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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Archive for the ‘Places’

Japan is so exquisite it makes me feel like a barbarian

January 13, 2018 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Places, Projects 4 Comments →


For schedules and details, visit the TPAM 2018 site.

I was in Japan for three days to meet with our team for the World Domination Project, and to inspect the venues for our shows on February 16 and 17. For weeks I had been wracking my brains, unable to complete the script to my satisfaction, but when I landed in Japan everything clicked into place.

The official title for the presentation, courtesy of our director Raya Martin, is Exporting Positive Disposition Since 1417: A Theory of World Domination. Max-Philip Aschenbrenner is our dramaturg, Yoshiro Hatori our producer, and Giancarlo Abrahan and I are writing and performing. (Along with Pepe Diokno that’s three 30-something filmmakers I am working with, and they’re fantastic. So now when people disparage millennials, I feel compelled to defend them.)
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The long stairway to the nearest cat (can make the wretched sigh)

December 05, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Places, Traveling 2 Comments →

According to my friend Rebecca, there is a large colony of cats living on the hillside around Sacre Coeur, and she sees some of them on the street every morning when the neighborhood cat lady feeds them. I didn’t see any of the hill cats. Whenever I missed my feline overlords at home, I had to climb the long stairway to the cafe with the resident cat extortionist, Me.
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You could be doing nothing and the story will still find you, Act III: The conclusion

November 30, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Places, Traveling No Comments →


A robbery by Caravaggio

The next morning, Jessica goes off to the Louvre. Anouk sets about finding replacement locks, etc. They’re expensive and theoretically should be covered by insurance, but the fine print disagrees.

Then Anouk gets a phone call, garbled, from someone who says, “I am sanitary services.” He sounds scary and raspy. He says he found her bag with her keys, passports, cards, even her cheque made out to Cash, in a public toilet. He says to meet him on the second floor of a parking building.

When Anouk gets to the ground floor of that parking building, it occurs to her that it is dangerous to meet with strangers who claim to have your stolen things. So she approaches a beefy man, explains her predicament, and asks him to accompany her.

The man says she is foolish to meet with strangers who claim to have your stolen things, but he agrees to go with her.

The second floor of the parking building is empty. They walk and walk, and at the very end of the floor there is a truck and two guys in sanitary services uniforms. They have Anouk’s bag. Everything is in it but her cash and her phone. They apologize for having opened the bag to find some identification. Anouk thanks them profusely.

So Anouk cancels some of her notices of stolen documents. However, the embassy says that once the police have reported her passports lost, the passports are cancelled. She could try asking the police to report them found, but the police probably won’t do it.

So Anouk returns to the prefecture, where a more cheerful cop tells her that this is only the second time such a thing has happened. She tells him about how something similar had happened to her friend in Manila. (That time, a bag snatched in Glorietta was dumped in a bin full of bags in Landmark.) They laugh.

In the next cubicle, a morose cop is reading out a report. A woman says her husband is trying to drive her crazy by clomping around the house at night so she can’t sleep. The morose cop overhears Anouk’s story and says, “Good thing you got your bag back.” It was the cop who took her statement the previous day!

Why did Jessica go to the Louvre? The Mona Lisa has nothing on this.

You could be doing nothing and the story will still find you, Act II: At the police station

November 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling No Comments →


Here the mood shifts from Rohmer to Melville.

The prefecture of police is in Clignancourt. Seedy. The kind where they march Jean-Paul Belmondo in wearing handcuffs, and slam his face against a table. There are four people waiting to file reports ahead of Anouk and Jessica.

The cops are kind of cute, and their uniforms are flattering, but Jessica is from Manila and her standards are abysmal.

One guy is pacing across the lobby like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown.

Finally, a cop talks to Anouk, then tells her someone will take her report in 30 minutes. Anouk and Jessica decide to get a drink.

The first bar is too seedy. The second has dads with kids. Anouk and Jessica sit and have Calvados and charcuterie. They catch up. Anouk apologizes again for this start to Jessica’s visit. Jessica says, “Are you kidding? It’s a story.”

When Jessica goes to the WC in the basement, a man emerges from the ladies’ room.

Forty minutes later, there are nine people sitting in the prefecture lobby. Apparently pickpockets love Sundays. One lady is wearing two straw hats and two scarves with five brooches. There are two large suitcases in front of her. She talks to Anouk, and then to Jessica. Jessica tries to explain that she does not speak French, but the woman just wants to talk, so what the hell. Jessica just nods at everything she says. Then the woman says, in English, “I will go out and smoke a cigarette. Please watch my bags, they are all I have in the world. I have no more home.” She is teary-eyed. She goes out for a smoke. The other people restrain their smiles. Jessica is the last to catch on that she’s probably loony.

Later, Anouk explains that the woman is reporting the theft of a suitcase containing all her bank books, jewelry, and titles to her property. She believes that the bank told her family that her valuables were in that suitcase, and so her family stole it. She also says her sister stole her beautiful brooches. “But you’re wearing five of them,” Anouk had pointed out. “These are the ugly ones,” the woman replied.

A family of tourists appears. They are Greek. The aunt’s bag was stolen when they were changing buses. Her passport was in the bag. They return to Greece tomorrow. The cop is nice enough to rush a document she can present to the Greek embassy tomorrow morning so she can get a temporary travel document and go home. Otherwise the police are taking their time.

Half an hour later, Anouk is summoned to an inner cubicle where a cop takes down her statement.

The process takes an hour. The cop is not happy to be interviewing people on a Sunday. He does not look at the photo from the CCTV as it proves nothing. He reads out the report in a morose monotone and stamps the papers with great force. So Anouk has her police report, and she can proceed with the tedious process of navigating the bureaucracy.

To be concluded with a twist

You could be doing nothing, and the story will still find you.

November 21, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling No Comments →

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

Two or three things I learned in Czechia

October 23, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling 2 Comments →

Travel is always an edifying experience. Two things I learned from my recent trip.

First, the poetry you pick up in school is never completely lost. It will pop into your head when you see its real life counterpart (even in a different country). This is The Wild Swans at Coole by W.B. Yeats.


The Vltava River in Cesky Krumlov

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;


The Vltava River in Prague

Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

Second, I learned what money is for. Sure, it’s to pay bills and buy cat food, but there’s more.

Money is so you don’t have to travel coach on long-haul flights when you’re over 40 (my demarcation line between youth and age, long past). Listen to me, kids: You need those wide seats that turn into beds. You need a constant supply of drinks. You need space. When you fly a total of 15 hours, you feel every minute in your bones.

There endeth the lesson.

* * * * *

The Witcher, the story that launched Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy series, is one of eight stories from Central Europe and the Philippines in Ang Manggagaway, an anthology of science-fiction and fantasy tales edited by Dean Francis Alfar; József Bencze, Hungarian Ambassador and poet; and Jaroslav Olša, Jr., Czech Ambassador and founding father of the Czech science fiction monthly Ikarie (He knows George R.R. Martin). The stories are by Csilla Kleinheincz of Hungary, František Novotný and Julie Nováková of the Czech Republic, Juraj Cervenák and Alexandra Pavelková of Slovakia, and Elyss Punsalan and Edgar Calabia Samar of the Philippines. The Filipino translations are by Eros Atalia, Joselito de los Reyes, Beverly Siy and the Bob Ong.

Ang Manggagaway was launched recently, and will hit bookstores soon. As our world grows ever closer to the dystopian societies envisioned by Philip K. Dick and the cyberpunks, we all need to be reading science-fiction. It is no longer just the genre that helped nerds stay alive through the torments of high school. It is a matter of survival.