Sunday, 30 August 2015

Here are some other affordable places to let in Dublin...

This week an ad in went viral. It offered a house for rent in Dublin for 450 euros a month. "would suit a small professional", it said... Barbie sized, they meant, because it was a doll house.
After that, I started finding some similar parodies in Facebook and other social media and no wonder why: renting a room (renting in general) in this lovely city is expensive.

So, here's a short selection of famous small rooms, and how they would feature in a local "To Let" ad... The places might be fantasy, but the prices are the real deal.

1. Donnybrook. Room to Rent - €200 Weekly
Cozzy room in a large house, bills not included. Will suit a young professional or student. Close to a part of the house that has a window (sunlight not included).

2. Kilmainham. Room to Rent - €450 Monthly
Friendly hard-working lizard is renting a double room in the top floor of the house. Will suit a human couple after a bite or two of shrinking mushroom.

3. Inchicore. Bedroom to share - €300 Monthly
Lovely one bed cottage, walking distance to city centre. I'm looking to share my room with a nice, quiet student. No toilet in-house, but lots of parks nearby.

4. Phibsborough, Dublin 7. Barrel to Rent - €450 Monthly
Conveniently located, within walking distance to City Centre (you can even wear it as you go), and with an independent entrance, this place will suit a young professional or student.
We do not accept rent allowance.

5. Naas. Gingerbread bedroom to Rent - €350 Monthly
Freshly baked, beautifully decorated. We are offering a double bedroom in this elegant purpose-built gingerbread house. Will suit a gingerbread man or couple. Tasting recommended.

6. Smithfield. Box to Rent - €650 Monthly
I'm looking for a non-smoker, quiet flatmate to share my box, located in a very creative area of the city, ideal for a creative or artistic person (that has a full time job please). No pets allowed, all bills included. 

7. Ranelagh. Hole in a Peach to Rent - €125 Weekly
Just 2 min. walk to the LUAS, near cafes, restaurants and supermarkets (the peach is actually in a dumpster shared by several trendy places). 

8. Tallaght. Bed in room to Rent - €200 Monthly [BER G, so no electricity after 10 am]
Lovely student accomodation within commuting distance to Dublin, parking space and plenty of local amenities nearby. We are looking for a 9th person to share a septuple room. 
No allergic people please.  

9. Parnell Street. Studio apartment to Share - €500 Monthly
Cozy, modern flat just 1 min. walk from the Spire. Strictly no-smokers.

10. Bray. single room to Rent  - €300 Monthly
Hi guys, I'm leaving my flat next week. It's located by the beachside, a total must see. Beautiful scenic views and eco-friendly design. You'll love it.

No hermit crabs were harmed in the making of this post.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

15 Things you might not know about Venezuelan food and drink

I love talking about food and quite often people ask me what's Venezuelan food like. For this list, I'm going to focus in a mix of the traditional, the day to day, and the odd. And even though I'm not planning to dwell on the current food shortage, it's worth a mention and a link, in case you're interested in learning (or want to show it to somebody).

1. Venezuelan food is not spicy
Our national chili is called "Aji Dulce" (sweet chili) and it's rated close to zero in the Scoville Scale (a meassurement of pungency a.k.a. spicy heat). Even food served in Peruvian or Mexican restaurants in Venezuela is made milder or has the hot sauce served separately because 99% of us just can't take it.

2. Venezuelans eat LOTS of pasta
It is not surprising than the biggest pasta-eaters on Earth are Italians, but, did you know that Venezuelans come second? According to the International Pasta Organization (2013), we earned the silver medal in spaguetti eating (in case you're wondering, Tunisia, Greece and Switzerland made it to the rest of the top 5).

3. People add sugar to nearly everything
I'm not saying this to brag, but I don't mean just to desserts and coffee, we add sugar to lots of savoury recipes such as bolognese sauce, shreded beef, chicken and pork. Sometimes this sugar is in the shape of "papelon" a.k.a. "panela" or "rapadura", which is basically a brick made of raw sugar we slowly eat and drink. And if it doesn't have sugar, at least on of the "two veg" on the sides is sweetish (like fried plantains or sweet potatoes).
It wouldn't be the same without the sweetness of the plantains

4. We have some odd sushi
Sushi is considered a "chic" food, and lots of people feel fancy when they have it, but not everyone appreciates real sushi, so you can find rolls with cooked chicken, with beef, or cooked fish (we also have the real ones, no worries). There's also the trend of making the rolls more tropical, so expect lots of avocado, mango, and even fried plantain.

