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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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You could be doing nothing, and the story will still find you.

November 21, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling

In which Jessica goes away to decompress and lands in a Rohmer-like movie.

Jessica visits her friend Anouk in Paris. Anouk is Belgian and has lived in Paris for thirty years. Upon arriving from Manila, Jessica passes out for ten hours. Anouk’s daughter Annick, who lives outside Paris, is sleeping over for the night.

When Jessica regains consciousness, she suggests Sunday brunch. Anouk says brunch is not really a thing in Paris. They go to a neighborhood café that actually serves brunch. Annick is still sleeping when they leave the apartment.

Anouk, a regular at the café, ask for a table upstairs. There’s a table free, but it has a Reserved sign. Anouk interrogates the waiter, who says the reservation was phoned in. “Aha!” Anouk says. She tells the manager that when she, a local, tried to make a reservation in the past, she was told that the café did not accept reservations. She suspects it was her accent (after 30 years in Paris).

The waiter gives them a tiny table on the ground floor. They settle in. It is draughty. When another table becomes available, they move. It is just as cramped and draughty. Anouk and Jessica eat their omelets and discuss their respective novels. Then Anouk realizes that her bag, which was under her coat, is gone.

Anouk alerts the manager. The manager checks the CCTV files. Another customer lends Anouk her phone so she can call her lost phone. It’s already on voicemail. Anouk’s house keys, passports, cards, everything, are in the bag. She decides to walk back to her apartment to catch Annick and get the spare keys. She asks Jessica to wait for the owner to give her a CCTV photo of the probable thief.

Anouk goes. Jessica waits five minutes, then the manager gives her a CCTV photo of the suspect, who looks foreign. He is not holding Anouk’s bag, so it is unclear why he has been identified as the perp. The manager and the waitress talk to Jessica very fast. Jessica took 12 units of French in college. This is her fourth visit to Paris. She has seen every Truffaut and Rohmer movie. She does not understand a word.

It is crowded in the café, so Jessica decides to wait outside. She is fascinated by a poster for a lost cat. While she is standing on the sidewalk, she sees a delivery van hit a dog. The dog, who wears a harness, yelps but runs away. Jessica prepares to join a lynch mob. Snatching bags is one thing, but hitting a dog? Jessica and several other people check on the dog. He seems alright. The van driver remonstrates with the dog’s human. The prospective lynch mob dissipates.

Jessica walks up and down the street in front of the café for 20 minutes. She could walk back to the apartment, but if Anouk isn’t there, she can’t get in anyway. She increases the radius of her walks, but always returns to the front of the cafe. She looks at a bookstore window.

Then she has to use the WC. She goes into the café and asks the manager if Anouk has returned. Yes, the manager says, but she did not know where Jessica had gone and she did not leave a number. (They probably would not have called anyway, as it is a Manila number.)

Jessica waits some more. It’s getting cold. There’s still a queue in front of the café, so maybe brunch is becoming a thing. Finally, she decides to walk back to Anouk’s house. Anouk is making phone calls. She’s had her cards cancelled, and now she has to have them replaced. In France if you lose your documents, even your supermarket membership card, you have to present a police report to get them replaced.

To be continued

Playlists for when you’re stuck in traffic 1: R.E.M.

November 20, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Music

My solution: I’m away for two weeks, and then I’m going to hole up in my house in December because I have two manuscripts to prepare for printing. (I’ve stocked up enough cat food and litter till the New Year.)

The Crash: How Ishiguro wrote a novel in 4 weeks, longhand, helped by a Tom Waits song

November 18, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Music

From 2014, the 2017 Nobel Prize winner on how he wrote his Booker Prize winner. By the time you embark on The Crash, you should have done all your research. You will need 1. Absolutely no distractions. 2. Pen and paper. 3. The right playlist.

How I wrote The Remains of the Day in four weeks
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Many people have to work long hours. When it comes to the writing of novels, however, the consensus seems to be that after four hours or so of continuous writing, diminishing returns set in. I’d always more or less gone along with this view, but as the summer of 1987 approached I became convinced a drastic approach was needed. Lorna, my wife, agreed.

