Posts tagged “culture

to tv or not to tv: that is the question

…Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of paying a fortune,
Or to take arms against a web of troubles,
And by unplugging end them: to Wi-Fi, to stream
No more; and by a stream, to say we end
The buffering, and the 320+ premium channels
That Dish is heir to?

Clearly I have a bit too much fun with this stuff.

My point is – I haven’t owned a TV in eight years.  But I’m moving very soon, and Time Warner is dangling the cable carrot at a very palatable price if I bundle it with Internet.

Ach!  What to do?  I’ve developed an identity around being TV-free.  I’m kind of attached to it, even though I try to practice non-attachment (“practice” being the key word).

There is a certain cachet about not having a TV.  It’s like being an ex-pat, which I’ve been.  Or not drinking coffee (which I gave up in January, with very good results.)

Yet my choice not to have a TV has been about other factors – it all started while I was living in London and decided there were other things I wanted to do with my time.  And I really like seeing movies in a theatre.  Since then, there’s another reason I’ve been happy to go sans TV:  information overload.

I must admit, there are times I’ve missed TV – during the Olympics, oncoming hurricanes, and the Oscars.

Now the question is, do I go there?  And, if so, in what form?  I definitely don’t need a bunch of channels.  I just want to be able to stream Netflix and finally watch Downton Abbey when the next Snowpocalypse hits – on something larger than my laptop.  And have an Oscars party.

But there are so many options, my head is spinning.  Internet + basic cable?  Internet + Smart TV?  Regular TV + Apple TV?  Or some weird thing called Roku?  Then there’s the issue of suppliers.  RCN is out since it’s not supported by my new building.  And Verizon would mean I’d need to get a landline, another thing I’m happy going without.

Bottom line:  I like to streamline.  And stream.

Of course, all this means that I’d also need to, er, buy a TV.  But not necessarily cable.

So I’m opening up the floor – I’d love to hear your solutions and recommendations.  Do you hook-up your computer to your TV or use an external device?  If so, which one?  Am I hopelessly disconnected for asking this in the first place?  What’s the minimum Internet speed I need to be able to watch streaming content seamlessly?

worth posting for: love stories from storycorps

I haven’t posted in so long, I was worried I’d forgotten how to use WordPress.  Thankfully, I’m here.   As for the blog slump – I’ve been feeling that I only want to post something that’s truly worth it.  And this is.

Tonight I went to a magical event presented by WNYC – the public radio station I worked at while I was new and wide-eyed in the city and doing my Master’s degree at NYU.  At the time, it was my dream to be a part of WNYC.  So I went down to the old location at One Centre Street by the Brooklyn Bridge, stood awestruck looking up at the majestic Municipal Building, then went back to my student-housing studio and drafted a passionate letter to the head of human resources.  It worked.

14 years and two transatlantic moves later, I’m at Bonhams – the auction house on Madison Avenue – for the launch of All There Is: Love Stories From StoryCorps.

In case you haven’t heard of StoryCorps, the independent nonprofit has gathered over 40,000 interviews since 2003 from over 60,000 people who’ve stepped into “StoryBooths” all over the country.  The intimate, moving conversations are recorded and preserved at the Library of Congress.  You can listen to them every Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition.

While the stories are varied, there’s a common theme:  we’re not all that different – no matter where we come from, we all share similar hopes, fears, and the desire to be loved.

Tonight, it was all about love.  As StoryCorps founder Dave Isay put it, these stories are about hope and serendipity – about finding love in unexpected places, and finding love when it was thought it wasn’t to be found.  The book is also a testament to the value of relationships and commitment.  My favorite quote of the night: “Being married is like having a color television set.  You never want to go back to black and white.”

No, wait. I think my favorite quote is this one:  “And then we had a honeymoon that lasted 63 years.”

