Saturday, July 29, 2006

Jammin'

Heatwave??? What heatwave???

On the second sizzling weekend of Summer '06, my Brazilian mafia got together for a barbeque (yep, seems to be every weekend now I have one - LOL). While Matt made sure there was a steady supply of food for everyone, the girls supplied the party drinks going - caipirinhas, margaritas and everything else you could think of.

Despite the weather hitting a high of 89 degrees today, we hardly noticed because perched on the balcony at our friend's 4th floor apartment, we had a good breeze now and then. When the sun finally faded behind the buildings of the upper west side, it had become much more comfortable then we started to go jammin'...



Monday, July 24, 2006

Under the Mango Tree



In the summers of my childhood, I often spent hours gazing up the dancing leaves of our mango tree. I’d sit in the shade provided by the canopy of leaves. It was there I watched the maya birds build a nest and they taught me the rewards of patience and perseverance. I can still feel how the rough cracked bark felt against my fingertips. I got acquainted with the haunting scent of blooming mango flowers. And when the leaves rustled with the summer breeze, it created a lullaby that cast a spell on my soul. Until now, when it starts to feel like everything in the world is out of sync, I close my eyes and imagine that my head is resting on the back of our wrought iron garden seat with my knees drawn to my chest, looking up the mango tree and bringing back the calming feel of being ‘home’.

Our mangoes were well-known on our street for their sweetness and in the summer it often dangled massive bunches of the heart shaped fruits that teased and taunted the passersby. Many times we had to deal with petty thieves who had creative ways to steal a bunch or two.


We enjoyed eating the mangoes when they were green – unripe, sharply sour and acerbic. And the only way to devour it at this stage is by peeling and dipping it in salty spicy bagoong (shrimp paste). Or, my mom would make an ensalada by cubing the green mangoes and mixing it with tomatoes and onions then dressing it up with the same bagoong that she made herself.


When the mangoes were near-ripe or manibalang, it would still be firm but slightly yellow inside but green outside. I’d mix some rock salt with granulated sugar and dip the mangoes with it. But the best way to eat them would be when they were at the peak of their ripeness. My mom used to slice the mango against the seed to get two fleshy portions. Then she would slash the mango flesh horizontally and vertically with the tip of a knife and then turn the flesh out from the skin to create a sweet yellow mango bonnet.

At its abundance when they ripened, we’d peel the skin off in a spiral and eat the flesh straight from the pit. Then the bright yellow juice would dribble down our chin and arms and then drip from the elbows. It was certainly NOT a first date moment.

A powerful storm had blown the tree’s main trunk to rest on the west side of the roof. For months it just rested there and created an eerie sound whenever the tree swayed with the wind during a storm. My old bedroom sat right underneath the shadow of the tree. While everyone else in the house slept through the creeks and pops and cracks that the tree made as it rubbed against the house, my imagination ran amok and many nights I scared myself to sleep.

That old house had to be torn down in 1978 and also the tree that had to give way to the construction of our new home.

Years later, I still have not enjoyed mangoes as much as I had from our old tree. In my head, the sight, sounds and smell are still alive – vibrant and strong especially when I close my eyes. Sometimes when I try really hard, I can still taste the itchiness of the fibrous end of the pit that connects to the stem and feel the stickiness of the sap that bleeds from the fruit when you pick it off from the branch.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

HEATWAVE!!!!!!!

The first heatwave of the year had just hit the eastern seaboard and New York had been sizzling since the weekend. It was so bad I woke up early Sunday morning wondering if my airconditioner had died on me or if I was in the midst of my first 'hot flash'. Whew! Grateful that it had been neither - the temperature outside had just become way too punishing that the a/c wasn't enough to bring my apartment to my comfortable temperature. And the exasperating part about it was that there was no relief anywhere in the whole of the continental USA. From coast to coast the country was braking records in terms of heat.

Fortunately, Manhattan has little pockets of parks that sprinkle the city. Along east midtown alone, there is this tiny park at the corner of 46th Street. It had plenty of shade to offer and the soothing sound of the fountain almost lulled one to a nap. It was late morning when I took one of the seats and it was empty. It's a moment when time just stops and the world's troubles are a million miles away.



