Governors Island is in New York Harbor. The National Park Service administers a small portion of the north end of the island as the Governors Island National Monument, including two former military fortifications named Fort Jay and Castle Williams. The Trust for Governors Island operates the rest of the island. The Lenape originally referred to it as Paggank or nut island” because of the various chestnut, hickory, and oak trees. Historians believe that the Lenape used the island for seasonal foraging and hunting.
I visited Governors Island during Memorial Day weekend 2022. Every time I visit, I love it even more. It is a wonderful oasis in the middle of a bustling city. This photo essay is actually my second one to feature the island. The first was of a Jazz Age Lawn Party. It probably won’t’ be my last.
One cannot explore the films of Pedro Almodóvar without considering how his art was molded by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. It is also necessary to explore Franco to understand contemporary views of disability as well as Almodóvar’s portrayals.
Coup and Dictatorship
During the 1920s there was significant labor unrest, which was exacerbated by the Great Depression in the 1930s, and these things polarized Spanish citizens. The February 1936 election brought the leftist Popular Front government to power. Extreme-right wing fascists responded in July of 1936 with a coup attempt that eventually fostered a civil war. One side had the conservative Nationalists, led by Franco, who were largely made up of devout Roman Catholics, military leaders, landowners, and businessmen; the other side, were the leftist Republicans, who were largely made up of urban workers, agricultural laborers, and the educated middle class. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco marched across Spain leaving a colossal trail of death, encouraging his army to brutally kill anyone who was leftist. Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, notably captures the death and destruction on the Basque town of the painting’s namesake. After the civil war ended in 1939, Franco remained in power until he died in 1975. (Seguin 2019)
Franco’s reign was marked by sheer terror. The first two decades of Franco’s rule following the civil war saw continued repression and the killing of an unspecified number of political opponents that is estimated to be between 15,000 and 50,000 individuals. (Antonio 2010) Documents were discovered in 2010 showing that he ordered his provincial governors to compile a list of Jews while he negotiated an alliance with the Axis powers to later facilitate efforts to deport and destroy them. Other atrocities committed by his government included kidnapping the babies of leftist women (known as the lost children of Francoism) and having them raised by Catholic families and monasteries. (Reverte 2010)
Economic Policy and Disability
Franco’s economic policy of autarky, envisioned self-sufficiency through the state control of prices and industrial development within an insulated national economy severed from the international market. Labor, considered a fundamental factor for economic development, was given an important position Franco’s political agenda. Projecting a putative Catholic work ethic provided the means by which the regime could exercise its power. The Fuero del Trabajo (Jurisdiction of Labor), taking cues from FDR’s New Deal, operated in Spain as the fundamental legislation that the Franco regime was going use to address the “problem” of disability. (Del Cura 2021)
Industrialization in Spain was a noticeable phase in the historic development of addressing disability. Franco considered disability to be an obstacle to performance of work and had to be included in the general measures directed at regulating and controlling the performance of productivity. Evidence of this can be seen in the steps adopted regarding health and safety in the factories and the recovery of victims of accidents that had occurred at work. Regulations were largely aimed at preventing and addressing disability via workplace accidents. The regulations fostered occupational medicine which reinforced the idea of disability as being congruent with the medical model (The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences, while the social model says that disability is caused by the way society is ordered). It also fostered the idea that the human factor had an important responsibility in the making of accidents and encouraged an image of the victims as being guilty of their invalidity. (Martínez-Pérez 2017)
Interestingly, the most powerful contemporary disability organization in Spain dedicated to a physical disability was formed during the Franco dictatorship. The Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish National Organization of the Blind), or ONCE, was formed after the Spanish Civil War as a way of supporting the wounded and those who became disabled because of the war. Over the years it has become an umbrella-organization for the needs and rights of the physically disabled. (Newtral 2019)
Post Franco Spain and Almodóvar