5. There are Venezuelan wines, and they're good
The main company in the wine making business is Bodegas Pomar, and since 1985, they work to create local wines in a western region near Barquisimeto. They make still and sparkling wines and also sangria. Because it's very hard to export and the quantities are moderate, these wines are virtually unknown abroad.
Venezuelan Vineyards. Via

6. The hot dogs are out of this world
They should be called hot wolves, as they are the undomesticated version of the famous street food. When a Venezuelan asks for a hot dog "con todo" (with everything) they mean it. Double sausage? Sure! Sweet corn? Of course! Mini chips? Carrot? Cabbage, Parmesan cheese, bacon, mixed leaves, tomatoes, onions, alfalfa sprouts? If it can be shreded or chopped, it's a hot dog topping.

7. Angostura bitters were invented in Venezuela by a German doctor
That extra touch that takes many cocktails to the next level was created for medicinal purposes by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert (1796-1870), who was surgeon general in Simon Bolivar's army. Years later the company moved to Trinidad and it eventually became a globally known product.

8. Cocoa was actually originated in Venezuela
Even though many believe cocoa was originated in Mexican lands, recent research indicates that it was born in the upper Amazon region about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, particularly in the proximities to the Orinoco river, from which it would eventually had made its way to the Aztecs (who, of course, made it spicy).
Do you want it with chilli? No thanks, I'll have mine with mini marshmallows

9. Even the cheap Venezuelan rum is fancier that most foreign rums
In Venezuela, just for a bottle of distilled sugar cane spirit to be legally called rum, it has to meet several requirements, including the need to be aged for at least two years (one of the longest aging laws for rum making). This means that even the cheapest Venezuelan rum is aged and meets a strict quality criteria so, read the label carefully: if it looks like rum but doesn't say rum anywhere, it's probably a sugar cane spirit known as aguardiente, but if it says rum, you're in for probably the best rum you'll ever have.

10. There is only one Korean restaurant in the whole country
Despite being so popular in many countries, there is only one Korean restaurant in Venezuela (please correct me if I'm mistaken). It is in Caracas and it's called Din Din. I've never been there but I've heard it's pretty good.

11. We have some odd acquired tastes...
Once a Romanian coworker saw me eating sliced green mango with salt and lime juice and she looked at me puzzled. I wonder what she'd have thought if she saw me enjoying a golfeado (local bun similar to a cinnamon roll) covered in fresh cheese, or if I was dipping McDonald's fries in ice cream, or having black beans generously sprinkled with sugar (see point 3 of the list), or diping a corn bread called arepa in suero (fermented milk). And that is without going Amazonian (which is great if you've ever wondered what spiders taste like).

12. ...And an intense relationship with street food
Very often, people will play the food poisoning lottery and eat street food that deep down they know it's suspicious. Shrimp chowder in the middle of a rural road with no access to fresh water? But it smells so good... Homemade marinated raw seafood sold by walking traders in the beach at 35 degrees? Yummy! Ice sorbet or raspado made by a guy with no gloves handling cash and cutting a block of ice that's been exposed for a couple of hours? Mine lemon-flavoured please. It's a bit Russian-rouletty but people still think it's worth the risk as these foods tend to be SO good. We even call asquerositos (little disgustings) to street hot dogs, but the name doesn't detracts us from enjoying them.
Allergy information? Why would you want to ruin the surprise? Via

13. Arepas are our go-to convenience food
These round and flat cornbread sandwiches can be filled with anything you want. They are quick and easy to make at home, but you can also buy them in places called areperas. They're cheaper than a fast food hamburguer, fresher and more natural. Venezuelans love to know if you have tried them, and if so, your thoughts on arepas (especially if you are a tourist or a foreign friend). Consider yourself very well-liked by a Venezuelan if treated to homemade arepas.
Via For the recipe and lovely illustrations see here

14. We have a German-style town famous for its food
A few kilometres away from the Caribbean sea, you won't expect to find a place like Colonia Tovar, a town founded in 1843 by a group of inmigrants from Baden (which then became part of Germany). The place, hidden by forests and mountains, remained virtually isolated for decades, allowing them to do their thing and keep it German. Venezuelans from all regions enjoy visiting this town and having sausages, strudel, strawberries, peaches, craft beers (they even have an Oktoberfest), and walking by the streets full of artisan food stalls. Some of the biggest producers even distribute their goodies to several cities in the country.

