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5 things in no particular order, late edition

Stuff I’ve been meaning to blog about for days, weeks and months, even. Enjoy.

1) A (bath)room with a view, five months late

The number of times I’ve moved in my adult life is almost too absurd to consider. Starting back when I officially stopped living at my mother’s house 15 years ago at age seventeen, I’ve called no less than 13 different residences home. The majority of those moves were only across town, but a couple did take me across the country. In any case, such has been my life and my luck that nomadism is the norm. Earlier this year, hubby and I moved for the second time since our return to Denver from our adventure in Chicago. This time, fate landed us on the doorstep of a colleague who, having been our partner and commiserator in newspaper job loss, was heading out of town for greener employment pastures and needed tenants for his lovely home. We left our tiny condo in the hope that someone might take it off our hands permanently (no such luck, yet) and that we could welcome the end of this tedious recession (anytime now, economy) with a bit more leg room.

The house has many of the wonderful idiosyncrasies of a place that has been lived in for a long time. My favorite is the window in the second-floor shower. It’s small and up high on the wall (I have to stand on my toes to see out) and doesn’t reveal anything that a discreet bather wouldn’t. Still, it allows for a nice view of the tops of neighboring trees and houses and, if you look hard enough before the hot water starts to fog it up, the Rocky Mountains. If I shower in the early afternoon on a clear day, the sun shines on me and the water in such a way that I feel as if I am outside, which takes me back to the days early in my childhood when my cousins and I would bathe in my aunt’s back patio. The light is best at the end of the day, when the warmth of the setting sun soothes as much as the hot water. Serenity is welcome anywhere one can find it.


2) You can go home again, three months late

I remember thinking when I was a kid that ten years was a really long time. During each of the two trips I took back to Colombia before I graduated from high school, it felt as if I had been gone as least that long, but I hadn’t. Not even close. In my teens, there wasn’t anything I had done—outside of, well, existing—for close to 10 years. I hadn’t been friends with someone that long, certainly hadn’t lived anywhere that long. Ten years was an eternity.

But then I went to college, and then I graduated, and life has felt like one long 10-year-anniversary after another ever since. Going into my fourth decade of existence, I’ve been out of Colombia for not just ten but twenty years. The oldest two of my younger siblings have both been around for more than two decades. And on and on. My college graduation happened ten years ago this year. Needless to say, those ten years flew by. So much happened between that time and now, it’s hard to put into words just how much I, my family, my career, the country and the world have changed. I won’t try, at least not for the purposes of this here blog entry.

I hadn’t planned on attending my 10-year reunion. I remain close with the friends I treasure most from those four years and didn’t really need the reunion for an excuse to visit them. There were others I wanted to see who I likely wouldn’t see otherwise, but none of those meetings necessarily seemed worth the price of the trip, especially not at a time when hubby and I have made an extra effort to penny-pinch. Still, alma mater came calling and had to go and ask me to be one of the organizing chairs. The busybody in me was not about to pass up on a chance to be in charge of something, and that was all it took to convince me that I needed to go. It was a riot–seeing those I’d hoped to see and those I didn’t, those I hadn’t thought of in exactly ten years and those I’d wondered about often.

The best part, though, was getting to spend time with those best friends at the place where our relationships first blossomed. Seeing them, all at once, once again, was—for lack of better, less trite phrasing—life affirming. Over the last few years, hubby and I have gone through some tough times, nothing makes you question yourself, your motives and basically everything you’ve ever done like the loss of a job and the slow-motion disintegration of the career that you thought would see you to retirement. Amid all that turmoil, I continued to believe that given a chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change much. And getting back to where I went to college and where I made the first of the most important decisions of my life reminded me yet again that it really was OK to have made those decisions, not just because I still treasure what I learned, but because I still treasure those who were along for the ride with me. The precious few who, having emerged from the 400-some of us that came to campus together 14 years ago, became the most important people in my life for four years still are. Even ten years later.

3) A show about home, two months late

Back when I was in graduate school in Chapel Hill, I took a Latino studies course in the English department and did a presentation on Romeo and Juliet—specifically, Baz Luhrman’s movie interpretation of it, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Stephen Sondheim’s take, the less obviously titled West Side Story. One of the poets on our syllabus often came back to the theme of Maria and the Sharks from West Wise Story in the collection of his we were reading, and I, a slave to film and popular culture, found a way to make the literature about movies. The movie West Side Story was, of course, based on Sondheim’s musical—which I’ve never seen—and research into the the former led me to research about the latter and about authenticity in Latino representations on Broadway. There aren’t a whole lot to begin with and though West Side Story is a beloved classic it isn’t an authentic representation in the least. It isn’t even about Latinos, not really. It’s good and enjoyable, sure, but while watching it, a Puerto Rican won’t necessarily think, “Yes, that’s what life felt like for me.”

In truth, most pieces of art that attempt to adapt something into something else—whether it’s one people’s existence into song and dance or just a book into a movie—don’t usually get it exactly right. The good ones, though, can achieve success if the essence of the original subject feels true. That’s where, as an adaptation of Latino life, West Side Story falls a bit short even while the whole, a story of unrequited love, soars. Thankfully, though, Latinos now have another Broadway show to look to, one actually written for, about and—Yes!—by Latinos.

In The Heights, from the mind of the talented and spry Lin Manuel Miranda, is about the Washington Heights neighborhood, on the gentrifying northern tip of Manhattan Island. It’s a neighborhood of evolving ethnicity, as the show points out, most recently home to Latinos—Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican, mostly. Narrated by Usnavy, owner of a corner store or “bodega,” the show takes us through a day in which a number of events concerning the block’s residents are coming to a head: The salon next door to the bodega is closing because rent is getting too expensive, the owners of the taxi business across the street are welcoming their daughter back from her first year at college but her return and the news she brings force them into a difficult choice and one of the bodega’s regulars just won the lottery. There are also yarns about the aging Abuela Claudia, who raised Usnavy; Vanessa the girl he pines for, who is desperate to leave the barrio; and Benny, who works at the taxi business and has a soft spot for the owner’s daughter, the aforementioned prodigal college student. The action unfolds over the course of a single day and night, jam packed with the dreams and regrets of the immigrant existence, all to the tune of reggaeton, salsa and merengue.