Even Katherine Hepburn Park along 47th was sleepy. A guy who was bare chested practised his martial arts move on the corner and people took to the benches whiling time away - some with their sweethearts or with their dogs. Pigeons would sometimes break the monotonous lull when they flapped their wings in unison to take flight and circle the park above the lush trees that basked in the sun. Fountains dot the south side of the park, creating a peaceful lullaby amid the peaceful haven. And when it was time, the catholic church on the north side of the park played music from its carillon. I would often come early in these wonderful days so I would have enough time to enjoy the sounds and sights just sitting in one of the benches.

This, I will tell you is heaven on earth.







This was Union Square last Sunday at around noon. It is usually much more crowded with the steps rarely a space available as people fill it to people watch and be watched. Skateboarders and soccer wannabes practise here. With the huge volume of human traffic that crisscross the area, I have no idea how they avoid accidents but I am sure many a New Yorker have had their share of rants about the dare-devils.



Closer look on the same picture provides a common snapshot of Manhattan in the summer - a small patch of grass and you have sunbathers sprawled on a towel in their bikinis.



And what this woman was doing with her friend....I have no idea. But then, this is New York!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Authentic Happiness

How happy are you? Go to the research site of the Univesity of Pennsyvania (here) and find out.

In this week's issue of my New York Metro, it takes the elusive search for happiness, noting that most New Yorkers just refuse to be happy. Why? Too many options available in every aspect of living, the aggravation brought about by the competitiveness of fellow city dwellers, a hectic lifestyle that keeps from developing meaningful relationships are among the many reasons. True enough, the level of happiness in places like Branson, Missouri is higher than Manhattan. Hmmm... makes sense but trust me, no New Yorker I know would trade their life in the city for life in Missouri for anything.

So what makes people happy? I did one of the test and this is my Authentic Happiness Inventory Score - that I am 75% relatively happier than most people my age, in my location and my profession.



Hahaha, no I didn't cheat. So if I am such a 'happy' person, how had I just gone through some tough sad times? Oh yeah - that guy had something to do with it ... . But like they say, you have to go through storms to appreciate a rainbow. Well, plenty of love and support from family and friends made me realize that I belong - a feeling that I have some kind of value to other people - a sort of reassurance that I am not living a meaningless life.

So what makes for a happier life (read here)? One is to keep it as least complicated as possible (I wrote that in a big bright Post-It and stuck it to my cubicle wall at work and in front of my desk at home). Simplify life!!!

The study also found that happier people had a higher level of spirituality (don't confuse with religiosity). Certainly there is a sense of comfort in knowing that there is a higher being much more powerful and all-righteous in control of my life than I am. So that for every challenge that I go through I can always shrug that it was meant to be because it is just the means to a great end.

So what else makes for a happier lifestyle? Being married (though might not apply to some couples I know), staying away from therapists who keep rehashing dark childhood memories (yeah, why?), throwing away the receipts after you've splurged with your credit card (you've got it, keep it and enjoy it?), have a life and not work yourself to death, be friends with people who are in the same income bracket as yourself and don't be a lawyer (lawyers are 3.6% more likely to be depressed than other professions).

Frankly, I think most New Yorkers are happier than what the study states (they have a disclaimer) probably just that a great majority hadn't taken the online test. Only in New York do strangers smile at you at the subway, where you get complimented when you are having a good hair day or when you did well in putting together your outfit for the day. New Yorkers are relatively chattier than other people I have met elsewhere, and many are quite cheerful. I have seen non-New Yorkers who bitch endlessly you've think they are waging a vendetta against the world. Really, there are more unhappier non-New Yorkers, really.

Suffice to say that the happier New Yorkers are not online most of the time filling out happiness inventory tests but are out enjoying life.

This New Yorker, however, enjoys whatever she does - online or offline...if she's in the mood for it and often, the planets are aligned just right to conspire to make her joyful.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Viva Italia!!!

Italy played their best game of all time. Proof : they are the 2006 World Cup Champions.



In New York, my friends and I came to a bar int he lower East Side at 1130 AM to realize that it was already filled to the brim with World Cup followers dressed in their ITALIA shirts or Azzuri jerseys. Some even had the Italian flag draped over their shoulders. And the game wasn't scheduled to start until 2 PM! We ended up going back to midtown to the same bar where we had watched Italy win over Germany last 4th July.

The first half of the game quickly brought a score each for the two teams. One for France for a penalty shot by team captain Zinedine Zidane and one by Italy from a headbutt by Marco Matterazi from a corner kick. The rest of the game had been a an extensive scoreless nail biter that eventually went into overtime with also no winning result. For the deciding penalty kick, Italy was perfect while France's David Trezequet missed his goal.