15. Our cuisine is one of the most diversely influenced in the world
Besides the native South American heritage, mixed with African and Spanish during colonial times; Venezuelan food grew richer in influences than many other cuisines: Brittish, French, Dutch and even Indian and Chinese foods arrived with the gold rush and the exchange with Caribbean colonies. Then, the American way became fashionable when oil was discovered (what a coincidence) and, after WWII, thousands of Italians, Polish, French and other European immigrans brought their influences to the place and made it their new home. So there's a bit of every thing here.

So, long story short, our food is flavourful, non-spicy, multicultural, oddly sweet, and usually formed by tropicalized versions of dishes that have been here for so long that have become locals. By the way, have you tried arepas? What did you think?

Monday, 17 August 2015

Trainwreck brought a new type of character to the rom-coms, and it wasn't Amy's

Romantic comedies tend to follow a pattern: Boy meets girl, they start out with a bit of awkwardness but quickly fall for each other. Love grows, then he messes things up, she eats a bucket of ice cream and he does a big romantic gesture to apologize so she takes him back. They kiss and the world is happy again.
I love how Saturday Night Live nailed the formula with this short sketch:

And then there's Trainwreck. Get ready for spoilers as I will mention some elements of the plot....

At least she's using a brown paper bag
Trainwreck is a movie that tweaks things up a bit by showing a world where the girl does all the things usually reserved for the guys in the rom-com genre and vice-versa...

By that I mean...

Has commitment issues and freaks out a little bit when Aaron gets serious.
Is looking for a serious relationship. He says "I love you" first, and early on.
Has a hot but dumb lover and lots of side guys.
It's been a long time since he's dated anyone.
Talks about hook ups with her friend from work and is not expecting a call back.
Talks frequenly about his feelings with his friend (a very sympathetic Lebron James).
Makes her work a priority (she even goes to take a phone call while Aaron is giving an important speech).
Makes the relationship a priority (he even stays late talking with amy the day before a big surgery).
Drinks, smokes, wears short dresses and is not compromising her personality and/or tastes so a guy likes her.
Puts up with Amy drinking, smooking and wearing short dresses, only making tame remarks but adapting completely to her ways.
After she's asked to “take a break”, she realizes she misses Aaron and organizes a big choreographed apology to get him back.
After being tired of being let down, he asks Amy for “a break”, but then takes her back when she does a big romantic gesture.
Is single.
Is lonely.

And so the guy wins her heart again with music...

Would this movie have worked if Amy was the guy and Aaron was the girl? Probably, and it would have been a textbook adition to the genre. But I think that the key to its success was the twist: not revolutionary enough to deviate from the foolproof money-making formula, but far enough to bring something new to the table.

And by new I don't mean a character like Amy, but one like Aaron...

You'll see, there's plenty of "trainwrecks" in the rom-com department, for example:

Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones's Diary): who was described by another character as "A verbally incontinent spinster who smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish and dresses like her mother".

Annie Walker (Bridesmaids): A drunk, broke and jealous friend that means well but keeps messing things up and pushing people apart.

Tammy (Tammy): Just lost her job, husband cheated on her and her family is not that supportive, except for nana-trainwreck, her alcoholic grandmother with whom she goes off on a road trip.

You can either wine up or rob a fast food restaurant
But there is something missing from these ladies' lives: a character that from now on I'll call a "Manic Pixie Dream Boy".
Quick context here: In 2007, the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" was coined to refer to "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."

