Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Picking up chicks

Well, I had to pick this chick up several times while trick-or-treating. And damn if the boy isn't getting heavier by the minute.

Folks, if you're wondering why people ever have children, one of the reasons is that on one day of the year, you can dress 'em up in silly-looking clothing and have them go out and beg for candy. Not for him, mind you, because he's not allowed to eat that much. I, however, currently have the carcasses of four mini-candy bars within reach. (Thanks to the Costco Hershey's bag, I had a Butterfinger, a Reese's peanut butter cup, an Almond Joy, and a Kit Kat, which is melting in my mouth as I type this.) If I were nice, I would bring some candy to class, but I'm forcing one class to watch Babel, so you can determine for yourself whether I'm nice or not.

Today was my day with Xan, so I brought him to campus in costume. The costume would have been perfect had it been a normal Octobery day; at 70 degrees, however, this suit was a little hot. (I bought this, by the way, on clearance at Old Navy -- a store I never even walk into -- last year for a grand total of five bucks, well spent.) The result was that the voices of nearly every person who walked by us went up by at least three registers upon seeing him in this suit. (This includes the I'm-too-cool-for-school frat boys who sit outside the student center all day to smoke.) Admittedly, I laughed for a full five minutes when I tried the costume on him for the first time the other day, perhaps because my rather un-American (read: not obese) child doesn't normally have a body shaped like this, which I found reminiscent of the main characters in the animated film Chicken Run.

The best part about these pictures, however, is not merely that they capture how adorably cute he really is: it's the fact that we'll have enough material from today alone to fully embarass him about 15 years from now. Mark my words.

Myself, I had a lot of plastic costumes growing up -- and my "homemade" costumes of later youth were not always terribly inventive. (I was a hobo for several years, I think, in junior high.) In graduate school, the creative juices started to flow more and for a couple years I went as Luka, which I thought was amusing, yet topical... until I discovered that people thought my masterful makeup job indicated actual bruises. (Shockingly, Angela refused to go as my mother one year.) I also managed to win a costume party contest as Speed Racer -- a natural for me since (a) my hair naturally creates that curl in the middle of my forehead if I don't use hair product, and (b) I managed to find a pair of white bellbottoms that gave me the perfect Speed silhouette. (Actually, those pants were a little tight. No, a lot tight. In the right spot. Let's just say I had to walk carefully for fear of hurting myself. I know, too much information...)

In my attempt to get everything done today, I didn't put too much effort into this year's costume for trick-or-treating, instead choosing to spike up my hair, wear all black and call myself first a Robert Smith wannabe (which became impossible when I remembered I only recently threw out all my old goth makeup, which had gone bad) and then merely a behind-the-scenes techie. Besides, I didn't actually have to teach today and I didn't want to distract from Xan's impact on his first outing on Halloween. I have threatened for several years now, however, to do something much more daring -- and wouldn't you know that next year the holiday falls on a Wednesday and I'm teaching Cinemas of Latin America again?

In any case, happy halloween. If anyone still wants some candy tomorrow, I still have plenty. (You still only get it if you come in costume, however.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Drácula sounds much better with an accent (Vampire Blog-a-Thon)

Those eyes: terrible, desperate, yet exhilerating. They are haunted, haunting. And yet you can see how those eyes can hold you in their power, in their venerable thrall. The eyes of Dracula.

Well, not quite. They are, rather, the eyes of Drácula. Don't forget that accent; in Spanish, that would be a spelling mistake.

The coming of sound caused many problems for Hollywood in the late 1920s, but one of the biggest involved all those movie-goers south of the border: the exceptionally large Latin American market. Starting in 1930, Universal attempted to reach out to these patrons by filming many of their established hits with the same scripts now acted out by Spanish-speaking actors. (Indeed, the "Mexican spitfire" Lupe Vélez largely became a star through her lead roles in both the English and Spanish versions of 1930's East Is West and 1931's Resurrection.)

Only a handful of these films were made before 1931, but the most famous -- and certainly the only one of these films that is widely available -- is the curious case of Drácula. The Spanish version is largely the result of a cost-cutting measure executed by producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. to literally make two films at once: the English version, directed by Freaks auteur Tod Browning, would film in the daytime while the Spanish version, directed by George Melford (The Shiek), would film using the same script and sets that night. The Browning version catapulted star Bela Lugosi to international fame and is today considered a classic on its own terms.