The burst of cheer and exaltations from most everyone at the bar signalled Italy's triumph for the World Cup. The players were a rush of blue in Berlin's stadium as they cheered, hugged, and congratulated each other.






And what a way to end his career. Zinedine Zidane, who had played a very impressive game so far displayed the worst sportsman attitude when he headbutted Marco Materrazzi in the last 10 minutes of the regular game. The powerful charge had sent Materrazzi to the ground grimacing in the pain and although the referee had missed it the first time, the assistant referee had seen it and with a red card citation, sent the team captain out of the field and into disgrace.



It is understandable that the passion and the pressure of the game can become overwhelming when you are playing to represent your country. I feel bad therefore when professional players, who are looked up to by children as their role models lose their cool and become really bad examples.

Such a waste, Zidane.... a beautiful career but a lousy exit!


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Forza Azzurri!

8 July 2006 - Germany has won over Portugal (3-1) today for the 3rd place of the 2006 World Cup. Tomorrow, the Italian national team goes against France for the premier title in the world of football, or soccer - as it is called in the US.


When France won against Portugal in the semi finals last Wednesday, Joy was quick to email me. "Vive les blues," she noted understandably accepting that she and I will be cheering for opposite sides of the field. Hey, I love the French as much as they have embraced me when I came to visit last year but my heart beats for team Azzurri.


I had never really been a fan of football back in Manila. I only remember probably once, when I couldn't sleep and turned the TV on at 3AM to watch the game between Brazil and another team (Brazil won so I remembered). I found it exciting but without much knowledge of the rules of the game, it was nothing more than entertainment for me.

Here in New York where I am surrounded mostly by Europeans who live and breathe football during the World Cup season, I am suddenly drawn to the game. It is exciting and I can imagine, quite exhilirating for players to be running back and forth across a huge field kicking and jumping in 80 degree weather. When I get lost in the rules of the game it is easy to turn to the person next to me and ask what is going on. It is amazing that it is acceptable for the preliminary games to end in a draw - when no team wins due to a tie or a nil-nil score. But from the qualifying round leading to the quarterfinals, the rules change. There are extensions to the game and if no winner comes out from it still, each team gets the chance to score from the penalty kicks. A brief 101 from someone who is still getting familiar with the game as well.

Last 4th of July before heading to the fireworks display along the East River, my friends and I met up at a bar in midtown to watch the game amidst platefuls of fries, sausages and beer. It was a long game with both Italy and Germany playing their best and so it was scoreless through the regular game and almost through the extension period. Until in the last 2 minutes, Italy scored two goals - one after the other and it brought the house down. The enthusiasm was contagious as people jumped up and cheered for the team in blue.

I called up Marco who was home in Italy. I knew he would be awake and he told me that he was watching the game with his friends. I could feel the electricity in the air - he was so happy and as always, joked that he was going to send to our German friend Karl his condolences. The thing about Marco that I truly appreciate is that his sense of humor is never amiss. It seems that nothing in the world can ruffle his feathers and when there is cause for joy (such as his country making it to the finals of the World Cup), he is child-like. "There are celebrations in the street," he told me. "I will go down in a few minutes with my friends and celebrate with the people!"

Cheer for the hunks, Joy said to me from France, in her email. My favorite player right now is Alessandro del Piero from Team Juventus. This game should be his swan song as he is planning to retire soon because at age 32, he is already too old for the league.


Of course tomorrow I will cheer for team ITALIA. I have no jersey to show off my colours, I am not Italian by birth nor decree. I am, however, Italian by heart.

Viva Italia! Forza Azzurri!




Friday, July 07, 2006

Independence Day



4th July 2006 - After watching Italy make 2 goals in the last 2 minutes of the World Cup semi-finals against Germany, my friends and I got together and waited for the darkness of night to veil the city. We had a good vantage point along the East River to watch the Macy's fireworks show, we had a patch of grass where we devoured the snacks our friends had brought along.



We were surrounded by many New York City landmarks - the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges in the south, Roosevelt Island to our north and the emerald headquarters of the United Nations to our west. The fireworks show was spectacular and breathtaking. People oooh'd and ahh'd with each burst of color that painted the evening sky. And it wasn't just your typical splash and blotches of colorful light but smileys, boxes, hearts and even intertwined rows of light that slowly parachuted down from the sky.



If you have a high speed internet, you'd be able to enjoy the short footages I had taken of the fireworks with the Williamsburg bridge in the background. I hope you will enjoy them.