For example: Allison (Zooey Deschanel) in Yes Man, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in Almost Famous, Giselle (Amy Adams) in Enchanted, and Polly (Jennifer Anniston) in Along Came Polly.
More or less, they arrive in this world to teach a guy that's a bit neurotic and cynic how to be happy and enjoy life. 
"How wonderful life is, now you are in the plot..."

So, the Manic Pixie Dream Boy would be a guy that falls in love with a leading lady, and who seems like the ideal catch: kind, good looking (well, at least in my opinion he is), understanding, and with a low key personality (see how she gave out to him for hours and he just sat there listening). He's not afraid of saying I love you and he calls the next day. He's not that strong in the personality department (his article got cut off because he was boring) but doesn't have any particular flaw either and seems determined to "be there" for her and make her happy. 

He's the guy that you can introduce to the family and be sure everyone will like him (they'll secretely think he's a bit too good for you): he won all the guys with sports stories, and the fact that he's a doctor reinforces his "keeper" title among the ladies. Ah, and he volunteers for Doctors Without Borders. The only thing missing was a scene where he was saving a puppy's life and helping baby turtles get to the ocean.

Unlike other wooers in girl-oriented movies, this Manic Pixie Dream Boy doesn't make her adapt to himself, but the other way around (I can't imagine Edward Cullen living life Bella's style and having Sunday lunch at her dad's house, nor Christian Grey becoming a vanilla kissy-kissy hand holding boyfriend, for example). And that was the really refreshing element I found in this movie: a nice guy that accepts a girl with a strong personality and is willing to be the compromising one.  

Sunday, 16 August 2015

10 Thoughts I had while following D23 Expo 2015

I recently discovered the existence of D23, Disney's official fan club, and their bienial exposition, which this year was all over my Twitter time line. Some news were expected, some were pleasant surprises and others were actually a bit dissapointing.

Here are some thoughts I had about several announcements...

1. They're turning Toy Story into a romantic comedy-drama
It was announced that this time the film will centre on a love story between Woody and Bo Peep (the pink shepardess). I'm sure it will be better than most love stories currently screening, but I think we need more "power of friendship" than "boy meets girl" type of films.

2. Zootopia looks like fun, but it doesn't seem as original as they advertise it
I'm all for movies about talking animals that act like people, and the trailer looked like fun. But the tagline of choice, "Like nothing you've seen be-fur" is a bit too bold, considering movies such as Kung Fu Panda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Chicken Little and Robin Hood (two of them starred by a cheeky and charismatic fox)...

So... Tell me about this being the first movie where animals wear clothes and act like people

3. Shakira is perfect for the role of Gazelle
Having said that, knowing that Shakira will be in the film, and that she'll play the biggest pop star in town is something that I find pretty cool.

4. Danny Elfman is getting some well deserved recognition and that makes me happy
He was honoured among others that have made significant contributions to the Disney legacy, and named a "Disney Legend". FYI, he's the composer behind most of Tim Burton movies (and the voice of beloved Jack Skellington), as well as the famous The Simpsons theme song, and of numerous films and TV shows's soundtracks.

5. A lot of unnecessary sequels were announced
Does the world really need a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie? And while many people want to see The Incredibles II, and Finding Dory seems like good fun, I'm not sure about Cars 3, a third part of the one commonly known as Pixar's worst film. Not that exciting. Ah, and I already said my views on Toy Story 4.

6. Pixar is making a movie about Dia de los Muertos called "Coco"
And I can't help but wonder, would this be a fact if The Book of Life (2014) hadn't been a success? A bit of research says that this movie was planned since 2012, so apparently yes, but again, The Princess and the Frog (2009) was in development for years and it finally saw the light a few months after Obama became the first black American President.
Loco for Coco? #CringeworthyTweet... Via
My point is that a movie can be put on hold until it makes commercial sense to premiere it. And it's not just me sitting at home making theories wearing a tin foil hat who says this, similar remarks appeared in serious articles (not that this one isn't), including this one from BBC.
Will you be original? I really hope so, I really want to like you

7. The Good Dinosaur has potential
Please be a childish but beautiful family film, all it needs to do to be awesome is not being "How to Train your Dragon with dinosaurs instead of dragons".
The background colour choice might be a coincidence, but what about the "boy metaphorically touching the beast" element?