Buy the book, cry like I did, and support this important initiative – StoryCorps is now the largest oral history project of its kind.  And this incredibly inspiring collection reminds us that love really is…all there is.

five more reasons to love new york

Al Mazur with his new fans at the 92nd Street Y

At the beginning of Love Etc., a new documentary, we see a couple in bed, limbs entwined under a mound of crinkled sheets.

“I have to move the car,” mumbles one of them.

It’s a slice of New York romance – and one of five real stories shot over the course of a year throughout the boroughs.

I was at the sneak preview last night at the 92nd Street Y.  The characters range in age from 18 to 89, but one story truly captured my heart:  that of Albert and Marion Mazur of Canarsie, who celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary shortly after the film was completed.  Their tenderness for each other was palpable in every scene – right down to Al’s careful slicing of his wife’s peanut-buttered toast when she became too frail.  Marion had always taken care of everything around the house, but now it was Al’s turn.

“Do you want to listen to the radio?” asks Al as they sit down to eat.

“I’d rather listen to you,” replies Marion, without missing a beat.

We’re treated to more lessons of love as we watch Al and Marion.  They didn’t always see eye to eye; it’s just that every disagreement ended with a mutual agreement to “start over.”  Al said that his 48 years of marriage had felt like 48 minutes.

Marion passed away a few months ago, and Al spoke about their enduring story during the Q&A: “I really don’t know where the time went.”  Then he told us their secret:

“We lived our lives together, but separately.  That was really it.”

He tried to get her to exercise with him, but it really wasn’t her thing.  She was into political events while he wasn’t, so she’d often do that on her own.  Yet their joint dream was to have a musical hit, and their baby was a song they called “Every Day’s A Holiday in Brooklyn.” Even then, they preserved their individual identities and fused them into a beautiful whole:

“I wrote the music line, and she wrote the story line.”

Love Etc. opens this Friday in New York City.

what to do with your mom in new york

Mother figure: Fernando Botero’s “Eve” at the Time Warner Building

For me, there’s only one way to travel:  with the tongue.  My trips revolve around food.  It’s something I learned from my mother, who trained me to eat out since before I could chew.  So when my mom was preparing to visit me last week, I first made a list of my regular haunts to introduce her to.  Then I looked at the list and sighed.  There was no way we could hit them all in the time she was here.

Here’s what we ended up doing – with a few non-gustatory attractions thrown in.  Bear in mind I live in the Village and wanted her to get a feel for my neighborhood, so most of these are downtown…

Day 1

Mom wanted tapas since she can’t get them in Orlando.  This threw a bit of a wrench in the plans since, even though I love Spanish food, it’s not a regular thing for me.  We followed a Time Out tip to Las Ramblas on West 4th which, disappointingly, didn’t score highly with us.  If I had a redo, I would have taken her to Pipa; and that’s where you should take your mama, too.

Day 2

If you’re not a theater buff, Broadway tickets are going to shock you.  But it’s mom we’re talking about here, so you’d better shell out.  We headed to the TKTS booth in Times Square on a sweltering day, but don’t bother.  Here’s the trick:  go to the theater’s box office 45 minutes before the performance and wait for returns.  That’s where you’ll get the best prices.  And, even though I cringed at the idea, Sister Act, it turns out, is surprisingly fun for both mother and child.

After that, we jumped on the A train down to High Street for legendary Grimaldi’s pizza.  Getting there post-matinee – around 5pm – was key.  No usual marathon wait, and you’re out the door for a scoop at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory faster than you can say “mamma mia.”

Day 3

When your mom is a Cuban Catholic and your dad is a Russian Jew, there’s one thing you gotta do: get a history lesson at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum followed by an order of blintzes at B&H.

Did you know that if you live in an apartment building, you live in a tenement?  The root “tener” is Latin for “to hold,” and a tenement is simply a building that holds at least three families.  During the museum’s tour of the Orchard Street residence, you and your mom will also learn about the Prussian homemaker whose husband went to work and never returned (he skipped out on the family and was later discovered in Ohio), and, conversely, about the Italian cabinetmaker who went to great lengths to sneak his wife into the country sans papers.

