Keto Buns

So I made keto buns using the famous psyllium husk and almond flour recipe, and they turned out to be amazing. Better than real bread. Expensive as fuck, of course, but that’s everything keto.

I’m having a family weekend, not following news, and doing zero work. Mostly screen-free, too, except for a 4D movie “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” which was Klara’s first theater movie ever.

Also, I saw a goose at the supermarket for the first time ever. It cost $76. I still can’t get over it. Does anybody know why it’s so much more expensive than a duck that normally costs $20? It’s bigger but not humongously bigger. We live in a Geese Town, and the temptation to wack a bird on the head and drag it home grows.

An Artist Eats

“I don’t like this turkey,” Klara said, eyeing with disgust the beautiful bird I cooked. “I like the turkey I got at school.”

“And how was it different?”

“It was pink and square. It was very, very square, Mommy! I ate all of it!”

It’s all about the color and the shape with this child.

Thanksgiving Plans

So here’s what we got planned for the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Today we stay at home, put up Christmas lights and outside decorations (it’s going to rain like a bastard starting tomorrow, so we have to do it now), teach Klara to read (the analyst says we have to start urgently right now), and have our Thanksgiving feast. The menu for the 3 of us is: turkey, obviously; stuffed mushrooms; cranberry sauce; balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts. And the ubiquitous pasta for Klara.

Tomorrow, we are going to a huge Christmas-themed event in St Louis.

On Saturday, Klara has a Grinch-themed playdate. N and I will use the opportunity to go to a British tea room for which we have a gift card. Then I’m taking him to a place if great emotional significance to me, which is our new local Home Goods store. Yes, I grew up in the USSR. I have an intense response to home goods stores.

On Sunday, we obviously have church, and then friends are coming over, and we’ll have a combined African / Eastern European meal to celebrate US Thanksgiving. (The friends are from Gabon).

Christmas Presents

What are the best Christmas presents you have received in the past few years?

What are some things you always wanted but never received?

I always wanted a gift card for the Las Américas bookstore in Montreal or an amazon.es gift card but people probably think gift cards are soulless gifts and don’t like to give them.

Book Notes: Neil McFarlane’s A Month of Bedtime Stories

I don’t review the millions of kids’ books I read but I absolutely have to write about this wonderful book. It’s just $2.99 on Kindle, and worth 10 times that.

The book contains 30 longish stories that provide me and Klara with oodles of enjoyment. We read each story dozens of times, so I’m calculating that the book will take us at least to May.

The stories are told in the second person. A parent (who can be mom or dad) addresses a kid (who can be a boy or a girl). The kid has all sorts of amazing adventures but forgets them, and the parent narrates these magical events to the kid. This me-and-you structure in every story is absolutely genius for toddler audiences.

The best part, though, is that the author inserts in every story little tidbits that are very playful, very meta and addressed to parents. As every parent knows, toddler books are excruciatingly boring (I hate you passionately, Daniel Tiger, Fancy Nancy and Paw Patrol). An adult brain slowly dies through every painful rereading. But this McFarlane fellow clearly understands that and gives a bit of brain food to adults here and there in every story.

The stories have absolutely no didactic purpose whatsoever. And thank goodness and the kind, talented Mr McFarlane for that! One gets literally rabid after all of the utterly inane moralizing in children’s books. If you can’t just tell an interesting story that holds our attention because it has a cool plot, then don’t try to cover that up with stupid moralizing.

Aside from the gifted author of Llama Llama, the literary parents of the quaint old Bernstein Bears, and the absolutely genius author of Press Here books, the authors of toddler lit are the most annoying, dumb, talentless creatures I can’t wait to get rid of as soon as Klara outgrows them. Have any of you read the books about Biscuit? Or Clifford, the big red dog? The authors owe a huge debt to society.

It’s the parents’ fault. They hound any writer who’s not excruciatingly inane. Have you seen the Amazon reviews of the extremely cute Pout Pout Fish? Or some of the Bernstein Bears books? (Look at the reviews of Bernstein Bears Get the Gimmies if you want to lose faith in humanity). The Pout Pout Fish is criticized because a friendly fishie cheers up a sad fishie by giving him a kiss without seeking affirmative consent, which of course teaches toddlers to become rapists. Obviously. Also, trying to cheer up a sad fishie is in itself abusive because, once again, rapists.

