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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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A few of many reasons to go to Art Fair Philippines 2017

February 16, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Art


Thanks to Solana Perez for the photos.

Art Fair Philippines opened today, 16 February, and is on until Sunday, 19 February at the 5th, 6th, 7th floors and roof deck of The Link Carpark (across from Landmark) in Ayala Center, Makati. It’s open from 10am to 9pm. Entrance fee: Php250, Php50 for students with valid IDs, and Free to Makati students with valid IDs.

Damnit I’m in Korea for work so I’m going to miss it this year. Do me a favor: Take photos of your favorite artworks (No flash, please) and send them to saffron.safin@gmail.com so I can post them here.

Weekly Report Card 6: The harrowing beauty of The Pier Falls and Manchester by the Sea

February 15, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

Mark Haddon’s first book for adults (which children also loved) was The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time, which by being deliberately affectless (the narrator-protagonist has Asperger’s) reduced us to puddles of tears. The Pier Falls, a collection of stories, employs a similar very clear, pitilessly detailed style to destroy the reader. The title story is a minute-by-minute account of a disaster which kills dozens of holiday-goers. We look on in horror and fascination, and in the seconds that remain of these strangers’ lives we understand that they are just like us. Another story, The Island, retells the myth of Ariadne, the Minoan princess who helps Theseus to slay the minotaur, only to be abandoned by the hero on the island of Naxos. (The story of Ariadne really bothered me when I came upon it as a child in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: How can a supposedly noble savior turn out to be an ungrateful asshole? As I grew older I learned the answer: Humans are like that.) Haddon’s version brings us face to face with Ariadne’s terrible loneliness. Unsought solitude is the curse shared by the characters in this collection, and while I would not recommend it to anyone in search of a cheerful diversion, I prescribe it to readers who are feeling glum, disheartened, depressed. (And, of course, fans of excellent writing.) You think you have it bad? Read this.


So that’s the unplanned theme of the week: awfulness and compassion. I direct you to Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which feels like a fishbone in your heart that you can’t dislodge. Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a handyman who has endured unspeakable tragedy and cannot forgive himself. We see this silent, angry, broken person and somehow feel affection for him. For Chrissakes, Lee, come on. His brother (the ever-dependable Kyle Chandler) offers him the possibility of a new life, and his ex-wife and nephew (Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, both wonderful) want him to take it, but he’s locked up so deep inside himself that no light can get in. The amazing thing about Manchester by the Sea is that for all its bleakness it’s also funny. During the most awful moments there are bursts of humor that bring up the absurdity of being human. (“It’s not a good disease,” says the attending physician. “What’s a good disease?” “Poison ivy.”) Watch it.

Here are the writers and their stories from Writing Boot Camp February 2017

February 13, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Workshops

After one Saturday afternoon of discussions, readings, rough drafts and outlines, the ten participants in our just-concluded Writing Boot Camp got to work on their stories. This last weekend, nine read their stories to the class.

The more I do these workshops, the more I realize that there is no shortage of writing talent out there—they just need a push, a few practical suggestions, and some assurance that they are not alone and that there is a point to putting in the work. Few things can match the satisfaction of having produced a story exactly as you imagined it.

These nine stories (and hopefully another one) will join the ten from our previous Writing Boot Camp (October 2016) in a planned anthology to be published this year.

The Other Girl by Ilsa Malsi. We all have someone like her: the classmate or contemporary we constantly measure ourselves against, whose triumphs we regard as silent rebukes, whom we wish in our darkest heart of hearts will fail.

Origin Story by Chuck Smith. The unflinching, painful, and hilarious tale of a boy whose life has been defined by a rumor: everyone thinks he’s the son of a dead 1980s bold star.

As It Was In The Beginning by Anne Tamondong. A current take on an old story: the deal with the devil.

In the Faculty Center by Will Liangco. The students in a Creative Writing class are intrigued, scandalized, and revolted when it appears that their classmate, a zealous feminist, has embarked on an affair with their greasy, moustache-massaging, altogether unattractive professor. What is the truth?

The Lizard by James Fajarito. A freshman at a seminary, ostracized when he is revealed to be gay, gains the respect of his judgmental classmates.

