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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Package Envy

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My Portuguese mother (who has been in the U.S. 50 years now) has a love-hate relationship with pre-packaged American ready-made meals.  It doesn’t matter if the food is from 7-11 or Whole Foods, she tries but she just can’t feel good about serving it.

Honestly, neither can I.   But I’m okay with that.

My mother is not.  So periodically while I was growing up, she would buy packaged meals for us but shake her head and complain the entire dinner that people ate this stuff but that it was disgusting and bizarre.  The next day everything would go back to normal and we’d have actual food again.

The surprise for me here is she is still doing this.

My mother came home from Trader Joe’s with two – count’em – TWO packets of something called “Polenta Vegetable Medley.”

“Why’d you buy two?”  I inquired.

“Oh, A., one is NOTHING! Look at  this!”  And she pinches the bag in half to show that “Trader Joe” actually is “Trader Screw the Consumer.”  “Your father would eat that in no time.”

“You’re not going to just serve that, are you?”

“Why not?”

Why not indeed.  She puts the two air-heavy bags in the freezer.

About two days later, the bloom was off the rose.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.  Your father said it looked weird.”

“Don’t worry, he’ll eat whatever you put out.”  My dad is known for dumping yogurt on things and mixing up weird things that don’t go together and making a weird goulash.  Like yogurt, broccoli, and chunks of steak with potatoes and beets.  MMMMM!  And he had a beef with polenta medley?

“Don’t talk about your father like that!!”

“Well…. you know he will….”  It’s not an insult, exactly, right, if he’s proud of it.

“Oh, I should never have bought it.   I’m not sure it’s going to turn out right.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.”  Then we had a ten minute discussion about how much sodium was in  it.  Apparently, it was a freaking salt lick.

“How much sodium are you supposed to have, Mom?”   I really should know this.

“I don’t know, they just said your father should have less sodium.”  Well, if she doesn’t know, and she’s buying the food,  I guess I’m off the hook.

“But how much is a lot?”

“Everything’s a lot, how would I know?”

The entire time my mother was cooking it, one of the packages was sitting on the counter.  She kept going back to it, musing “It just doesn’t look like this.  What did I buy?”  Oh, and “Look at this!  It’s still a block of ice! What would happen if I wasn’t here mashing it! Gosh, do people eat this every day?”

I’m having flashbacks.

So we sat down to dinner, as my mother is giggling like a schoolgirl.

“What?”  I ask.

“The (HEEEEHHEEEHHEEE) Food! Look at this-” and she pokes the Medley with a fork.

It wasn’t that bad.  No worse than anything else at Trader Joe’s.  But my mom has paired it- get this- with pulled pork!  And she has no idea pulled pork is supposed to be served in a bun.

“Where are the buns?”

“Buns?”  She doesn’t just say “Buns.”  She says “Buns” as if I asked her to wrap the pork in rotten human flesh.   Like “BUUUUUNNNNSSS?!?!?!?!?!”

“For the pork.”
“Why do you want buns?”

“That’s what the picture shows on the box, Mom. It’s served as a sandwich”

“I don’t care.  I do whatever I want.”  Except on the polenta.  That needs to be a Kodak moment.

“It’s both pretty good.”

“I don’t know, A.  Do people really eat this every day?”

Vingança’s “Things You Will Never See on American Soap Operas”

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Cross-cultural soap opera viewing is always delicious.  You do not need Spanish to enjoy the wonder of the telenovela. Even Psych knows that. Not only does it shock you with another culture’s video grammar and expectations, it shows you a little slice of what the other culture sees as over the top.   Because nobody lives how they live on a soap opera, right?

So my mom watches Vingança on RTP daily, so I watch Vingança now too.  She won’t tell me much about it, because I am a pesky question-asker when I watch a new soap opera, and she does not want to spend the entire 45 minutes saying “AAAAA, you made me miss it!  Now I have to pass it back!!”

So not only do I have no idea who these people are, I have no way to figure it out without months of total immersion in Portugal.  If you’d like to donate to my “Full Immersion In Lisbon So A. Can Watch RTP Telenovelas With Her Mother,” drop me an email.