Oh, I nearly forgot:  we started the day at the best breakfast (with the strongest coffee) in town:  Cafe Mogador.

Day 4

A place with 8 little tables and the best panini this side of Italy is special, as is your mom.  So take her to ‘ino on Bedford Street, where she’ll swoon over the stellar cheeses and fixings encased in perfectly pressed ciabatta.  Wash down with their freshly squeezed OJ, then head uptown for a stroll around the lower portion of Central Park before sinking your spoons into a lofty – and shareable – chocolate soufflé at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle.

At night, go to Suzie’s Finest Chinese Cuisine on Bleecker Street for old times’ sake – it’s where my mom and I ate when she moved me here in 1997 for grad school.  The food’s not so fine anymore; and maybe it wasn’t back then, either.  But I was 22 and had a lot to learn.

Wander up to Rocco so mom can pick up a real cheesecake as her carry-on luggage.  A very important detail they didn’t teach at NYU.

Have a glass of vino at my local Tavern on Jane – where the tables are draped with white paper and topped with big fat crayons.  A great spot to meet friends, talk for hours, and listen to your mom’s words of wisdom.

Day 5

Run over to Murray’s Bagels on 6th Ave between 12th and 13th for half a dozen so she can fulfill the remaining carry-on quota.  They’re each hot in the bag, crusted over with the necessary sprinklings, and worth every $1.15.

That’s all, kids.

improvised interview (video): taylor and his ukulele, greenwich village

I was instantly enchanted by this 14-year-old hanging out on 8th Street with his ukulele.  Turns out he was keeping watch outside Electric Studios, where a famous recording artist is putting together his latest CD.  I wish I could tell you who it is, but Taylor swore me to secrecy.  Still, he very graciously agreed to my filming him.  Watch as he talks about what drew him to the “uke,” what he likes about New York, and his big dream.  Then listen to him play.  I love the way he can’t keep himself from strumming while he’s talking.

Note: after checking in with the Apple Store, I now know I need to hold the iPhone horizontally to get full picture.  Next time.  Oh, and please leave comments below for Taylor – he’ll be reading!

stopped me in my tracks: “still”

I listen to WNYC Radio every day.  It’s my television.  Last week, I had to pay extra attention when they featured this song from Gretchen Parlato’s new album.  It instantly tugged at my heart.  And it’s no wonder.  From NPR’s website:

It feels as though Parlato, who wrote the words to music by bassist Alan Hampton, is sharing a private meditation at 11 beats per measure, about being true to the ideal of love no matter what happens.


watcha reading on, stranger?

I need a better camera, but you get the picture.  Saturday morning I set off on my usual walk to the East Village, except I wasn’t sure the whole way there whether I’d wind up at Veselka for Salmon Latka Eggs Benedict, or at the Belcourt for Vanilla Bourbon French Toast.

Deciding it was a counter day, I turned left on St. Marks Place for Veselka.  Halfway through my second hollandaise-drenched egg, a man appeared next to me with a Kindle.  Now, I don’t usually make idle chit chat with strangers at restaurants, mostly because eating out alone for me is me time, and I respect that in others as well.  But I had to say something – he had a Kindle.

Since I posted my thoughts about how social media will affect publishing, I’ve been obsessed with doing on-the-spot research with people on how they’re reading what they’re reading.

Turns out this guy was happy to oblige in Kindle conversation, and it also turns out he’s a pretty successful documentary filmmaker in Australia (I didn’t find out exactly how successful until I went to his site.)

His name is John Safran, and we talked until his chicken soup got cold, about the usual stuff – you know, scandalous Catholic romances, Jewish dating practices, and, of course, the demise of traditional publishing.  John loves his Kindle, and he showed me all the fancy features on it, like being able to control how much text appears on the screen.  I marveled at the clarity of the reading and also at how John, who has been living out of a suitcase for several weeks, managed to look so spiffy – his stylish clothes were perfectly pressed.