Spain transitioned to a democracy after Franco’s death in 1975 and the change from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy saw the adoption of a new constitution, reforms, and an influx of younger people into politics and trade unions. Not surprisingly, democracy proved to be a more tolerant for those who had had suffered marginalization and exclusion under the Catholic and machoistic Spanish society of Franco. Censorship was gone and there was a significant increase in the production of literary, musical, and cinematic works. During the 1980s, identities of gender and sexuality that were excluded by Franco, notably women and the LGBTQ community, were celebrated, in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. (Sotinel 2010)
When Almodóvar arrived in Madrid in 1967, Franco was still in power, and, of course, the repression was also cultural. Franco’s rancorous regime had been inimical to the avant-garde movie aesthetics of the 1960’s. However, by the time Almodóvar showed up in Madrid, Franco was in his mid-seventies, and the stranglehold on artistic expression was loosening in the major cities and universities. (Sotinel 2010)
Almodóvar began directing feature films in the late 1970s. He was part of La Movida, a post-Franco counterculture movement, and we can see this time reflected in early films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Average Girls); Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion); and ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! (What Have I Done to Deserve this?) His early films were transgressive, not unlike John Waters’ early work, and featured transgender people, bondage, rape, and a lot of drug use and sex. They often blurred the lines between funny and repulsive as well as high and low art. As Almodóvar’s career continued to progress, his films continued to blur the lines between comedy and drama as well as LGBTQ and straight. In 1985, Almodóvar and his younger brother set up their production company, El Deseo (The Desire). Almodóvar’s films are produced on very humble budgets and creating his own production company allowed him the freedom to shoot scripts chronologically, which is not a common practice. Almodóvar feels that a chronological approach produces more convincing performances. (Duncan 2017) The first film he produced via El Deseo was Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) which was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Almodóvar would win an Oscar and a Golden Globe a decade later for 1999’s Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother). (Sotinel 2010)
Pedro Almodóvar’s films reflect Spanish culture in passionate amatory and quixotic terms through a filter of studied cinematic philosophy: Hitchcock, Fassbinder, and Sirk are the benchmarks for Almodóvar to convey Spanish identity. This is embodied in Carne trémula(Live Flesh), which was loosely adapted from a Ruth Rendell novel (Almodóvar’s first time adapting material) and released in October of 1997.
Next month, in part two, we will delve into the film.
Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.
McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).
“Peut-on vivre d’un souvenir?” (“Can we live on a memory?”)
Last month I began a subscription to the streaming service MUBI. I wish I had done it sooner. MUBI, which was founded in 2007, offers an ever-changing collection of selected films from around the world, introducing one new film every day. MUBI also produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and established filmmakers. This is the third review I have written since subscribing. Recently, I had the absolute joy to watch the 1968 French Film, Wall Engravings.
Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé is the French title) was written and directed by Guy Gilles and tells the story of Jeanne, a young woman reflecting on her relationship with Jean. Jeanne loves Jean deeply, but he only thinks of leaving as he can never truly embrace happiness (the film succinctly explores the couple’s respective psychologies). One day, he leaves and then dies. Jeanne will never know the truth because her father is keeping it a secret because he is worried about her state of mind. In Jean’s absence, she remembers him and confides in her friend Pierre, detailing their stay in Provence. She asks, “Can we live on a memory?” In this film, love is interrupted by departure (death) and explored from an obsessive untangling of the past. The past that is explored is brief and slowly becoming opaque for Jeanne.
The film’s direction and cinematography are nothing short of breathtaking. The scenes shot in black and white are in the present while those in color narrate moments from the past. It embraces still photography and reminds me of a time when we able to contemplate actors and scenery without constant cutting and excessive movement of the camera.
I also want to applaud Macha Méril’s brilliantly understated and restrained performance as Jeanne: she truly comes across as someone deeply hurt trying to keep it together. I found myself later wondering if Jeanne would ever find out about Jean’s death and how she may have reacted to it. I even wondered who Jeanne, an artist, would have become and who she might be in 2022. Did the loss of Jean foster her art? Death, in a way, is an act of living in art (and cinema).
If you have ever had a short, but passionate, love affair that you never got over, you will not want to miss this film.