That Song by Rex Monteverde . As a child Brenda discovers that she can see ghosts, and she is taught to abide by the first Rule of the Gift: Never let the ghosts know that you can see them.

Salvador by Vicky Marquez. On a trip to Bahia in Brazil, a Filipina just out of college strikes up a friendship with a European boy, but does not realize its significance until years have passed.

Silver Belles by Gilda Guillermo. A lawyer becomes fixated on the dance number that her law school class will perform at its 25th alumni homecoming. When circumstances prevent her from attending the homecoming, she starts plotting her revenge.

The Favorite Tita by Tina Vitug. When their sister is killed in an accident, two sisters with contrasting personalities and values find themselves embroiled in a custody fight for their two nieces.

The next Writing Boot Camp will be held in May. For inquiries, email saffron.safin@gmail.com.

The stray cats of Istanbul star in their own movie

February 10, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Movies, Places


Still from the documentary Kedi

I was just talking about the street cats and dogs of Istanbul. We were interviewing the director of Hagia Sophia for the travel show when a very self-possessed cat walked over and sat between my co-host and myself, to remind us who the real boss was. Now there’s a documentary about the Turkish felines.

Update: It turns out that the interrupting cat was the same one who had greeted Barack Obama on his visit to Hagia Sophia. His name is Gli and he has a very memorable face.


Photos from LoveMeow

If you love something, you let it go. Cat people understand this intuitively. You never quite possess a cat, and the sooner you acknowledge that, the better. Cats will chase the tinfoil ball, if they are in the mood, but they will almost certainly not bring it back. We forgive them for this because there is no other option.

I have no trouble linking cats to the divine. Chris Marker’s transcendent short film of a sleeping cat is nothing if not an image of Nirvana, pure being, whatever you want to call it. The look in a cat’s eye guides us toward an idea of freedom, as Claude Lévi-Strauss suggested. Having spent a lifetime studying the structures of ancient societies, the French anthropologist understood well the prison cell into which technological man had locked himself. Only at rare moments, Lévi-Strauss posits near the end of Tristes Tropiques, do we see beyond this cell. One of those is “in the brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.”

Read it in the Paris Review.

Watch the trailer.

What can’t Jake Gyllenhaal do?

February 09, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Music

That is not an easy song, and try performing it while going down steep stairs. (Watch Jake’s rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls when he hosted SNL ten years ago.)

Three people we love: Jake Gyllenhaal, Stephen Sondheim, and Cary Fukunaga, who directed this video.

Weekly Report Card 5: If language is your weapon of choice, Arrival is a religious experience.

February 06, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies

Movie: Arrival
Cosmic wonder and bottomless sorrow are the two poles that Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival navigates, and the engines of propulsion are the eyes of Amy Adams. Arrival is a conversation between your brain and your heart. It is both epic in scale and intimate in its execution. It calls on you to consider the immensity of the universe and its infinite mysteries, and then it compresses them into the most intense emotion known to our species. If you believe in science, if you believe in the power of language, it is something of a religious experience. It does what science-fiction is meant to do in times of chaos and uncertainty—and to humans, when isn’t it a time of chaos and uncertainty? It reminds us that beyond our limited perception, there is hope.

Book: 10:04 by Ben Lerner
Time travel was the theme of the week. What is the significance of 10:04? Tick tock tick tock…it’s the time fixed on the clock tower after it was (and will be) struck by lightning in Back to the Future. Ben Lerner’s second novel is about time travel, in a way. The narrator, a writer working on his second novel, is considering his best friend’s request for him to father her child, which makes him think about the future. The present is scary: a cataclysmic storm is heading for New York, and he’s been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition. Global capitalism is failing. He can’t even tell his nephews a bedtime story without having a panic attack.

Meanwhile, in an alternate timeline, a writer working on his second novel is considering his best friend’s request for him to father her child…

10:04 is unrelentingly clever, which would be annoying but for its self-deprecating tone. It’s also funny, especially when nothing seems to be happening. Like the beloved movie it references, it breaks out of the prison of time to create parallel worlds where people realize that they’re living in deceptions—alternative facts, as they’re called today. This 2014 novel portended our scary new world, but it faces the future with humor and optimism.