Don't get me wrong: Lugosi's singular stare is the stuff made of legends and the man's debonaire interpretation of the Vampire-to-end-all-vampires is brilliant. As a movie, however, Drácula is far better.

I just finished watching both films at the same time, one on my television and the other on my computer and while both feature relatively similar scripts, the two are strikingly different. Lupita Tovar -- who plays "Eva" (not "Mina") and provides an introduction for the film for the recently produced multi-disc package done by Universal -- indicates that the actors even had the same blocking marks at night as the daytime English cast, but that means little when the camera is set up in a different place or is doing something very different. For example, one of the iconic shots of Lugosi comes early in the film when the camera slowly tracks into a close-up of Dracula's face, eyes highlighted by a band of very bright light. This happens to be the first time that we see him and it's a very effective shot. The Spanish version introduces Carlos Villarías simikarly but with no moving camerañ Melford saves it instead for an extremely impressive shot on the staircase when Renfield (played frenetically by Pablo Álvarez Rubio) sees him for the first time. Browning creeps us out with his magnificent moving shot -- but Melford puts us into Renfield's shoes in a far more effective manner by giving us a far more dynamic shot (shown here) when the narrative deserves it, not just because we should ooh and aah. In many ways, Drácula is also far more human than Dracula. Oddly enough, this is partially due to Villarías' hands, which are significantly smaller than the craws that Lugosi bends into shape. Mostly, however, the effect seems to come from how Melford frames Drácula and Renfield together as they interact rather than isolating them in individual (and isolating) shots.

But what about Eva? Ahh, here is where the real difference lies in the two pictures: the treatment of the woman. For all that she does in the English version, Helen Chandler plays Mina as cold and aristocratic, like most female roles of the time. In Stoker's novel, however, Dracula is far more sexual and the fact that mostly women fall under his thrall implies a certain explicit sexuality which is only implied in Browning's film.

Not so Melford's version. Freed from the binds of the fledgling Production Code, Melford was able to show much more of what Drácula does to Eva and, even if he doesn't show all-out sex, the evidence is far clearer. For one thing, the Melford version actually shows the bite marks as evidence to the viewer, something denied in the Browning version. And please: look at these images here. First, Eva is drawn to Drácula in the night. Helen Chandler would not be wearing the shapely, sheer dress with which Lupita Tovar saunters saucily onto the screen. Even from far away, we can see why Drácula wants her, not to mention what he wants her for. Of course, the implication here is that Eva wants it, too. This shot culminates, by the way, in Drácula lifting his cape and Eva coming under his wing, which he clearly brings down in order to "kiss" her on the neck. Yes, there is a lot of Eva-kissing in this film -- on the hand, on the neck, kiss-kiss everywhere. (Poor Mina never gets to have any fun in Browning's film.)

And just look at her after Drácula has finally had his way with her! Yowza. Doesn't she look like she's about to start singing "I Feel Pretty"? That's because she got some Drác blood in her! Tovar plays Eva in a far more carefree manner than Chandler throughout the film, but the looser attitude really comes across here with the plunging neckline, the loose devil-may-(literally)-care hair and a stance that says "I'm a WOMAN now!!" Her fiancé, Juan, says, "I can hardly believe it! You're a different woman now!" Guess what, bucko: she is. Maybe you should have gotten to her first. By showing us some of these scenes, Melford's version of the Stoker tale not only stays faithful to the novel with its implied sexual tension, but also simply makes much more sense. Give me Lupita Tovar any day... but only if she bites.

This posting is part of the 2006 Vampire Blog-a-Thon, featuring over 40 other blogs all talking about vampire movies. Thanks to Nathaniel at The Film Experience for putting forth the idea! Check this page for information on all the other blogs, although I particularly like these:
Oh yeah -- and Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2006

I *swear* I didn't say "if"...

It's like that feeling you get finding a song on the radio that you have a copy of in your CD collection -- say, Depeche Mode's "Dreaming of Me," which I caught the other day. You could listen to it any time you want, but there's a certain joy in finding it unexpected.

So it is that tonight I turned on the TV and discovered It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. All the old Peanuts specials make me feel this way, particularly the Christmas one. (Not so much the likes of It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.) I don't plan on it, I just happen upon it and it makes me smile. Even if I would get a bag full of rocks.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Because there's just not enough blood in the world

Tune in on the 30th. I was tempted to do another riff on Buffy but, considering I've already done that (and professionally, even), I'm aiming for something more classic. (Or, more appropriately, más clásico.)