Media Literacy is the ability to decipher media messages and their points of views as well as the systems in which they exist (e.g., social media). Being literate in the 21st century means being media literate. We are constantly being bombarded with messages everywhere in both straightforward and subliminal ways. I have been paying very close attention to this for the last two decades after learning that children could not distinguish between advertisement and programming. Unfortunately, since the repeal of the fairness doctrine, news has largely become infotainment, more concerned with ratings and profits than reporting. Social media has been a bloody, double-edged sword when it comes to media literacy.
A couple of years ago, a Twitter page mysteriously appeared in my feed called “Explore Credit Unions” (sometime late last year they changed the name to “Reform Credit Unions.”) I have been a member of credit unions in the past and have had very good experiences with them. In case you don’t know, a credit union is a financial institution that is similar to a bank, with similar services, but it is a member-owned cooperative operated on a non-for-profit basis. They largely work with individuals who would often be turned away at banks. For example, feminist credit unions in the 1970s worked to bypass sexist financial institutions by supporting women’s economic decisions and funding women’s businesses (until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, most banks required a woman to present a male cosigner—her father if she was single and her husband if she was married).
I know credit unions are not without their problems, however the twitter feed for “Reform Credit Unions” implies that they are freeloaders avoiding taxes. My heightened media literacy skills tells me that “Reform Credit Unions” is a distraction, notably away from big banks who caused the economic crisis of 2008. I would also like to note that when there are problems at credit unions, there is justice. Not so with the big banks in 2008—virtually no one was arrested or publicly shamed. Therefore, I find what “Reform Credit Unions” is doing vile—if you truly care, why are you not criticizing banks? I constantly reply to their Tweets and all this time they have never replied to anything I have written (which leads me to think that this Twitter page may be automated).
On January 4, 2022, I was responding to posts from “Reform Credit Unions” and stumbled across another feed called “Tax The Credit Union Cartel” and I, just seeing the name, sloppily assumed that it was another “Reform Credit Unions” and wrongly referred to it as crisis actor for big banks. Again, I made this assumption on the basis on of the name of the feed. Also, the feed itself is less than a month old and only has four followers as of yesterday. I would never have made that statement if a real name was used.
The day after, “Tax The Credit Union Cartel” threatened legal action against me. It was then that I took the time to read what Mr. Carlton Roark is working on. I deleted my tweets. Furthermore, they were not liked or re-Tweeted.
I don’t have that much sway on Twitter. Just scroll my feed and see how many “likes” I typically have. Most of my interaction is with the Film Twitter community and other creative people. Between my little sway on Twitter and Mr. Roark’s new presence and small following I am pretty sure no one saw my Tweets. Regardless, I apologize for rushing to judgment and making wrong statements and generalizations.
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
The concept of pure cinema has roots in silent film, when filmmakers had to tell a story visually without spoken dialogue. Red Moon Tide is indeed pure cinema for the 21st century: it was filmed on a digital camera and does have dialogue, sound, and music but employs it parsimoniously. It is a feast for the eyes. My lone regret is that I did not see it in a movie theater, but via the streaming service Mubi (but I am thankful for that).
The film is set in the Galicia region of Spain and revolves around the disappearance of Rubio, a fisherman who believed a sea monster was responsible for diminished fishing (as opposed to overfishing or pollution) and hunts it down. Rubio is a local legend in his own right, known for recovering the corpses of shipwrecked sailors. In his absence, the town literally comes to a standstill. Most people in this film essentially stand still (except for three witches), while life around them goes on: horses run, birds sing, water trickles and crashes. Rubio’s story is recounted poetically in voiceover by the residents of the Galician village.
Camille Paglia, in Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, noted in the introduction how the modern eye is constantly exposed to flashing images everywhere via mass media (she wrote that even when one is pumping gasoline, there is often a television screen on top of the pump). Paglia states that we must relearn how to see and find focus: “…The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception—best supplied by the contemplation of art.” I want to applaud the director, Lois Patiño, for fostering pure cinema in a digital world ruled via smartphones by embracing and incorporating elements of still photography. In today’s movie market, too many films are made for those with short attention spans using cutting and camera work does not allow one to consider composition, scenery, and the actors. This film allows you to do all that and more. I feel fulfilled and will always remember this film as a masterpiece in my personal history of cinema. I hope that somehow, someway, this film is released in American theaters. We need less smartphones and more slow looking, focus and the grandeur of the movie screen.
