Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Loving Doorstops (or, Reading Long Books in the age of instant media)

November 27, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books

Literature is incompatible with the information age. The digital world demands speed, accessibility, connectivity, user-friendliness, interactivity. Reading requires slowness. It asks you to disengage from “the real world”, to shut out other people and listen to the writer’s voice inside your head. Even before people started Instagramming their food the way we said grace before meals in school, this was considered antisocial and possibly schizophrenic.

What, then, is the pathology of loving doorstops? By “doorstops” I mean fat novels—War and Peace, Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, anything by Neal Stephenson—and not coffee table books, which are more coffee table than book. The most famous of them were written in the era before TV and other distractions, to keep people from murdering each other while trapped indoors in pitiless winters (which is why the Russians rule this category). When I see a doorstop by a well-regarded author, I’m inclined to think that the subject is so riveting, they needed a thousand pages to do it justice. I am often wrong, but this has not turned me off doorstops.

Read our essay at BusinessWorld Weekender. Could you leave a comment reminding the online editors to put our byline?

Note to online editors: You forgot to put our byline.

These are not Photoshopped, these are actual carpets and we want them.

November 26, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Design


At first glance, Faig Ahmed’s carpets look like digital photos that didn’t load right the first time you clicked on them. Intricate patterns morph into messes of pixelation; blocks of color slide off like someone scrolled past them too fast; and some of the 2D mats look like they are bulging off a screen. But while they may appear to be software glitches or bad Photoshop editing, every one of Ahmed’s carpets are hand-woven – bugs and all.



Read about the work of Faig Ahmed at Smithsonian.

The unsettling glamour of Clarice Lispector, our sanity insurance policy.

November 25, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books

Ran into our Jedi Master yesterday, and after he recounted the most recent threats and insults he had issued to his 300,000 Twitter followers, he gave us the book he was carrying. The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector contains 86 of her short stories, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson. This is our first encounter with the work of Lispector (1920-1977), who has been hailed as the greatest Brazilian writer of the 20th century and the premier Latin American woman prose writer. We opened the hardback at random and the first story we read, The Body, was astounding. It’s about a man who lives with two women who grow to despise him because he cheats on them with prostitutes.

The stories are short, elegant, wicked, disturbing. We’ve only read three and the collection is already one of our favourite books of the year. (Chus, you’re going to love it.)

We are still reading Proust, and are halfway through Swann’s Way. It’s a slog, but we think we’re finally getting into it. To keep us from attacking random strangers with the seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, we stop every 20 pages to read some Clarice Lispector. This book is our sanity insurance.

Here’s a sample.

Clandestine Happiness
by Clarice Lispector

She was fat, short, freckled and with sort of reddish excessively frizzy hair. She had an enormous bust, while all of us were still flat chested. As if that weren’t enough, she filled the two pockets of her blouse, above her bust, with caramels. But she possessed what any child who devoured books dreamed of: a father who owned a bookstore.

She didn’t take much advantage of it. And the rest of us even less: on our birthdays, instead of at least a cheap little book, she hand delivered to each of us a picture postcard from her father’s store. To top it off, it was a scene of Recife, where we lived, with more bridges than you could ever see. On the back, she would write in the most highly embroidered script words like “birth date” and “fond memories.”

But what a talent she had for cruelty. She was pure vengeance, noisily chewing her caramels. How this girl must have hated us, we who were unforgivably pretty, thin, tall, with smooth hair. On me she practiced her sadism with a calm ferocity. In my longing to read, I didn’t even notice the humiliations to which she subjected me: I continued to beg her to lend me the books she didn’t read.

Until the great day came when she started to practice her Chinese torture on me. As if by chance, she told me that she had The Adventures of Little Nose, by Monteiro Lobato.

It was a thick book, my God, it was a book to live with, eating it, sleeping it. And it was completely beyond my reach. She told me to come to her house the next day and she would lend it to me.

Until the next day I became the very anticipation of joy: I wasn’t living, I was swimming slowly in a gentle sea, the waves carrying me to and fro.

The next day I went to her house, I literally ran there. She didn’t live in an apartment like me, but in a house. She didn’t ask me in. Looking straight into my eyes, she told me that she had lent the book to another girl, and that I should come back the next day to get it. Open mouthed, I left slowly, but soon hope took hold of me again completely and I started leaping along the street, which was my strange way of going through the streets of Recife. This time I didn’t fall: the promise of the book led me on, the next day would come, the days that followed would be my whole life, love of the world was waiting for me, and I went leaping through the streets as always and I didn’t fall even once.

