BOOK: "Service Included" by Phoebe Damrosch


I've been officially brainwashed.

I read food blogs and try to keep my finger on the pulse of things food-related. This book has been mentioned on several sites and why not? Thomas Keller's French Laundry is incredibly well-known, as is Per Se, his New York City restaurant. So any book that reveals intimate details about Per Se was bound to be a seller.

I recently got Service Included as a birthday present from my sister--it had been sitting on my Amazon Wish List for at least six months, so I was completely pleased when I unwrapped it.

I put it aside for a few days, because I knew that reading it would be like setting a plate of fine chocolates in front of me--I wouldn't stop until the book was done. It turned out to be a great thing, because I had an unexpected plane trip to take and it was the perfect book for ignoring obnoxious travelers. There was no feigned interest in my book to avoid staring openly at other people (this tends to be a bad habit of mine--don't ask me why, but people fascinate me to the point of stupor), especially when my mom was running late to pick me up and I had to wait outside, puddles of luggage around me, while people ran off in a million directions, curious about the poor girl waiting on the steps.

The premise is simple--Phoebe was a server, then captain, at Thomas Keller's Per Se when it opened, prompted to apply because she needed work and loved the French Laundry. I wasn't that into her relationship with Andre the sommelier--yay for the happy ending and all that, but I wanted to know about the restaurant, so I absorbed those details with much more hunger. I mean, no one is lucky in love, there's always weird things that happen in relationships--yada, yada, I can read chick-lit any day.

But the details about service were incredibly hypnotic. The stories about where the food came from were charming. The pure luxury of dining at Per Se was broken down--but not to the point where you ended up not wanting to eat there. In fact, it had the opposite effect--I now want to dine at Per Se before I die, or it closes, whichever comes first. It helps that Phoebe had no beef with her job, that she loved it, that she communicated that their pretty words on their website (Per Se) were not just lip service, but the truth.

For a foodie, a waiter, a restaurateur, a gossip-lover, Service Included is that first make-out session with an aching crush you've harbored for ages: that first touch that doesn't lead to sex, that caress that makes you desire more, the foreplay to the best lovemaking in the world, both because you have longed for it and because that lover is just that good. She has made me ache for a taste of Keller's creations and now I dream of Oysters and Pearls, salmon cones and truffles.

Looks like I'll be saving some major cash to drop in Keller's hands, because I am convinced.

VIDEO: Mana's Bendita Tu Luz


My translation of lyrics are at the end of this post

I have Comcast Digital Cable and with that comes Video On Demand. A friend of mine was fiddling with it and found some music videos that I didn't even know existed. While we were scrolling through, we found some great little winners: the Cro-Mags live at CBGB, Pennywise, live Sublime (RIP Brad) and this funny little Sri Lankan thug rapper girl, M.I.A. But I peeped that Mana was on the list and waited until my friends were leaving to queue it up.

Mana's Amar es Combatir album is phenomenal and I should talk about that soon, but the video I watched was for one of the singles off that album, "Bendita Tu Luz," which translated means "Blessed Be Your Light." Lyrically, it reminds me of Lenny and I, meeting at a time when it was perfect for us.

But the video made me homesick. Juan Luis Guerra does guest vocals on this track--his music reminds me of being at my grandmother's parties up in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Oddly enough, I attended a training recently where the presenter played an album of his during lunch and it made me think of those parties and my grandfather (who is now bed-ridden with Alzheimer's) dancing slow with my grandmother, whose face was always blissful in his embrace (that's how I remember it).

So watching this video Saturday night brought that up, but also had images that reminded me of a time when I didn't even know what 40 degree weather felt like, let also temperatures below freezing. The bits of sun and beach, the old Spanish architecture, the hats they wear, the delicious hollow tap of bongos--I mean, it was like I had forgotten what that was like and this video smashed down all my little walls.

Clearly, I love this song, but this video really brings to the forefront that traditional feel to the music and lyrics. It's not a spectacular video--no nifty effects, no real mindbending "plot"--but to a displaced island girl, it is perfectly romantic, both in story and backdrop. It is a memory floating up and reminding me that I really do need to buy a plane ticket home--the island, she calls to me through this.