* P.S. If you have previously read my blog, you know I also love all things comic books and superheroes, but that is not all I consume. I concurrently love popular culture and high art. They can and should co-exist in your world of entertainment and education.
Yesterday, on July 30, 2021, I visited The Met. I primarily went to see the Alice Neel: People Come First exhibition (another blog entry to follow). Of course, I brought my camera. From the moment I got off the train at Penn Station, I found myself pointing my camera upward. After the museum, I wandered around Central Park and Manhattan. It was the first time I had wandered around Manhattan since the summer of 2019. While I was cognizant of the gentrifying construction horrors on what is now being called “billionaire’s row”, it was still a shock to see how much of the skyline had changed—and not for the better. I prefer the skyline when Essex House was what dominated the southwestern side of Central Park.
I hope you enjoy this photo essay. Let me know in the comments below what you think.
Physicians in 17th-century Europe who cared for plague victims wore a mask with a long, bird-like beak that now has a menacing implication. The reason behind the beaked plague mask was to protect the doctor from miasma: before knowledge of germs, physicians believed that the plague spread through poisoned air. Sweet and pungent perfumes were thought to fumigate plague-stricken areas. Plague doctors filled masks with theriac, a compound of 55 plus herbs and other components like myrrh and honey. The beak shape of the mask would give the air sufficient time to be immersed by the protective herbs before it hit the doctor’s nostrils and lungs.
“Wear a mask.” In 2020, this was a really loaded declaration (and will likely continue to be in 2021 and beyond). As The Washington Post reported in July of that year, “at the heart of the dismal U.S. coronavirus response” is a “fraught relationship with masks” as well as “faulty guidance from health authorities, a cultural aversion to masks and a deeply polarized politics have all contributed.” National Geographic noted that humans are experts at interpreting faces and generally use the whole face to interpret emotion which is why wearing masks for health and safety can present some social and cultural obstacles.
Widespread use of masks is critical not just for health reasons but also for social ones. According to researcher Mitsutoshi Horii, when only sick or vulnerable people wear masks, it singles them out, making them targets for fear and stigma. By fostering a culture of mask-wearing, people are showing solidarity with each other and cooperating to ease the strain on their fellow humans. 
The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman).
Thirty years ago, tonight, the world bid farewell to 1990. It was quite the year for me.
I will never forget how 1990 started: I was working for The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) and was stationed alone in Tompkins Square Park at the stroke of midnight. PEP was part of the disgusting war, fostered by gentrification (i.e., the wealthy), on homeless people. PEP’s presence in Tompkins Square Park was part of the aftermath of the 1988 riots. I am deeply ashamed of essentially working against the homeless and working indirectly for the gentrifiers, but I will save that for another blog entry.
My life changed a lot in 1990, notably marked by a devastating heartbreak. Thirty years later, I reflect on this key year in my life with the music that defined the time as I am once again facing devastating heartbreak. Not all of the songs on this playlist are from 1990; some are from 1989 and 1991, but they embody what I was going through, the heartache with moments of exuberance.
On December 31, 1990, I was thankfully off from my job with PEP and was able to spend time with my friends. Earlier that week, I had visited Tower Records and picked up the album, Red Hot + Blue, a compilation album from the Red Hot Organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture. I first listened to the album while getting ready to go out for the coming New Year. The last song, “Do I Love You?” by Aztec Camera was perhaps the best way to conclude that year as well as 2020.
I am proud that I was able to put this playlist together. Just a few years ago, I could not listen to some of these songs because of the memories they stirred. Today I embrace them as a comprehensive part of the soundtrack of my life.
The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman). The playlist featured in this blog entry was easier to compile because it features one artist.
Amy Winehouse. I still miss her.