Whenever I’m carrying a “real” paper book, I feel like I’m lugging around a relic.  And putting mine up against John’s slim little Kindle, I also felt kind of retro – not in a cool way.  Also, isn’t it interesting that Kindle has more of a “Lovemark” than Nook?  I want a Kindle, not a Nook.  Or maybe I just want an iPad.

Either way, I’m just waiting for the price of all of them to come down.  And when they do, you can be sure that the current explosion we’re seeing in self-publishing is going to be of the Big Bang variety.

What about you?  Do you have an eReader?  Why did you choose yours?

tastes and topics at tolaoche

Grasshopper Tacos at Tolaoche, photo courtesy of Lyana Fernández

My last post, Eat Like A Man, Look Like A Woman, seems to have struck a nerve – it got the highest views of any post since I started the blog in December.  Thank you!  Twitter had a lot to do with it, and for that I need to thank Lyana, an old friend from Miami and fellow Cuban American.

Lyana is largely responsible for finally getting me on Twitter two weeks ago after years of absolute resistance to the idea.  On Saturday night, we went to Tolaoche, a Midtown Mexican restaurant that’s getting great reviews.  When we sat down, the manager welcomed us to “the best Mexican in town.”  I told him that was a fairly large claim, and that we’d have to see about that.

He wasn’t making it up.  As we were wowed (and sometimes shocked) by every plate that came out, the conversation bubbled about the rise of social media – specifically Twitter – and what it means for the future.

Here’s the menu of tastes and topics we covered over the course of 3+ hours.

The House-made Sangria and The Notion of Celebrity

Whereas celebrities were once untouchable, Twitter evens out the playing field by giving everyone the same platform.  James Franco and I are both on Twitter.  Conceivably, I could send him an @ message he might respond to (particularly if I tell him I am inclined to proofread his Tweets – more on that below).  Anybody can be a celebrity today, but that doesn’t mean people are getting paid for it.  Lyana brings up the example of Jenna Marbles, a woman who gets over 12 million views on YouTube but doesn’t make a cent out of it…yet.

Grasshopper Tacos and Forgotten Grammar

I couldn’t even think about touching these tacos, but Lyana devoured them with relish.  Meanwhile, I lamented the sure death of proper punctuation.  Texting started it; Facebook sealed it.  My biggest pet peeve: the lack of commas in direct address.  Witness:

“Love your new haircut Justin!”

“Great mug shot Charlie.”

“Thanks for the ‘tape’ Kimmy.”

All of these should have a comma before the person being addressed.  Same goes for a simple greeting, thus: “Hi, Lady Gaga!” is the correct form.  Make the Internet a better place; love the comma and use it.  Don’t let it die!

Manchego & Truffle Quesadilla and The Demise of Agents & Publishers

No longer are we at the mercy of an elite minority telling us what we should read.  Lyana reminds me that this has been happening in the music industry for quite sometime, and that the written word is only just catching up.  She’s right.  And like frustrated musicians who couldn’t get a break, non-agented writers are feeling liberated and inspired to buck the system.  Take Amanda Hocking, who published her young-adult paranormal novels online last year and has since sold close to half a million.

My only concern is the devaluation of proper prose because of pervasive punctuation misuse.  Then again, the dictionary is supposed to reflect modern usage and not the other way around.  Nobody is speaking Chaucer anymore.  Can you imagine those Tweets?

Pulled Pork in Tortillas and Increased Political Awareness

You’ve all been having the same conversation, I’m sure.  Established governments have toppled.  People are much more informed.  And candidates need to give as much if not more attention to building an online platform as to politicking door to door.  Social media makes people feel heard.  And with that, they feel they can make a difference.