Bendita Tu Luz
From Mana's Amar es Combatir

Bendito el lugar y el motivo de estar ahi
Blessed be the place and the motive to be there
Bendita la coincidencia
Blessed be the coincidence
Bendito el reloj que nos puso punctual ahi
Blessed be the clock that put us punctually there
Bendita sea tu presencia
Blessed be your presence

Bendito Dios por encontrarnos en el camino
Blessed be to God for finding each other on the path
Y de quitarme esta soledad de mi destino
And for taking away this solitude from my destiny

Bendita la luz
Blessed be the light
Bendita la luz de tu mirada
Blessed be the light of your gaze
Bendita la luz
Blessed be the light
Bendita la luz de tu mirada
Blessed be the light of your gaze
Desde el alma
From the soul

Benditos ojos que me esquivaban
Blessed be those eyes that avoided me
simulaban desde que me ignoraban
They simulated that they ignored me
Y de repente sostienes la mirada
All of a sudden you hold the gaze
Bendito Dios por encontrarnos en el camino
Blessed be to God for finding each other on the path
Y de quitarme esta soledad de mi destino
And for taking away this solitude from my destiny

Bendita la luz
Blessed be the light
Bendita la luz de tu mirada
Blessed be the light of your gaze
Bendita la luz
Blessed be the light
Bendita la luz de tu mirada
Blessed be the light of your gaze

Gloria divina de esta suerte de buen tino
Glory divine of this stoke of good luck
Y de encontrarte justo ahi en medio del camino
And of finding you right there in the middle of the path
Gloria al cielo de encontrarte ahora llevarte mi soledad
Glory to heaven for finding you now to take my solitude
Y coincidir en mi destino en el mismo destino
And coincide with my destiny in the same destiny

Bendita la luz
Blessed be the light
Bendita la luz de tu mirada
Blessed be the light of your gaze
Bendita la luz
Blessed be the light
Bendita la luz de tu mirada
Blessed be the light of your gaze
Bendita mirada
Blessed gaze
Bendita mirada desde el alma
Blessed gaze from the soul

Tu mirada
Your gaze
Bendita bendita bendita mirada
Blessed, blessed, blessed gaze
Bendita tu alma y bendita tu luz
Blessed be your soul and blessed be your light
Tu mirada
Your gaze

Digo es tan bendita tu luz, amor, amor,
I say so blessed be your light, my love, my love
Bendito el reloj y bendito el lugar,
Blessed be the clock and blessed be the place
Benditos tus besos cerquita del mar,
Blessed be your kisses near to the sea
Y tu mirada, amor, amor,
And your gaze, my love, my love
Que bendita tĂș mirada, tu mirada, amor
How blessed be your gaze, your gaze, my love.

ALBUM: Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight


I'm going to take this album track by track, mostly because I've fallen in love with the entire thing, for different reasons.

1 - Wake: A great little intro that touches on musical themes of the album.

2 - Given Up: Given the slower and softer songs on this album, I'm glad that LP opened this album with a screamer. I appreciate both, but I've found myself deeply attracted to those songs that give my rage a safe place to live. And I'd love to hear this song live. [Video]

3 - Leave Out All the Rest: There's that great little effect at the beginning that gives an echo-y and ethereal quality to this song, which makes perfect sense, since lyrically it starts out with a dream.

4 - Bleed It Out: Although I liked the other singles released for this album, it was this track that made me download and burn it. Loud, angry and it seems to channel that bloodlust we feel sometimes. A perfect speeding on the highway song. [Video]

5 - Shadow of the Day: At first, I was lukewarm on this track, but then I just realized that I was tired of hearing it on the radio, but within the album, it fits right where it is. I actually like it and feel like I understand it better in context. [Video]

6 - What I've Done: I only recently watched Transformers and heard this song in the movie. Instant love. I love the sample (or drum) that sounds like a ticking clock, I love this song lyrically and delivery-wise. Around this time I started to notice a sense of religious undertones in the album, at least musically. [Video]

7 - Hands Held High: I shared this with a friend who writes his own beats and rhymes, knowing he would love it. He went sick when he heard it. There is definitely a sense of being in a church, somewhat, during this song, which is, of course, balanced by the rap pats. Politically, this song completely works for me.