It has been nine years since she passed away and I often contemplate her missed potential. She was concurrently gruff and tender, but soulful and true. If you think about the state of the pop scene when she rose to prominence, she was a truly authentic voice, not a manufactured cookie cutter. She was the real deal.
She only gave us two albums (Frank and Back to Black), but they were nothing short of extraordinary. A posthumous compilation album (Lioness: Hidden Treasures) was released that contained unreleased songs and a new one that was completed by Nas.
I put this playlist together in January of 2012 and have not changed it once. It is one of the few playlists I have ever gotten right on the first try. The first time I listened to it was on the express bus home and I arrived at my stop just as the last song was playing. I remember I got off the bus and stood there until the song finished. And even after it was over, I stood there for another minute in silence.
The last song on this playlist is “Love is a Losing Game.” I consider this to be her masterpiece. And while this song is indeed an achievement in songwriting, arrangement, recording, and voice, I will always wonder about what could have been.
Today is July 10, 2020. The coronavirus continues to rage on in the United States while Republicans continue to politicize wearing a mask. Today,The New York Times noted that the United States was the biggest source of new coronavirus infections, reporting more than 59,880 cases as it set a single-day record for the sixth time in 10 days. Make no mistake and spin it all you want, this is because of Trump failed to coordinate a national effort.
The New York Times published another story today on how ICE helped spread the coronavirus:
“Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them.”
Speaking of ICE, the United States is STILL caging the children of individuals seeking asylum—many of whom are from Latin America.
During this event, Unanue bizarrely said the United States was “blessed” to have Trump as its leader.
While I truly applaud the company’s humanitarian efforts, I have to wonder if Unanue has been living under a rock these last three years? Trump is enormously unpopular among Latinx Americans: according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, Latinx Americans favor Biden over Trump by a 36 percentage-point margin. The timing of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative is curious.
The following day, Unanue went on to Fox “news” to say he wasn’t going to apologize. He claimed a double standard in the reaction to his remarks about Trump, noting that he accepted an invitation from Michelle Obama in 2012 to an event that promoted the former first lady’s healthy-eating initiative. Unlike the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, the healthy-eating initiative had been in full swing by 2012 and President Obama was not trying foster divisiveness. In short, Unanue was simply acting as a cog in Trump’s publicity machine.
Predictably, conservatives belly-ached about freedom of expression. Unanue indeed has the right to express himself, but I also have the right to no longer buy Goya products (in spite of the fact that they employ many Puerto Ricans) and express it. Maybe the company needs a change of leadership, much like the United States does right now. My message to Unanue is to look at what Trump does, not what he says.
Looking into my pantry, it is FILLED with Goya products and I have to plan on how I am going replenish them once I have consumed them (and to anyone thinking about throwing out Goya products, don’t be foolish—eat it or donate it). I would like to present you with some possible alternatives.
Sazon: I have not tried these, but it seems that Iberia also produces this (with achiote).
Tomato paste and sauce: Again, we have Iberia as well as an assortment of other companies. I have tried the organic brand, Muir Glen, and it is very good, but more expensive.
Beans: Again, Iberia, like Goya, offers canned and dry varieties. I have tried the canned beans by Eden Foods and they are quite good (expensive, but organic). In a pinch, I once used Bush’s kidney beans and they were quite good.
Rice: If you can find Vitarroz (I feel their presence in stores has diminished in the last few years, and the company doesn’t appear to have a website); I actually prefer to use sushi rice (which is a lot like Valencia rice) when I make the classic rice and beans and having been using the one produced by RiceSelect for several years now.
Empanada dough: This was a tough one because I have been using the Goya discs for a very long time. Then I remembered that my Mother used La Fe.
Frozen banana leaves: These are often used for pasteles, but Asian markets also sell them.
Frozen yuca: Since I discovered Goya packaged these, I started using them for my pasteles as they save a ton of time. Thankfully, La Fe packages them as well.
I feel like Unanue is having his ‘shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing voters’ moment—I can shoot my mouth off and praise Trump and I won’t lose customers. Words matter and let’s show Unanue how much they do.