But things weren’t that simple. The secret plan of the bookstore owner’s daughter was quiet and diabolic. The next day I was at the door of her house with a smile and a beating heart. Only to hear her calm reply: the book still wasn’t there, I should return the next day. I could scarcely have imagined how later on, in the course of my life, the drama of “the next day” was going to repeat itself accompanied by my beating heart.

And so it continued. For how long? I don’t know. She knew that it was an indefinite time, so long as the bile hadn’t drained completely from her thick body. And I had begun to guess, which is something I do, that she had chosen me to suffer. But, actually guessing it, I sometimes accept it: as if the person who wants to make me suffer wickedly needs me to suffer.

Continue reading.

* * * * *

From 1977: One of Clarice Lispector’s last interviews. Thanks to Richard for the link. Richard is the president of the Philippine chapter of the Clarice Lispector Obsessives (unless there is a challenger). He reminded us that Lispector has been described as having the looks of Marlene Dietrich and the mind of Virginia Woolf. She’s like your cool, twice-divorced aunt who had a very long cigarette holder and taught you about birth control. Or Rita Gomez.

Belgians respond to terror raids with cats

November 25, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Current Events, Places


When, on Sunday evening, Belgian police asked citizens not to tweet about the armed operations that were being carried out around the country, anyone could have been excused for reacting with fear.

Belgian forces – searching for suspects in the aftermath of the Paris attacks – told citizens to stay indoors and not go near their windows for safety reasons.

They also appealed for social media silence about any police action users might witness – presumably to keep the suspects in the dark.

A tense time, no doubt. But Belgium reacted – how else? – with cats.

Continue reading.

Conan in Armenia: At the market

November 25, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Television

Art auctions are a spectator sport

November 23, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Art

Kiss of Judas by Napoleon Abueva, starting bid Php400,000

Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga, starting bid Php700,000

Talking Birds by H.R. Ocampo, starting at Php1.8M

If you want to convert your cash into a piece of Philippine art history, there’s Vicente Manansala’s “Mother and Child” from 1971, opening bid Php2M; a landscape by Botong Francisco, oil on board, Php2M; “Talking Birds” from H.R. Ocampo’s transitional period, starting at Php1.8M, and Napoleon Abueva’s sculpture in oak, “Kiss of Judas”, Php400,000. If you’ve decided that anyone can buy a Birkin and a Jaguar, but art always has cachet, there’s Ronald Ventura’s take on Leonardo’s Vitruvian man, “In Memorial”, starting at Php7M. If your money makes you feel guilty, contemplate the Passion of the Christ with a three-foot image of the Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga. Made in Manila in the 1800s, the image ponders the whips, crown of thorns, hammer and nails at the center of the Catholic religion. Php700,000 opening bid.

Unless you’re very rich, the most memorable part of that last paragraph is the money. By my estimate, art auctions are 20 percent art and 80 percent commerce. I’ve looked in on a couple of auctions to watch people spend money without blinking, and they are not like the proper, gracious affairs in movies like North by Northwest. They’re more like sabong (cockfights)—rowdy, democratic, casually-dressed and probably as lucrative. Many of the bidders choose to be invisible, sending emissaries or joining the action online. The competition can be ferocious: the excitement as a Magsaysay-Ho or a Ventura crosses the Php20M mark is intense, even if you have nothing at stake. The tension is so thick, you can feel rich by osmosis.

Read our column at

You can preview the Kingly Treasures auction from November 28 to December 4 at Leon Gallery, G/F Eurovilla I at the corner of Rufino and Legazpi Streets in Legazpi Village, Makati City. The auction is scheduled for December 5 at 2pm. To see the full catalogue and find out how to get a paddle, visit

Tinio-Gabaldon cabinet, 19th century, starting at Php3M

Blue Harbor by Jose Joya, starting at Php3.6M.

Landscape by Carlos “Botong” Francisco, starting at Php2M

Update: Reader kotsengkuba alerted us that Vicente Manansala’s Mother and Child is at the Singapore Art Museum. According to the auction catalogue, the Manansala on offer is similar to that one, but painted later. Artists did paint the same subjects over and over again.

Good sleuthing! Sharp viewers make life more difficult for forgers, although the demand for masterworks keeps them employed.