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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Going to Poland in May, looking for Filipinos to talk to

April 18, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling


Photo from Simply Cracow

I’ll be in Cracow, Warsaw and Gdansk in May to write additional essays for my travel book. Are you a Filipino living in Poland? I have questions for my never-ending world domination research. Let’s meet.

Since I like to read novels set in the places I’m visiting, these are my current assignments: an Alan Furst WWII spy novel, and a 19th century Polish novel. Plus some Andrzej Wajda and Kieslowski movies, and The Saragossa Manuscript, and I’m all set.

Have you been to Poland? Any recommendations?

Update: Meeting up with greeneggsnham, who is doing Central Europe. (“Sana masarap ang hopia sa Poland.” Haha)


P.S. Ngayon lang nila na-gets.

We’re forming a band. Got any suggestions?

April 16, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Music, Projects


When we sat down to brunch someone who looked like Fernando Torres was sitting outside. We should’ve taken the photo immediately because he was replaced by not Jason Statham.

Who knows what happens in my murky subconscious, but I woke up the other day thinking: I have to form a band.

So I told my friend Aye, who had an all-girl band called Chain Gang, and she said, “Let’s!” Aye plays bass and can hum the bassline of anything. In college she was our supplier of Rolling Stone and cassette bootlegs. I have no musical ability, but I have excellent training in how not to manage a band. Also I used to hang around bands and volunteer to write their liner notes. I love liner notes, if I had my way albums would look like Criterion Collection packages. (Kids, look up “albums”.)

First I have to catch up, because I stopped listening to new music in the early 2000s. At which point my musical tastes started moving backwards in time (Tom Waits, Steely Dan, bop). Aye made me a playlist which includes An Army of Lights, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Yuck. While I’m cramming, we’re waiting for a name to come to us.

– What’s Naomi (Chain Gang’s vocalist) doing now?
– She’s a voice talent for dubbed Korean TV series.
– You mean like The Prince of Boazania?
– Yup.
– Maybe we should call ourselves The Prince of Boazania.

Or Our Feline Overlords. Or Keanu Reeves.

Obviously we have to find instrumentalists. I’m thinking open auditions in June. Prince (in denial), Wendy, Johnny Marr, Peter Buck, Annie Clark and The Edge need not audition.

I’m still thinking of ground rules, but off the top of my head:
1. We just want to play.
2. Implosion is inevitable, but we’d like to delay it as long as possible.

Your thoughts?

Drogon is 6! Today he is The Oracle. Ask him all about your future.

April 12, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Cosmic Things

Happy Birthday, Drogon Targaryen-Targaryen!

Do you have questions about life, love, work, cats, sleep, tennis, hair, coffee, sex, hopia, music, dogs, space, ink, paper, travel, anything that matters? Ask The Oracle!

Post your questions in Comments or @jessicazafrascats on Instagram. Then go and feed a stray cat, or watch A Quiet Place. By the time you come back, your answer will be waiting. Quick! The Oracle gets bored easily.

* * * * *
From Shona.

Happy Name Day! I hope to survive April, the cruellest month. Will I be able to?

Drogon says: Of course you will survive April. For starters you have to drop T.S. Eliot (It’s only temporary), and muse on other lyrics about April. I do not mean “Early morning, April 4,” because we know that the assassination occurred in the evening. Also: assassination.

I suggest e.e. cummings. Not April-specific, but spring.

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Believe that all will be well.

Next!

Quarterly Reading Report: Gay England, luminous seasons, baroque and twisted Japan

April 08, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places

I just had my annual conference with my very patient accountant Lani, who can explain the soul-deadening minutiae of taxation without throwing ledgers at me. This tells me that the first quarter of the year is over and it is time for the accounting I do enjoy: the books I have read so far this year.

My personal quota is 54 books a year, or a book a week. You do not have to observe this rule, unless of course you want to. I can do it because I work in publishing so I have to know what’s out there, and also I don’t keep regular office hours so in theory I can read as much as I want to.

Even then I managed to read only eight books in three months. I have no excuse, I’ll just have to read faster in the next nine months. I read Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair—masterful, if we could scrape together several million pounds, we would buy the film rights.

Then All That Man Is, a collection of stories by David Szalay that was passed off as a novel. Yes, they have a common theme—Being a man is tough (and if you think that’s difficult, try being a woman)—but I don’t buy the packaging as a novel. Still, it is an extremely compelling read, the kind for which you have to drop everything until you’ve finished it.

Ali Smith is on my automatic-buy list, and her current project is the Seasonal Quartet, which she probably intends to complete in one year. She can, too, because for all the wordplay in her books you cannot see the effort, it just rolls along. Winter, the second book, is as wonderful as the first, Autumn. It’s joyful, cozy, ferociously intelligent and you should read it.