  • The logo of the series is its title with a line through it – that’s balls!  In the U.S., they would have a small-print disclaimer like “Show Will Proceed Despite Line” to cover the networks asses if people who missed it decided to sue.
photo of title of soap opera vingança.
  • Remember this haircut on a certain mom with sextuplets?  Someone is keeping it alive.
Photo of Portuguese soap opera with woman with Kate from Jon and Kate Plus 8's old haircut.
Now we know where Kate’s haircut a la 2009 went.
  • On-location scenes featuring highly verbal arguments – next to the Tagus, showing the Vasco de Gama Bridge.  When it’s windy.  Wow. OLTL would never, never pay to fix the sound.  They’d just shoot it in one of the “outside” sets, since it’s set in a fake town anyway with no landmarks.
  • Major characters dusting umbrella plants with a rag.    I don’t have a photo.  My mom taped over it before I realized how awesome it was.
  • A much more realistic portrayal of cigar-smoking, sinister men.    I’m sure this isn’t only in Portugal, but it certainly isn’t in America!

I am not scary enough for you.....


  • A shiny crow on someone’s head.  Look at his big brown eyes!  I’ll tune in tomorrow!

My mom swears it's not his real hair.


  • NO COMMERCIALS!!!  I’m not lying!  Portuguese TV shows the commercials between shows, not during.  I’m thinking if I could understand the dialogue, this might actually make for better shows that aren’t constrained by three breaks a half hour.   But at this point, I won’t know the difference!


Beer Bonging On TV, And Paying Writers to Tell You When to Yam.

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I am spending 2 weeks convalescing at my mother’s house.  She kindly provided me with a cable box in my room, complete with RTP.  Ah, luxury!  Normally, to watch the big bucks channels, I have to go all the way to the living room, because she won’t pay for a box for a room where no one lives.

SHOCKER: my mother has RTP.   This is like the Queen making an appearance on the WWE.

For most of my life, my mom has been very anti-RTP.  RTP, growing up, was considered a step backward and a waste of perfectly good money.   It is for people who can’t pronounce “Sears.”  Even my grandmother, whose English was spotty at best, wouldn’t shell out for the dishy-dish.

My mother would marvel that her cousins had no idea what was on TV in their hometown in Canada.  She still does, except now, they watch the same game shows on RTP.  They don’t like the same ones, but that’s another story.

So of course, I’ve seen TV in Portugal.  I didn’t like it much, because it mostly seemed to be talk shows and BBC movies.  I was a kid. This was about as cool as having to hang out on the beach with my grandparents.  SO I expected RTP to be some kind of high brow, talk-heavy interest show that would teach me everything I needed to know about living in Portugal that I’d missed in the last 36 years.

Instead, the first time I turn it on without my mother screaming “LOOK A., THIS IS BEAAAAAUUUTIFUL!,” I see this:


Portuguese man. Really. Because nobody in Mexico looks like this.

At first, I’m mildly offended; then I see somebody throw up.

No, really, homie THROWS UP!!!

So I gingerly limp run to the living room and ask my mother to view this travesty of Lusophone cultural expression.  My mother carefully translates for me, “That title means ‘Last To Leave.'”    Uh… Thanks.  I’ve never seen an “Exit” sign in Portugal or anything…… And to top it off, she’s completely nonplussed by the show’s content.

“That show is stupid.  I never watch it.  Even my cousin thinks it’s stupid.”

Wow.  Her cousin can’t say “Sears” to save her life…. If her cousin hates it, it must be total donkey shit.  And it is.

Two more people, one of them female, throw up what is unmistakably beer foam.  Thanks, RTP.  I mean, sometimes I do wax pathetic for freshman year of college….  a lot of which was spent in crappy Tijuana bars watching my suitemates drink and throw up foam…. Though the sombreros and blankets were collecting dust in stores along the border, not on people’s heads…

My mom leaves in disgust that I am continuing to watch and take pictures with my cell phone.

*               *                 *

It gets better.

Babblefish translates the show description (I don’t trust myself yet to just um… read it) this:

“Seems one; reality show … but it is a fiction. ”  Whaaaaaat?

I’m not kidding! See for yourself:

The only real thing is the name of the actor and simple details about his life.  The rest is written and improv-ed to look like a real reality show.  I mean, the irony of that is all very po-mo, but……… why bother?

I finally understand why the Portuguese have a debt crisis; they managed to forget the ONE thing that makes reality TV shows better than a scripted show: YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY THE WRITERS!!!!!  But here they’re writing in people’s ultimate stupidity that they could just get from roping in some real idiots.

Sorry.  I’m just really amazed.

I don’t know what I was thinking.  But my visits to Portugal have tended to roll a bit more high brow than this fiasco. So yeah, beer upchuck isn’t going to cut it.  But then again, I stumbled on a program in France once where there was a bed in the middle of the audience and contestants pretended to have sex and got prizes for the best feigned humping.  Yes, this was in the land of Monet and Voltaire and Asterix et Obelix.

Plus, if you’re going to do the drunkass sector of Mexico right, where were the drunk-dog carts?