Dessert Sampler and the Reinvention of Higher Education

I have a hard time imagining kids sitting in a lecture hall listening to information that went out of date yesterday or even having the concentration to do so given the amount of stuff competing for their attention. And will kids even care about history when what’s at stake in the present has become the predominant focus?

Naturally the education model will need to change.  Maybe we will return to a system of apprenticeship.  This is a long way off, but it’s not unforeseeable.

Play Nostradamus: what do you predict will happen in the future thanks to social media?

are we all internet inmates? (part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about Freedom, the software that disables your Internet connection for up to eight hours at a time, thus giving you the “freedom” to get work done.

If the devil lives anywhere, it must be in the idea that freedom can be bought.  Nobody argues this better than Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor.  His book Man’s Search for Meaning will change the way you think about freedom, and it’s also short enough to squeeze in between doses of the Internet.


So what happens once you download and run Freedom?  How long will it take you to find another distraction to take its place?  Will you have to lock your phone away, seal off the refrigerator, throw your to-do list out the window?

My point is that if you’re looking for an excuse not to do something, you’re going to find it; and a little piece of software isn’t going to do the trick.


Did you feel compelled to check your email the last time you were willfully and completely engaged in something?   We’re primed to get the most enjoyment out of something only when we are fully experiencing it with all our senses.  That’s why eating, sex, and sports give us so much pleasure.   I was pondering this during a most blissful breakfast of Hallumi eggs at Cafe Mogador (number two on my top eats list for The Times in London).  When I go out to eat, that’s all I do.  No reading.  No phone.  No rush.  It’s sheer ecstasy.

But if you’re not really feeling it for the thing you’re doing, then you’ll look for a way out.  Which makes me wonder about the idea of needing Freedom to get something done.  When we find it so hard to be productive because of Internet distraction, well, maybe we need to question the thing we’re avoiding.  If we’re looking for an excuse, then we haven’t found real purpose in what we’re supposed to be doing, which brings us back to Frankl.


Frankl found that his captors could take everything away from him except the ultimate freedom – the ability to choose how he would respond to his circumstances.  Those in the camps who fervently resisted their captors and lost a sense of purpose would lose it all.  But those who banded together and focused on some bright spot (whether a spouse they yearned to see again, a project they still wanted to complete, or even the beauty of sunshine breaking through the trees) would thrive and even experience joy in their horrid conditions.

It’s a Buddhist concept:  resistance is the surest path to misery; acceptance leads to happiness.  And changing the way you look at things is the true key to freedom.  It’s also free.

are we all internet inmates? (part 1)

Last week, famed British writer Zadie Smith made an appearance at NYU, my alma mater.  She was there to talk about her recent appointment as the New Books columnist at Harper’s Magazine, and yet the most riveting part of the hour-long conversation came about when Smith confessed her Internet addiction.  “Do I have an email?  Do I have an email?  Do I have an email?” she said in rapid fire, referring to her compulsion for checking messages and her need to lock her iPhone in another room.

More fascinating was the revelation that Smith uses Freedom, a program that disables your Internet connection so you can actually get some work done.  I scribbled it down and Googled it as soon as I got home.


One look at Freedom’s website, and you’ll see tons of testimonials from authors who swear they’d never get a book written if it weren’t for Freedom.  You’ll also learn Freedom costs $10 to download and is pretty simple:  you tell the program how many hours of “freedom” you want, and the clock starts ticking.

How come I’d never heard of this?  Apparently, I’m not the only one.  Nobody I’ve mentioned Freedom to knew about it, either.  But everyone can relate – we’re all Internet addicts.


You may be thinking, like I was, “Why not just turn your wireless port off?  Well, the only way to turn Freedom off – and get back online – is to re-boot your computer.  It’s that extra bit of effort Freedom is betting will make you stick to your goal – and is worth your 10 bucks.

In other words, if I’m sitting here with a bottomless plate of brownies in front of me, you can bet I’m going to plough right through them.  But if I have to actually go out and get some, well, that’s another story.