8 - No More Sorrow: Another screamer, perfectly placed in the album order.

9 - Valentine's Day: This song hasn't completely grabbed me, but I like it well enough. Oddly, I listened to this album around V Day, so this one seemed almost commercially placed, although I'm sure it wasn't. Coincidences are weird.

10 - In Between: "My pride and my promise." This song peculiarly touches me. It reminds me of a man I've never met. This is when I think a long night with the songwriter would reveal something interesting.

11 - In Pieces: It was the guitar riff in the bridge that completely charmed me. It's a fantastic song, but that riff...ooohh. Seriously. I love how it builds. In fact, LP is really good at building up to some great music. But it's the riff first and lyrics later--that's how I was seduced.

12 - The Little Things Give You Away: Of all the songs, this one I feel the strangest about. Lyrically good, but politically--I'm mildly in disagreement. Probably my least favorite of the bunch, but I still really love the sound. Maybe I wish it was about something else. Yet I respect an artist's right to express an opinion, even if I don't wholly agree with it.

In my version of the album, I have a couple live tracks. I guess I got the Circuit City edition or something. Either way, they're good, but nothing spectacular. I'd prefer to see these guys live, although I imagine the little kids running around would annoy me. I would have loved to see LP when they were little-known and bratty suburban kids weren't allowed out at night.

Yeah, I like it. I only wish it was longer.

BOOK: "The Virgin Suicides" by Jeffrey Eugenides


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides would be worth reading for it's collective, communal male voice, even if the story wasn't ethereal and scary and passionate.

I put several years between seeing the movie version at the now-defunct York Square Cinema and reading the book, mostly in Brookline and on the train home from my little vacation. I assumed the experience of both would be different and they are, but not by much.

Essentially, the book chronicles the year the five Lisbon girls committed suicide, starting with Cecilia, the youngest, and followed, not quite a year later, by Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese. Don't worry, I'm not ruining the plot for you--this is all pretty much explained at the beginning. This is not about suspense, but about the outward effects of the tragedy and the males' obsession with it. Of course, we find, at the end, why this collective male voice is so concerned with it, but that explanation here would ruin the story.

The prose meanders between factual account and romantic pondering. There's a persistent sense of frustration from the narrators, that they cannot really know the why of it all and that, eventually, rubs off onto the reader. The more you know, the more you want to know. It's a peculiar occurrence, really, for five daughters to off themselves. And understanding it seems harder and harder, the more information and impressions you receive about the girls.

The "girl that changes everything" archetype is here--if the girl was five sisters and the change is suicide. Normally you get a drifter girl, comes to town, re-aligns everyone's perceptions and she rides, Eastwood-style, into the sunset. This obviously breaks from that--the narrators both seem to remember certain things about each girl--in fact, they have "Exhibits" from each of them, that they keep for years:
(#18) Mary's old cosmetics drying out and turning to beige dust; (#32) Cecilia's canvas high-tops yellowing beyond remedy of toothbrush and dish soap; (#57) Bonnie's votive candles nibbled nightly by mice; (#62) Therese's speciment slides showing new invading bacteria; (#81) Lux brassiere...(page 246)
And, at other times, they see them all as one person. As an entity, they only really become one thing, one phenomenon, after the five suicides are complete. They change these men, the ones who collected bits and pieces of the Lisbon girls--they persist in their memories, even in encounters with other women. With their death, they eclipse everything that happens later, shift perspective on life.

I don't know if the whole thing is one big allegory--for the death of a way of life, for the loss of innocence, for the poignancy and lasting effect of youthful experiences, for the cost of the world changing--but it could be read that way.

The book is both personal and communal, the voice, of course, confirming that--we get private stories in a larger viewpoint. I was left, at the end of the book, as bereft as the boys who loved the Lisbon girls, just as unsure as to what it all means. Like searching for the Holy Grail, understanding the reasons the girls killed themselves is unattainable, no matter how many objects are collected, facts uncovered, everything analyzed. The answer is lost, in death.