McFarlane is British and has this very endearing, dry sense of humor that allows him not to care about being PC and well-liked by state school apparatchiks.

I can’t wait until Klara is old enough to enjoy books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who is the best children’s author ever. I’m calculating it’s going to be about a year before she’s ready for those. In the meantime, I’m glad we have McFarlane.

Book Notes: Vargas Llosa’s Tiempos recios

The good news I can report after finishing Vargas Llosa’s most recent novel is that he hasn’t lost his gift. His previous two novels were really bad, and I’d started to worry. This is one of my favorite writers and pretty much the only Latin American writer of the old guard I enjoy reading. So it was great relief to recognize Vargas Llosa’s incomparable voice in this novel.

“He’s back!” I kept yelling as I ran around my house in agitation. “Finally, he’s back!” I usually take a little sprint after reading a particularly good paragraph in a book.

What I didn’t like about the novel is that there are whole parts where the writer retells history books in a plodding, boring way. I understand that he’s trying to make the subject matter palatable to foreigners because he’s one of the two and a half Hispanic authors guaranteed to be read in translation. But I’d just rather he wrote literature because there are crowds of historians and only a handful literary geniuses in the world.

Vargas Llosa is coming to the closing stage of his life (and I hope this stage lasts for many decades). He’s trying to answer the question of why, throughout his long life, nothing has gotten better in Latin America. Violence, poverty, outlandish forms of cruelty, failing democracies, extreme corruption – it’s all still there. Yes, the military dictatorships of the twentieth century are mostly gone. But now it’s all gangs and cartels instead of juntas that torture, rape and devastate, and how is that better?

Vargas Llosa’s answer to this question is that Latin America only started chasing after the idiotic fantasy of socialism because the US frustrated its early attempts at creating functioning democracies. And that fantasy ended up plunging the region into decades of civil wars. He’s right to a degree but then again, there’s Mexico that has had no dictatorship or civil war in 100 years. And so what? It’s now doing worse than Argentina that had a Junta in the early eighties. And none of what’s happening in Mexico is about the fantasy of socialism.

As entertaining as the game of “blame the Americans” is, it gets to a point when it becomes self-defeating. But Vargas Llosa’s writing is so good that it’s unimportant to what extent his explanation of Latin America’s problems is correct. Hey, my country is also always in a bad place but we don’t have a Vargas Llosa. Or a Castellanos Moya, or a Jorge Volpi. It’s been a century since we had any. Latin America redeems itself through its contribution to what really matters about humanity. In the Russian-speaking world, we don’t even have that. Which is pretty much why I study Hispanic culture. I’m trying to figure out why some people who constantly screw up can create great art in enormous quantities while other constant screwups aren’t even great at that.

So yeah, it’s a good novel. And I don’t think Vargas Llosa is incorrect in his conclusions either. I just think it’s only part of the truth. But it’s the part he writes about really well.

Árbenz

I’m reading Vargas Llosa’s recent novel about the destruction of Guatemala’s attempt at creating a functioning democracy in the 1950s.

For those who don’t know, in the first half of the twentieth century Guatemala was an actual, real banana republic. The United Fruit company needed Guatemala to remain a backwards, feudal shithole to keep growing its stupid bananas on the country’s soil, displacing crowds of indigenous people and paying no taxes.

Jacobo Árbenz, a democratically elected president of Guatemala, wanted to bring real democracy to the country. But United Fruit didn’t want democracy. Its shareholders included Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles, and with their help the company started a campaign against Árbenz accusing him of being a Communist. Árbenz was a Communist like I’m Donald Trump but that wasn’t the point. The point was to get him removed and any possibility of a democracy in Guatemala squashed.

Vargas Llosa describes poignantly how poor Árbenz was trying to convince the Americans that he was for democracy and capitalism but nobody cared. The leading US newspapers – New York Times, Washington Post, the usual – did the bidding of Big Business and helped destroy democracy in Guatemala by spreading vicious, ridiculous lies.

Of course, Árbenz was thrown out and instead of a democracy Guatemala has had a 30-year civil war in the second half of the twentieth century.

And it’s funny how little things change. The same newspapers are still actively battling democracy on orders of Big Business by spreading insane lies. It’s Bezos instead of United Fruit but so what? It’s still the same thing.