In that sense, Freedom is rather biblical:  you’re cutting off the hand that’s sinning.


At the core of Internet addiction – if it’s an addiction at all – is a yearning to be heard and to connect.  Interestingly, these are the very desires that begat the publishing industry.

Meanwhile, haven’t we rapidly moved into an era where we are absorbing stuff in chunks and in real time rather than devoting uninterrupted time to a larger work?  And shouldn’t the way we produce that stuff evolve in tandem?

It used to be that publishing was the only way to get your words out and connect with other people.   But not now, which is why institutions such as Harper’s Magazine are suffering, and why they were practically giving away subscriptions for free at the event.

We’re in the age of self-selection – no longer do we need agents, publishers, and advertisers to decide what we’re going to read.  Isn’t that the ultimate freedom?

And since, like you, I feel compelled to be heard and to connect, I want to know:  what do you think?

big screen, bullet points: blue valentine

A story about two people falling in and out of love?  Just my cup of wicked hot chocolate.  Well, that’s what Blue Valentine purports to portray.  Yesterday, I finally got around to seeing the film-festival darling from director Derek Cianfrance starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams…

  • Non-spoiler synopsis:  Diamond-in-the-rough Dean (Gosling) meets pretty, promiscuous Cindy (Williams), falls in lust with her, hunts her down, rescues her from bad situation.  Cindy falls in love with Dean’s potential, convinces herself he’s the only one who will love her, becomes disgusted by his unrealized potential…or is it the potential their relationship has knocked out of him?
  • Corny, but effective visual image:  The anatomically correct heart tattoo on Dean’s forearm.
  • How’d-they-do-that visual image:  The aging and de-aging of Gosling and Williams as the film hopscotches between the couple’s troubled, desaturated present and their tenderly illuminated – though foreboding – past.
  • Heart-stirring scene: Dean, who works for a moving company, takes extra-special care to prepare the room of an elderly widower in a nursing home.
  • Line scribbled down in the dark: “How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?”  (Cindy)
  • Line memorable enough to require no scribbling:  “Men, we’re resistant; then we meet the woman who makes us think, ‘She’s so great; I’d be a fool not to marry her’.” (Dean)
  • Not-so-subliminal pat theme: The protagonists both come from multiple-fracture homes. As Howard Jones once put it, no one ever is to blame – except your parents…and their parents.
  • Unintended viewer effect: Waiting for Gosling to pull out a notebook.
  • By the end of the film:  You’ll fall in love with Dean (just as the director wants you to – he’s the far more developed character of the two), realize the power a woman has to make or break a man (if he lets her)…and marvel at how beauty can turn men (including filmmakers) into fools.

good things come to those who do good

Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing a delightful new voice at the Bowery Wine Company (a fantastic, cozy little venue).  It belongs to Tara O’Grady, who treated us to an entire evening of jazzy holiday classics.

A few months ago, Tara’s style caught the attention of a music producer in Nashville (this is quite a big deal!) after her email account was hijacked by a spammer.  Before you start thinking this was a clever ploy on her part, check out her pipes – and the story:

I love how her music takes me back to a time when artists didn’t rely on fancy production or outrageous image crafting. Plus, I have a soft spot for people who run with their dreams and make them happen the traditional way: passion and perseverance…with modern-day ingenuity.

Tara is the real deal.  And she needs you to get her stuff out there!  In order to make her next record, she needs to raise $7,000 by New Year’s Eve – and she’s halfway there.  So, this holiday season, pledge what you can to Tara’s album fund; and kick-start some good karma in your favor (plus some freebies, too).

Am I telling you to donate simply so you can feel good and get some kickbacks from heaven in 2011?  Yes!  Besides, you help Tara, Tara gets to share her calling, and we’ll all get a much-needed dose of good ole-fashioned talent.

Happy holidays!