8. Star Wars themed parks will rock
The soon to premiere movie The Force Awakens had some exciting updates (posters were revealed, stars of the film charming and present), the "Rogue One" film got lots of love as well (and will be set between Episodes III and IV), but my favourite announcement was the two themed parks to be opened both in California and Orlando. They'll be fully immersive and create a "jaw-dropping new world" according to Disney's Bob Iger.

9. Marvel is like an avalanche, but they didn't really surprise at D23
Rolling faster and faster and getting bigger and bigger, they shared content about movies that had already been announced (Dr. Estrange and Civil Wars) but still generated lots of interest despite the lack of big surprises. At this point, all Marvel has to do is simply show up and wave, as their plan is so structured until 2020 that there isn't really big room for surprises.

10. Moana is probably going to be my favourite
The D23 wasn't going to be complete without anouncing a new "Disney Princess". I won't mind the fact that here is already a Princess Moana (Pan's Labyrinth), because this movie seems to be bringing to the screen some of the best elements of succesful princess movies. And while Disney visited Hawaii with Lilo & Stitch in 2002, this movie promises a more magical view of the South Pacific, set around 2000 years ago.

Finally, I have to say, Marvel seems to have shown a thing or two to Disney about presenting a timeline of films. From what I read, this year's D23 Expo was way bigger and better organized than previous ones. 
So, some very exciting "coming soons" ahead... which one is the one you want to see the most?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

If Pixar's Inside-Out emotions were behind the decision to leave your country

Since I saw the movie Inside Out, I wanted to write something about it, but I didn't want it to be a review. So, today I'll focus on the "inside" part of things... Pixar's emotional head office, which despite not being 100% accurate, gave a very understandable and entertaining look at how emotions can drive the process of decision-making.

In the movie, we were introduced to anthropomorphic depictions of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. All working together inside Riley's head, driving her like the Power Rangers drove their big robot. And during short moments in the film, we got to see other people's emotional team in action (Riley's parents being the funniest).  

So, let's pretend that everyone has a colour coded small council of emotions controlling their minds... How would this team deal with the decision to emigrate? 

Note that there are countless reasons and circumstances for leaving your country, but I'll focus on mine, and on the ones closest to myself. Here's some quick context: As the decade advanced, life became harder and riskier in Caracas, Venezuela, therefore, thousands of people who were considering it, finally made the choice of moving abroad. 

At first you try to find reasons to stay...

JOY: Come on guys, it's not that bad! In here it's always summer and you get to see your family any time you like. 
FEAR: And if we go, we'll have to start again... no friends, no money. Do you know how difficult it will be to find a job in your field? We are probably going to end up cleaning toilets.
DISGUST: EWWWWWW! That's gross. Definitely not. Let's stay in our nice, tidy and clean office.
JOY: That's the spirit! I guess... 

But then you find out more and more people you love are leaving...

SADNESS: Everyone's going... we'll be all alone in no time.
ANGER: AAAAHHHH! Those traitors... 
JOY: It's their journey, let's be happy for them instead, they're following their dreams! And who knows? Maybe one day we can go and visit them and have the best holiday ever.
SADNESS: All these airport selfies and good bye parties are breaking my heart.
DISGUST: And they are now posting a bunch of dumb opinions on Facebook about what's happening here.
ANGER: MORONS... They left! They have no right to complain! Let's give them a piece of our mind...
FEAR: Better not... they're out, but we're still here... what if someone reads this opinion and gets us in trouble? It can cost us our job! We better be quiet and say nothing guys, say nothing.

And you start questioning your plans...

ANGER: Did you read the news today?
JOY: Which part?
ANGER: EVERYTHING! It's mayhem. Aaaaahhhhhh! I'll just throw the paper against the wall and jump on it repeatedly.
SADNESS: I read them, we're doomed... What's the point of working so hard?
FEAR: We gotta get out of here as soon as possible. Let's buy a plane ticket, now, quit our job, no time for planing.
JOY: No guys, relax, we'll be OK. Things always get worse before they get better. We just have to keep doing our thing and be more careful.
DISGUST: If I have to do one more supermarket queue I'm going to throw up. I'm so sick of it all.