Until that point, since giving up the day job five years earlier, I’d managed reasonably well to maintain a steady rhythm of work and productivity. But my first flurry of public success following my second novel had brought with it many distractions. Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my “proper” work. I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward.

So Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitatively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

Continue reading.

When an artist you admire is revealed to be a creep or worse

November 13, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Current Events, Sex

2017: the year all remaining illusions took a hit.

I wonder when Filipinos will have their #MeToo moment. Here, where we are told that the right response to sexual harassment is “Thank you” (As in, “Pasalamat ka na na-harass ka, hindi ka naman maganda”). Or “Pay up.” Wonder if (sociological) climate change will bring about a cold day in hell.

Live your life filled with joy and thunder—R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People is 25

November 11, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Music

Since last year my playlists have been obituaries. David Bowie. Prince, goddammnit. George Michael. Chris Cornell. Steely Dan (half of them). So when I was reminded that R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People was released exactly 25 years ago, I had to celebrate the fact that everyone in the band is alive!!! They’ve disbanded, but they’re alive!! They’ve had medical emergencies, rumors of impending death, and hysterical success, but they’re alive!

And Automatic For The People is still gorgeous and moving—an extended meditation on mortality that makes you want to live. The title of this post is from “Sweetness Follows”. (Turns out I didn’t misremember it after all.)

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder

I loved Automatic so much that I wore out two cassettes from listening to it constantly, and I bestirred myself to get a passport so I could watch R.E.M. in concert. The first time I ever went abroad was specifically to see R.E.M. There’s a life-changing decision.

I first heard R.E.M. on bootlegs of bootlegs borrowed from my classmate. The ringing guitars, the odd vocals, the baffling lyrics and the sudden sweet melodic turns really got to me. I still know the lyrics to “It’s The End of The World As We Know It”, Leonard Bernstein. (This sounds prophetic now: “Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered.”) Out Of Time was their big breakout: “Losing My Religion” was suddenly playing in supermarkets. But their masterpiece, I think, is Automatic For The People.

A dying person says, “I have lived a full life/And these are the eyes that I want you to remember.” Someone thinks about his youth and “The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago/Turned around backwards so the windshield shows…” It’s beautiful.

Turn on your bug zappers and stock up on taua taua tea. It’s dengue season.

November 09, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Health


Photo of Aedes aegypti mosquito from CNN. Just looking at it makes my skin itch.

Now that my eldest niece is 11, we can have actual conversations. Our common interests are tennis, notebooks, and Greek mythology. Last week she had a persistent fever that turned out to be dengue. Aargh, will we never be rid of this pestilence. (She’s okay. The taua taua tea was a big help.)

I’m fortunate never to have gotten dengue even if mosquitoes adore me. If there is one mosquito in a large room full of people, it will choose me to snack on. During nighttime garden parties, a halo of mosquitoes forms over my head. And then I discovered that they prefer my friend Juan’s blood to mine, so if he’s within five meters I am safe.

I don’t use insecticide at home because strong smells give me congestion, and my nose does not distinguish between stink and floral perfume. (The first thing I do when I get into an Uber or Grab car is to ask the driver to put the air freshener away, those things are lethal. I also avoid shampoos whose fragrance is masangsang, and ask the laundry to hold off on the fabric conditioner.) Also, the feline overlords don’t like it. I’ve tried different kinds of natural/organic insect repellent and candles, most of them citronella-based—sometimes they work, more often they don’t.

Friends recommend those UV mosquito zappers that fry the flying pestilence carriers. Dorski tells me there’s a dengue vaccine now. Lali, who’s had the more excruciating mosquito-borne infection called chikungunya, says there are four varieties of dengue so even if you’ve had dengue you could still catch the three other kinds. Load up on taua taua tea. Be careful out there.

* * * * *

Another anti-dengue measure: Boysen plans to sell a mosquito-killing paint that doesn’t harm humans. (Note: The people who run Boysen are my friends, and they have supported my projects over the years.) This video from their partner explains how it works:

Unfortunately the Food and Drug Administration has turned down their application.