It’s tough to offer my thoughts on In The Heights critically because I found it so emotionally affecting. It isn’t a perfect show, particularly original or groundbreaking—the songs, all too often, are sung as confessions, with the character projecting the high notes wistfully up to the cheap seats. But what it feels like to be a Latino in this country, the memories of home, the hard work to make ends meet and make dreams reality—all of that is here, and wrapped up in music that, perhaps for the first time, artfully combines the sounds and rhythms and language of Latinos with those of our adopted home and of Broadway. There were few numbers that didn’t elicit tears, not because they were sad—the show is nothing if not about hope—but because no one thing in pop culture—no book, no movie, no nothing—has ever felt this much like home, not the home where we came from but the home we make for ourselves here. That home isn’t easy to find (Usnavy spends the run of the show in his discovery of it) but once we do, there’s nowhere we’d rather be.

4) The Cup runneth over, two weeks late

The World Cup has officially come and gone, and all that’s left is to look forward to the next cycle and start saving up for Brazil 2014. South Africa gave us a wonderful tournament filled with the same highs and lows that feel higher and lower than any before until the next one comes around. That’s something that people forget about the World Cup. The stage is so grand and so rare—marinating for four whole years—that it feels as if we are watching it for the first time. In the final, Spain beat out a punchy, out-for-blood Dutch team that came out with the hope that pushing Spain around would get the Furia Roja out of its rhythm long enough to score just once. They had a couple of great chances but never converted. Spain held on to their sometimes infuriating pass first, attack later strategy as long as they could until they finally put one through in the final minutes of extra time. Yes, they spent plenty of time rolling on the grass grabbing at injuries, some real, most not so, but the Dutch set the tone for a physical match, and the Spanish pretty boys (and, boy, were they pretty) made them pay in yellow cards.

It wasn’t the “beautiful” game, but it was enjoyable. At least, I thought so. My sister, on the other hand, declared this to be the worst final in the history of the Cup, the ones that have taken place in her life time. But if she actually remembered every Cup she’s witnessed that well, she’d remember the 1994 snooze fest of a final between Brazil and Italy. Now, THAT sucked. Her declaration was in part the result of having rooted for the losing side, but also the result of not having watched more World Cups. A few cycles from now, she’ll see that when it comes to this tournament not much changes. The third place game is always better than the first place game. The refs always play too big a role, and the winning team always makes you a little bit angry—unless, of course, it’s your team. But that’s the beauty of it. The game will never change. The Cup will never change. And we will always—yes, even she—always be back for more.

Now on to some links:

  • Mesut Ozil is now my favorite German player. In part because of this video.

  • The only thing better than the post-game Spanish celebrations in the locker room, featuring Queen Sofia, Prince Felipe and wife, and Rafa Nadal? The celebrations that continued when the team boarded the red eye back home. Drunken antics too hilarious for words. This first video gets awesome at the 1:00 mark when Pepe Reina is on the phone with mom and then gets momentarily exasperated trying to get her off the phone. She must be related to mine. You don’t have to understand Spanish. The language of trying to get a chatty mother to hang up is universal. In this second video, Reina, having successfully gotten mom to hang up, is now leading a conga line down the aisle holding a Boss iPod dock as a boom box.

  • Team USA did not do as much as they could have but what they did, they did in exciting fashion. This is a nice video tribute. They did manage to turn heads, not just here at home, but across the world, where few ever gave us a second thought. Here’s an Aussie’s take on what we can take away from their showing. Here’s a local take. And another. I don’t know that the U.S. will lift the Cup in my lifetime, but I’d like to see them get at least within a game of trying.

  • Finally, getting back to the campeones, here’s “the call!” Awesome. Or should I say, fantastico?

5) Telling the story before you tell the story, one week late

Once upon a time, movie trailers existed to tantalize with nuggets and tid bits from a movie in order to get audiences excited. It was an artful balance, offering enough of the movie to leave audiences eager to get the whole story. The best trailers still do this well, but most—and romantic comedies in particular—no longer bother with giving you a tiny bite with the hope that you come back for the full plate. Today, trailers rather artlessly cram the entire story into a 2 and half minutes. Take for example, the latest offering from Katherine Heigl, Life As We Know It. This happens to be the name of a short-lived touching and hilarious series about three sex-crazed teenage boys, based on the frank as all get out look into teen sex “Doing It” by Brit Melvin Burgess. I would give all of Heigl’s movies for another season. But I digress.

We saw the trailer before Inception in the theater about a week ago. The movie is about Heigl and the guy played by Josh Duhamel, who have one disastrous date courtesy of their best friends, a married couple with a baby. The married couple (which includes the marvelous Christina Hendricks of Mad Med, who deserves better) die and leave their house and baby daughter to the not-couple. Poop related jokes and—wait for it!—romance ensue. The movie can’t help but be predictable, but does the trailer have to take us through the entire emotional journey, including Josh Duhamel’s declaration that the three make the perfect family and that the dead friends knew this and that’s why they left them their daughter. Nice of them wasn’t it? The movie was directed by Greg Berlanti. He got silk from the sow’s ear that was the first half of Dawson’s Creek season three and created the wonderful Everwood. This movie might have been watchable, but thanks to the trailer, now I don’t have watch it. Better luck next time, Berlanti!


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