Tuesday, April 29, 2014

a cup of jasmine coffee

My pals in the Mexican highlands are often full of ideas where I can go to buy things.

Sanborns.  Liverpool.  Ermenegildo Zegna.

If I lived in Mexico City or Morelia or San Miguel de Allende, that would be good advice.  But this is the sticks.  Not only do we lack high culture on the beach, we do not have any shops those who wish to climb the greasy pole can get their little pieces of bourgeois paradise.

The best we can do is Manzanillo.  And, for high street shopping, it has some rather low roads.

But that is where I went yesterday.  I have a trip coming up, and I needed to stock up on items that may not be available in Barcelona or Venice or on a cruise ship.

Such as, prescription drugs.  Fortunately, I have escaped from taking most of the drugs that are daily downed by more than a few of my contemporaries.  I have only two medial issues these days -- slightly elevated blood pressure (as long as I do not write about politics, the first adjective is correct) and yo-yoing triglycerides (that are under control now through a diet change and a drug that has been withdrawn from the American and Canadian markets).

A quick trip to Farmacia Guadalajara (a large chain that usually has some of the best drug prices) left me $2,652 (Mx) poorer for a 60-day supply.  About $206 (US).  I am getting off a lot cheaper than friends up north.  And that is without health insurance premiums (other than the Medicare premium that is taken from my monthly check for a service I cannot use -- and do not want to use -- south of the border).

Some Raid to fight the leaf cutter ants and the never-ending invasion of mosquitoes.  Toilet paper.  And ink for the printer (even though it would have been cheaper to buy a new printer).  It was a rather mundane Monday shopping trip.

But I was in town in the middle of the afternoon with no rush to get back to Melaque.  That means -- Movie Time!  One of my luxuries on my Manzanillo trips is to stop by the multiplex theater and see the latest installment of American culture that is seducing Mexican young people.

Today, I hit gold.  Instead of the usual vapid selection of superheroes or shot-em-up cop movies, Blue Jasmine was showing.

I am a Woody Allen fan.  His good films are filled with well-written characters whose troubles and joys are easily accessible to American audiences.  (I noticed that the sardonic humor seemed a bit foreign to the five Mexicans who made up the rest of the audience.)

Comparing the film to A Streetcar Named Desire is unavoidable.  San Francisco is dressed up in Latin clothes -- as an obvious homage to New Orleans's dual cultural roots.

And, of course, Cate Blanchett's appearance as a well-to-do woman, whose reduced circumstances are pulling her down into a madness that would rival Blanche DuBois's, completes the analogy.  It is not coincidental that she played perhaps the best Blanche ever on stage recently.  And her acting in this film was as good as I have ever seen her.

The plot is all about relationships.  And those relationships are every bit as complex as a Tennessee Williams play.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) are two adopted sisters who chose completely different life paths that continue to intersect with one another.  Jasmine (a name she invented for herself) is a Manhattan socialite.  Ginger is a clerk at a grocery store.  (Ginger's Stanley Kowalski-ish boy friend, Chili, rounds out the eponymous Spice Girls and Boys.)

Even though an outsider would guess that Jasmine would be the happier of the two, it would be a false conclusion.  Her world completely unravels when her financier husband is arrested for fraud and commits suicide.  She is left destitute and turns to Ginger for a place to live.

That is the setup.  But the movie is about what happens when people try to live in a postmodern world, where they think they an create their own reality, but they continue to live in a modern world of reason.  Falsehoods built on falsehoods simply provide a very handy gallows, rather than an escape from the real world.

I am not a big Alec Baldwin fan.  But when given a tightly-written part with substance (as Jasmine's financier husband), the guy can act.  He exudes smarmy charm when caught in financial misdeeds and philandering.  You almost feel sorry for him. 

Even Andrew Dice Clay, whose comedy I once despised, puts in an incredibly good performance as Ginger's ex-husband, who lost a fortune investing through Jasmine's husband and acts as a deus ex machina in exacting a terrible -- and unforeseen -- revenge on Jasmine. 

What holds the whole script together -- the deceptions, the fantasies, the primal lusts -- is that Jasmine's eventual fate was brought on by her own actions.  You need to see the film to put that piece together with this summary, but Jasmine, who continually berates her sister Ginger that she should make better life choices rather than blaming her genes for her less-than-Manhattan life, lives the consequences of her own philosophy. 

The script is worthy of Sophocles.  At least, in tone and subject matter.

When the film came out, some people saw it is as Woody's revenge against Mia Farrow.  Even if that was his intent, he has given us a great reminder that postmodern existentialism contains the seeds of its own destruction -- perhaps through non-redemptive revenge.

It would be a good question to discuss over a cup of coffee at Sanborns.  But, as I keep reminding people, we don't have one of those here.

If you stop, by, though, I promise to take you to La Taza Negra for a much better brewed cup.  I will even wear my white tie costume.

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