And no, Xan is not going trick-or-treating as a vampire. There is a costume, which we will try out this weekend, I think. And we have pumpkin. And we have a Costco-sized bag o' candy (because if you have it, they won't come, and if you don't have it, they will...with eggs...). Now we just need him to beg for more candy for us.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Will Hunting would have enjoyed our outing today.

Will Hunting: Do you like apples?
Clark, the obnoxious grad student: Yeah.

Will: Well, I got her number.
How do you like them apples?

I came back into town just in time for the end of a glorious, crisp, sunny weekend -- perfect for the annual apple-picking trip to Homestead Farm in Poolesville. We had been introduced to this by our biologist friend (and brother of the guy I lived across the hall from freshman year -- strange how these things work...) Steve; he was supposed to join us, but somehow didn't show up in time. Luckily, we weren't quite alone, having also invited JP, Kathy and Jolie for the apple-y adventure.

Angela's idea for this particular trip involved the kids running around a lot, fascinated equally by the small coterie of farm animals and the rows and rows of apples. She even envisioned the kids running between the rows, getting lost and freaking us out minorly. All this, however, would have the effect of tiring them out immensely.

As you can see, the kids were not entirely down with Angela's idea that should be the ones running about. Put into the cart as such, they happily were carted about, all the way down to the rows. At one point, Xan did get out of the cart and insisted on pulling Jolie in the giant cart as best as he could; clearly, she has him trained and, even more impressively, he remembered his training well from previous sessions. (All prospective arranged marriage proposals from other women who would like a well-trained, blue-eyed guy may be directed to the comments section of this website.)
As for losing various people between rows of apple trees, the only person who accomplished this was, miraculously, JP. We immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had been eaten by the Evil Apples That Bite. Considering that, of the six of us, he was the Naval Academy graduate, the rest of us naturally feared for our lives. Luckily for us, both Jolie and Xan have learned how to Take a Bite Out of Crime, or at least criminal apples that may have threatened to eat one of their Dadas, and are sweet and tasty besides.

Luckily, JP was found and we were able to pick a sizeable amount of apples. We had gotten waaaaay too many the first time around, then not enough last year. This year, we got about 24 pounds of apples. This means that, as I am typing, there already has been made apple sauce and apple crisp. In the near future, there may even possible be apple butter and surely apple pie. I'm even contributing to the whole shenanigans by finding a couple recipes that involve apples in different contexts. Here, I'm providing a few recipes that at least look interesting -- but the catch is that we probably need more. Do you have a favorite? Would you mind typing in the recipe for us? We're serious: we need even more apple recipes than this to use our stash.

Puffy Pancake (from Moosewood New Classics)

for batter: 3 eggs * 3/4 c milk *1 T. melted butter * 1 T. sugar * 1/2 tsp. vanilla * 3/4 flour * 1/4 tsp cinnamon * 1/4 tsp salt * optional pinch nutmeg -- for topping: 1 T. butter * 2 c sliced apples * 2 T. brown sugar, packed * 1/2 c optional fresh or frozen blueberries or raspberries -- for apple syrup: 2 c apple cider * 3-in. cinnamon stick

- Whisk together eggs, milk, butter, sugar and vanilla in large bowl. Sift in dry ingredients.
Stir to combine and set aside.
- Melt butter in skillet. Add apple slices and sauté for 2-3 mins. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Add berries, if using, and cook for another 1-2 mins until sugar has melted and apples are hot. Remove from heat.
- Butter a 10-in oven-proof skillet. Evenly pour in batter and top with fruit. Bake for 30 mins in
425-degree oven, until puffed and golden around the outside and firm in the middle.
- Meanwhile, bring cider and cinnamon stick to a boil in heavy saucepan. Cook until liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Serve pancake immediately, straight from pan, topped with syrup. Serves 4.

French-Style Sandwich (also from Moosewood New Classics)

1 c sliced tart apples * 1/2 c. thinly sliced onions * 1 c. thickly sliced mushrooms * 1 T melted butter * 1 T. mayonnaise * 1 T. choped fresh dill * 20-in. baguette * 1 c arugula * 1/2 c packed grated Gruyere cheese

- Toss apples, onions and 'shrooms with melted butter and place them on lightly oiled 7"x10" baking dish. Roast for 15 mins, until apples and vegs are tender and have released some of their juices.