I finally finished David Mitchell’s number9dream, which I have been reading in bits since September. I’ve had the book for years, but saved it for when I finally visited Japan. Then I visited Japan and promptly left it in the hotel (and since it was Japan, the book was returned to me).

number9dream is endlessly clever, inventive, and intense—it’s like being in Tokyo, and I could not recommend it more. Oh and I think I get David Mitchell’s fascination with Japan (He’s only set three novels in it). Read his conversation with another Japanophile, David Peace, whose latest book is Patient X: The Case Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa is the first Japanese author I ever read, and I need to get my mitts on a copy of Patient X so I asked Juan to check out the bookstores in Hong Kong. It’s not there yet. I must get Patient X. The fact that my Tower of Unread Books grows higher by the day and haunts my dreams like Barad-Dur will not stop me.

Travel and reading are always linked in my mind. When I visit another country, I have to read a book by a local writer (or a novel set in that country). When I went to Budapest I discovered Magda Szabo and Antal Szerb—I love them so much, I wanted to change my spelling to Szafra. Paris is Patrick Modiano (and Eric Rohmer movies). In three trips to Japan I’ve amassed a dozen books which I have just started going through.

First I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World. Yeah, he’s really British, but his folks are Japanese and the novel is set in Japan. And when he acknowledged a Tom Waits song in his Nobel Prize speech, I thought, “I am going to read every word you write, even if I didn’t like The Buried Giant.” Holy crap, An Artist of the Floating World is a great book. I think of it as a rehearsal for The Remains of the Day, which is perfect. Both are about fundamentally decent men who do not rise above the narrow confines of their lives. Both are very quiet and calm until the author breaks your heart with a sentence.

Then there was Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces, most of them set in Japan, by Angela Carter (who was Ishiguro’s writing teacher). The style is baroque and just bleeding emotional torment, and…maybe another time, I have to be in the mood for this.

Fumiko Enchi’s Masks is a short and deeply twisted novel about the relationship between a formidable woman and the widow of her son. They are so stiflingly close that other people suspect a lesbian relationship. If only it were that simple. The mother-in-law manipulates the younger woman’s relationships with the two men who are in love with her, and when you figure out her end game you have to retrieve your jaw from under the table in the corner where it has taken refuge.

So eight books out of thirteen, a B- for me, but I’ll make it up.

What have you read this year?

Nella Sarabia’s optical shop reopens at Acacia Dorm in late April

April 02, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Shopping

Some good news: Our suking optical shop will reopen across the street from its former location, at Acacia Dorm on the UP Campus. (If you’ve never been there, it’s near the UP Chapel and the Infirmary.) To get ready for the happy occasion, let’s revisit some of the dozens and dozens of eyeglasses Nella has made for me. (Except for a couple of frames I bought on a Seoul bangketa, all of them are intact and usable, so there are a lot of them.)

Nella’s great-grandfather was the first optometrist in the Philippines and her entire clan is in the optical business, so she has a collection of vintage frames. Years ago, when nobody cared about vintage spectacles (“Ay, luma. Wala bang bago?”), we would root in the bag full of junk and find frames that could be spruced up and reused. (No doubt some of them had previous owners who are dead, but I’ve never had haunted glasses. Dammit I should’ve gotten Prof. Nieves Epistola’s old bangaw glasses. I would not mind being haunted by such a cool ghost.)

Incidentally, these photos were taken by Allan, who swears he only used one or two layers of filtration. If the photos look plasticky to you, feel free to bite him.

These were my very first sunglasses. I could never wear sunglasses before these because my eyesight is bad enough without adding dark tints, and prescription lenses were expensive. I still wear them sometimes. (These are old earrings. I added little glass chili peppers I found in Quiapo.)

And another pair of vintage frames with prescription dark lenses. Also still in use.

These photos were taken at lunch last Saturday, after my three-day shut-in to start writing my next novel (I got a lot of work done but was stir-crazy after 48 hours). That’s Allan in front, Deo and Bubbles at the back. These glasses I saw online—they’re Danish-made, deadstock, so they were on sale. I asked Pat in Bangkok to buy them for me, and Nella made the lenses.

So when people ask me why I don’t just wear contact lenses or have laser surgery, my eyebrow goes into orbit.

A cleansing fury: Remembering Kurt Cobain

March 29, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Music

Not long ago I was in very good spirits when I met someone who proceeded to cast a black cloud over my mood. She probably meant well—it is always useful to prepare for the obstacles one might encounter—but it was not what I needed to hear. Please, I’m a raving neurotic overanalyzer, I already get in my own way.

We parted on cordial terms, and I thought I was fine, but as the evening wore on I got angrier and angrier. I refuse to be told that there are things I can never do. Sure, I’ll never win Wimbledon, but I do not like it when people try to get in my head using the fear of disappointment. (I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.)

I went to bed seething, and at 2am I sat bolt upright. I had to do something to clear my mind of this fear other people had tried to plant in it. I cleaned my house, but I knew I had to do more. That’s when I had the sudden urge to listen to Nirvana. I had not listened to grunge in years, but I needed to purge myself of bad thoughts, and very loud guitar rock has always done that for me.

So at 3am Nirvana was blasting in my ears. On headphones, because one must be considerate to the neighbors. That certainly cleared my head. I realized then that Kurt Cobain is my patron saint—well, one of them. The music couldn’t save him, but many are alive today because of his music. (And Layne’s, and Chris’s, and others we never met.)

Here’s the softer stuff.

April 5 is the 24th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Man, I’m old.