up – A love story at heart, this movie is so sweet and playful it’s hard not to like it.
  5. New Moon – This was my most anticipated movie of 2009.  Okay, so probably not one of the top five movies of 2009 in terms of acting quality or special effects, but it was just plain scandalous entertainment.  Of course, I’ve read all the books, I’ve pitted myself on “Team Jacob” and I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Mariela


  1. Inglorious Bastards – Tarantino combines comedy and tragedy in epic style.  The steady and quiet opener is a master class in building tension, and the final theater scene is beautifully choreographed.
  2. Up in the Air – I love that Clooney stepped outside of his comfort zone here to play the old, lost guy.  The movie is subtle and very well paced, and when did you last see two great starring roles for women in such a movie?  I Love how Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga stir things up, evolve and surprise.
  3. Let the Right One In – This is unlike any vampire movie I’ve ever seen and the book is next up in my reading queue (thanks, Wendy!).  This quiet movie brings incredible sadness and loneliness to the life of a child blood sucker.
  4. 500 Days of Summer – This fulfilled my need for a solid rom com in 2009.  My favorite moment is when they discuss their former relationship on the park bench and she says to him:  “I woke up one morning and I just knew…What I was never sure of with you.”  A very straightforward answer to a topic that is never very straightforward – relationships.
  5. The Class – I love how this is like peaking into real life.  I love how it shows how people’s loyalties can turn on the toss of a dime.  I love how it shows that everyone has shades of grey.

And, Jen Mae’s Top Five Movies with a twist:  The ones she wishes she’d seen if she didn’t have a beautiful two-year-old at home.

  1. An Education – I’m a sucker for a good coming of age story, especially one with a female protagonist.  Looks a little sappy, but I’m o.k. with that. This one didn’t make it to a theater in my area, so I have to wait for the DVD release.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – I really wanted to watch this with my daughter, but after several unsuccessful trips to the theater, I decided against it. I think it’s funny that Bill Murray is the voice of a badger in this film.  After years of acting alongside burrowing creatures, he finally gets to play one!  Of the few children’s movies we did make it through, Up! was my favorite.
  3. Men Who Stare at Goats – Come on! George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges? Looks like a movie I could watch over and over again.  My husband saw it and compared it to Raising Arizona.  Now, those are some big shoes to fill.
  4. Where the Wild Things Are – Almost made it to this one… I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m trying not to make any judgments ’til I see it myself.
  5. Up in the Air – I know, I know. Clooney overload!  When movies are hyped up like this, I’m usually disappointed, but the optimist in me says this could be different.

Charlie Day Time! Season 2, Episode 7: Hundred Dollar Baby

This episode opens with a nod to Rocky IV, which the male Gang members call “the greatest movie of all time.”  But, in this version, Charlie plays Rocky Balboa as “Clown Baby,” a hooded and hopped up basement fighter who does his best when he is beyond drunk.

His best involves: being surprised with a garbage can to the face at 11am; getting rammed on the back by a chair and a large, wooden stick; and taking a beer bottle straight to the nose.  These training exercises, along with the “performance enhancement supplements” he’s been swiping from Dee-as-Hillary Swank, cause Dennis and Mac to remark that they’ve “turned him into an animal.”

I must agree.  As Charlie sits on a Paddy’s high table devouring a pre-fight meal, he resembles “The Dark Crystal” Skeksis that give me the willies.

Those of us crushing on Charlie might feel jipped by this episode.  Despite clear direction by Dennis and Mac and the final Charlie/Dee face-off where he explodes with “I’m going to take one second to take my shirt off…and then you’re going to die,” the shirt never comes off.  They end up in jail and we end up pretty sure that, had Charlie fought as Clown Baby instead of Mac, he would have won.  After all, we’ve already made the case that Charlie is one tough dude.

Posted by: Mariela