BOOK: "The Alchemist" by Paolo Coelho


My sister bought me this book for Christmas. "It changed my life," she claimed. She tends to read very philosophical and spiritual books, and The Alchemist is no different. It has the air of The Little Prince, not only from the subject matter (a boy on a quest), but reading it in English when it is originally in another language (Portuguese for Alchemist, French for Prince). But the literary merits are neither here nor there, because the spiritual matters are superb.

The book bases itself on the idea that every person has their own Personal Legend and that the journey to the goal is acting in the will of God (and Goddess). Essentially, everyone has something they want to do more than anything in the world and pursuing that dream is in line with the Soul of the World. My favorite lesson from the book is the piece about Fatima. Santiago (the main character, and the narrator of the tale) makes it to an oasis on his way to the Pyramids of Egypt. His journey is delayed there due to tribal warfare in the desert. He meets a young woman named Fatima and falls in love with her. She tells him, though, that he should not stay at the oasis, but pursue his dream of treasure. Santiago is distressed about this, but she assures him that she loves him, but she is a woman of the desert and able to wait for him to return. So he continues on his quest and finds his treasure, and, we are to extrapolate, returns to Fatima.

I think it's true, that we don't follow our Personal Legends, because we worry those we love will become angry or resentful of our dreams, since it takes us away from them. But those who truly love us will make us, force us, to follow our journeys to their conclusion. And that's just true love.

I also love the concept of the Personal Legend and that we have a duty to the Soul of the World to live our legends and the Soul of the World will give us omens to push us along. When you start, you have "beginner's luck" and are able to complete things easily. At the end of your quest, you will be tested, so it only gets harder, but it's because that way, the Soul of the World will know that you want it.

I already know my Personal Legend. I will write stories. And I have always felt that being a writer is how I fit into the world, how the world makes sense. I believe that it is my duty to be a writer, serving the Soul of the World, and myself. And the reason I have grown cynical and negative in my life is because I am turning away from it, every moment I do not hunt down my Personal Legend.

Now I know why I am sad. All I have to do is change.

MOVIE: A Prairie Home Companion


I have never done live radio, but I have done quite a bit of theater, in many different capacities, including directing, producing, writing, set design and creation, sound design and tech, light design and tech, advertising, even acting. There's magic in the theater, for me, because I love it so much. So when I watched A Prairie Home Companion, which is about the last night of a homegrown America live radio show, I found its rambling nature and scattered focus on details endearing, even nostalgic. Of course, the movie touches on nostalgia constantly, as we hear old-style radio commercials, where the DJ did the advertising, with support from his performers for a little extra punch, listen to old country tunes and feel, in general, several decades in the past. The present jolts us, courtesy of Lindsay Lohan's character, who embodies the angsty, suicide-obsessed, almost gothic attitude of youth today, and, of course, Tommy Lee Jones' Axeman, who is shutting down the whole shebang.

I enjoyed the movie immensely, although I realized that it didn't exactly have a plot. Then I realized that it's not supposed to, it's a Robert Altman mockumentary and the sheer joy of seeing a production at work was enough of a story for me. That whole last show of a season, or an era, or of a live radio broadcast, has such a bittersweetness in reality which is effectively echoed in the film. Especially for me, an artist barely working with a production, it made me ache to be a part of something more, and ache that it was ending for these people.

I know that this film touched something in me, but some might find it too unfocused and become frustrated for the lack of story.

My favorite moments are when Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly sing the dirty jokes song. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin give pitch-perfect performances. I didn't even mind Lindsay Lohan so much, her not being staggeringly central. But the advertising bits were the best. Hands down.

I really liked this movie.

BOOK: "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMemoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, was a seductive read. I honestly couldn't put it down (to use an over-used cliche). I loved the story and was constantly intrigued by the manipulations used by all the geisha to get what they wanted, especially the lead character's "older sister." I found the part about Japan during the war particularly interesting, since one of my fascinations is post-war Japan.