- Meanwhile, combine mayo and dill in small bowl. When the vegs are roasted, slice baguette in half lengthwise. Cover one half of baguette with arugula, spoon on roasted mixture, and top with cheese. Spread dilled mayo on other half and put baguette together. Slice to make 3 sandwiches.

Upside-Down French Toast with Apple and Banana (from Nicole Ruthier's Fruit Cookbook)

2 tart apples * 2 1/2 T. lemon juice * 3 large ripe bananas * 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon * 1/2 tsp ground ginger * 1/4 tsp ground cloves * 1/4 tsp nutmeg * 3 T. unsalted butter * 1/2 c. light brown sugar * 1 T. maple syrup * 2 large eggs * 1/2 c milk * 1/2 tsp vanilla * 4-5 slices challah

- Peel, core and cut apples into 3/4" wedges. Toss with lemon juice. Peel and slice bananas to 3/4" and add to apples. Toss to
coat evenly with lemon. Add spices and toss well again.
- Melt 2 T. butter over medium-high heat. Add fruit, sauté until tender, about 30 seconds. Add sugar and syrup and cook until sugar is dissolved, 30 seconds longer. Remove from heat.
- Pour contents into lightly buttered baking pan. In a bowl, beat eggs, then add milk and vanilla. Dip bread slices into egg mixture to just moisten both sides, then place them over fruit in single layer in pan, making sure to cover fruit entirely. Pour any leftover egg mixture over bread. Dot bread with remaining butter. Let mixture sit for 10 mins. (Can also be prepared up to here and refrigerated overnight.)
- Bake uncovered at 375 until top is golden, 30-35 minutes. Cool
for 5 minutes. Place serving tray over pan and carefully turn over to unmold French toast. Spoon any syrup or fruit from pan over bread and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Old Dutch Apple Strudel (from Old Fashioned Apple Recipes, picked up at the farm a couple years ago -- put online for JP)

2 cups apples, sliced * ½ cup honey * 2 tsp cinnamon * 1 tsp lemon juice * 1 Tbsp butter *1 cup flour, sifted * 1 cup sugar * 1 tsp baking powder * ½ tsp baking soda *½ tsp salt *1 egg beaten

Arrange apples in a buttered baking dish. Drizzle honey over apples and sprinkle with cinnamon and lemon juice. In large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir in beaten egg until mixture is crumbly. Spoon mixture evenly over apples. Bake in 350F oven for 30-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

¡No me jod...!

I was in Oakland for a conference this weekend which I wasn't so excited about -- and therefore went better than expected. One of the good things about it was that the conference site happened to be a block and a half away from Chinatown, so I got some very yummy dim sum while I was there.

On the plane ride back, I was grading papers and, with the middle seat free and me in the aisle, I had set up my computer to look at the scenes from Jezebel that I was looking up to check against assignments. The person in the seat in front, however, then leaned his seat back... and smooshed my screen slightly so that it was stuck between the top of the pull-down tray cache and the tray itself. I tapped the person on the shoulder. "Excuse me, sir, can you pull your chair back forward just a moment?"

He looked at me, made a motion that he couldn't hear.

I spoke louder: "I'm sorry, sir, but would you mind moving your seat forward for a moment? The movement back crushed my computer screen and it's stuck. I just need you to move forward for a second to get it out."

He smiled broadly at me. "No English," he said. "Spanish." He gave me a look which said I don't really care to understand you, so fuck off and nestled himself back down.

So I tapped him again. He turned back, annoyed.

And as sweetly as I possibly could, with a very kind smile, I said: "Disculpame, señor, pero su asiento atracó a mi computadora. ¿Se puede mover su asiento por delante por un ratito para que yo pueda sacarla?"

As he slowly turned back to move his seat forward, I laughed. On the inside. Naturalmente.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Walking down that street

With the sun shining and a cool breeze, the Takoma Park Street Fair was today, complete with such wonderful things as air-bounce thins (which we didn't take part of this year) and funnel cake (which we did). Above, Xan actually walks over from Mama, fascinated by the awesome Klezmer band playing on the stage next to Dada. Plus, as part of the collective garage sale that this fest also becomes, Dada picked up DVD copies of Angels with Dirty Faces (Bogie! Cagney! "I'm not yella!") and The Band Wagon (which I've not seen, but features Cyd Charisse's legs) and a used CD of Just Say Yo!, worth the $1 if only for the "Route 66 Remix" of Depeche Mode's "Behind the Wheel" which I used to play in my DJ days in college.

The event as a whole, however, was a little tiring for some people.