Until you have a heart changing experience. Very commonly, you get mugged at gun point, a relative (or yourself) is kidnaped, or sadly, and even worse, someone you know gets seriously injured or even killed. Sometimes you simply get overwhelmed by these things happening to people around you.

JOY: Ok, we were mugged, but at least we are still alive! They only took our stuff, we'll get over it.
ANGER: No, it's not fair. We worked so hard to buy all that, and they just come and take it, with no consequence. I'M DONE!
FEAR: What if next time they shoot us? Let's not leave the house, ever.
DISGUST: I can't believe I can't even go out with friends in the middle of the day. This sucks.
SADNESS: Well, even if we could, they're all gone now.
JOY: That's not true, not all of them... And again, the important thing is that we're fine. Remember how lucky we were.
FEAR: This time.

And a new train of thought departs...
Maybe this is it... Maybe it's my time to emigrate
So again, you try to see the glass half full...

JOY: It will be great! We'll travel, we'll learn and we'll have the opportunity of a better life! Best decision ever.
FEAR: I don't know.... I'm starting to have second thoughts. What if we sell everything, quit our job and then fail and have nothing to go back to?
JOY: Don't be silly! We are smart and hard working, we'll find something to do, just be humble and don't get too picky, at least in the beginning.

But it's not easy...

DISGUST: I see where you're going and I already told you I'm not cleaning toilets.
ANGER: IT'S SO FREAKING UNFAIR! I didn't spend 5 years in college to end up moping floors, bathing old guys or washing dishes.
DISGUST: Is that a real job? I'm not bathing anyone but myself.
SADNESS: I want to cry... We'll miss our family so badly... It will be too painful. Let's reconsider.
JOY: What happened to you guys? We wanted this, let's make it happen! We just need a plan. And besides, doing that for a few months doesn't mean we'll do it for the rest of our lives. We might even be lucky enough to find a nice job you know? It happens. I think.
SADNESS: No one gives the nice jobs to foreigners fresh off the boat.
JOY: Then we'll do what we have to and gain some experience. Volunteering is always an option!

And you eventualy have a breakdown...

SADNESS: Why is this happening? Staying is awful, leaving is awful, life is just so sad and difficult.
ANGER: And you see the ones to blame on their shiny new cars drinking Champagne while the people suffer from milk shortage and families get hurt by criminals routinely. I HATE IT! I hate it SO MUCH! I hate this, HATE THIS, hate it.
FEAR: Shh... don't said that out loud, you don't know who's listening.
ANGER: SO WHAT?, I've had it! If they hadn't destroyed the country, we wouldn't be having this problem. Our lives would be happy and normal.
DISGUST: I suggest we post an eight pages long complaint on Facebook.
FEAR:  Are you guys insane? 
SADNESS: There's no point in doing that, or anything, at all. I'll just give up and keep doing my daily things like a zombie. Perhaps I should drink more and care less.

But deep down, you know that if you let that though get you, you're done

JOY: Don't you ever say that again! Remeber, we have a plan! We can do this!
FEAR: I'm afraid we can't aford it.
JOY: We'll get a loan, find an scholarship, sign up for a volunteering program... There's always a way, and people with less resources all around the world pull it off every day.
SADNESS: It's just too hard.
JOY: Then we'll work even harder. There's not point in hurting ourselves or in giving up without trying.
ANGER: We can't let them win, LET'S DO THIS!
FEAR: Yes, let's leave right now, don't ever look back.
JOY: Woah, hold it... Sure we will, but let's put our heart in the right place, we are doing this for us, not to prove a point, and we can't just leave everything and vanish, let's come up with a plan and do it well.

And while the time passes, you'll have your up and downs, your second thoughts and rants, but with lots of determination, optimism and effort, you'll find yourself taking that airport selfie and departing to a new life where you'll discover new things to fear, more injustices to get angry about, new memories that will make you sad and attitudes that will disgust you, as well as a lot of experiences that will bring you lots of joy

Some days you'll miss home, some days you'll say you're never coming back. But most of the time, just like Riley's memories in the film, you'll have mixed emotions, just be mindful of which one you decide to put in charge because that will shape your whole experience.