Now, for the controversy. As I was reading the book, I did a little research online and discovered that it's a "mockumentary," with a some basis in real life. Apparently, Golden didn't do such a hot job of painting the geisha in a way that was satisfactory to the geisha he was basing it on, a Mineka Iwasaki. She was supposed to remain anonymous, but he cited her in his bibliography. She went on to write her own book, called Geisha, A Life. That is, of course, now on my reading list. I suppose Golden took a writer's liberty with her story and gave a slightly skewed glimpse into the geisha world, but being a writer myself, I think I may have taken those liberties, as well. I certainly wouldn't base my knowledge of Japanese culture, or even the specific geisha culture, on this book alone. It simply told a story of some sort of love. I can't say that I think Sayuri (the lead character) loved the Chairman the way I love my boyfriend, but her obsession with him is something just about any girl could relate to.

But, regardless of the moral standing of the author, I found this to be a compelling read. My friend Kim saw that I was reading it and a little light went into her face. "Have you read it?" I asked. "Yes, one very magical summer." I don't know if it was the book or a boy who made the summer magical, but she remembered it with fondness. And that's how I feel about this book. I remember it fondly, like a confidante I can tell my deepest secrets to.

As far as geisha go, I think there's something valuable in the traditions and art they study. So many traditions are lost, and geisha have retained them. And there's something terribly interesting about the whole danna thing. The Japanese certainly do have a ritual and formal way of dealing with many things, including, somewhat, sex sales. It's interesting, to have a ceremony to bind a master to his mistress, because, at least, this displays that there is a connection between the two, unlike in America, where mistresses are hidden. I suppose if you're going to be sleeping with more than one woman, you should at least be open about it.

Anyway, I definitely recommend this book. Take it for what it is, that is, a story of a girl, not entirely historically accurate, but completely mesmerizing.

SONG: "Wind It Up" by Gwen Stefani


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAny song that successfully samples from The Sound of Music soundtrack and includes yodeling, to boot, is good in my book. The fact that is was Gwen Stefani that did it, well, that just makes sense. It's such a great song. It pokes fun at hip-hop sampling while still pulling it off as a legitimate club song. I just heard the full version of this song off Napster, which is how I stay up to date on music. It blew me away, honestly. Yeah, I know, I should have heard it at the music awards she sang at (which I don't even know the name of, there being so many lately) or at least seen it on MTV, but I'm just not hooked into pop culture that way. I could totally see my mom getting into this song, too. In my family, we were huge The Sound of Music fans growing up and owned the soundtrack on vinyl. It just rocks. A thumbs up from me.

A note about this album: from my first initial listen on Napster, it works for me. I like her style and how she has moved away from her No Doubt sound in her solo efforts. I think that Fergie would do well to take a couple lessons from her, because although Fergie's done all right with The Dutchess, it definitely didn't grab me enough to actually listen to the whole album. I don't think anyone is quite like Gwen Stefani. You can't confuse her with the "other" blonde popstars, like Britney, Jessica and Christina (and their copycats). She has a fantastic style all her own and that sort of uniqueness and originality is missing (glaringly so) from pop music. Just because it's pop doesn't mean it can't be smart.

About me

  • I'm Starry Saltwater Rose
  • From New Haven, Connecticut, United States
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Currently Listening To

Food and Liquor by Lupe Fiasco
Quality by Talib Kweli
Finding Forever by Common

Currently Reading

COMIC: Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore
COMIC: Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
BOOK: Pretties by Scott Westerfield
COMIC: Echo by Terry Moore
COMIC: Buffy Season 8 by Joss Whedon

To Read/Listen To/See

BOOK: Specials by Scott Westerfield
BOOK: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
BOOK: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingslover
MOVIE: The Golden Compass
MOVIE: She Hate Me (Spike Lee)

Written Material Reactions

BOOK: Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch
BOOK: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
BOOK: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
BOOK: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Music Reactions

ALBUM: Minutes to Midnight by Linkin Park
SONG: Lips of an Angel by Hinder
SONG: Wind It Up by Gwen Stefani

Visual Media Reactions

VIDEO: Mana's Bendita Tu Luz
MOVIE: A Prairie Home Companion

Website Reactions


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