Monthly Archives: July 2008

You are browsing the site archives by month.

The wondrous world of Portuguese sanitation

Today I discovered something wondrous about Portuguese sanitation. The trash cans scattered around Cascais are not trash cans at all. They’re doorways to underground chambers that hold landfills of trash under the cobblestone streets. Today I saw dumpsters collecting the refuse by picking up large sections of the pavement with their dumpsters, raising the deep tombs of trash, and emptying them into trucks. So the trash bins are like toilets that only indicate a larger disposal system underground. Why is this so fascinating? Because if your purpose is burying a city’s worth of rubbish, why stop ten feet underground? Why not just keep going with the trash? Why not dig holes deep into the center of the earth and just let stuff decompose there?

I can’t help imagining how freaked out I would be if I visited a trash can with several bags worth of waste and the trash can never filled up no matter what I put inside and suddenly I realized I had discovered a portal to China. Then I’d stick my head inside, like “What?” and suddenly I’d be a pole vaulter in the Beijing Olympics and my parents would be so proud even though I smelled like garbage.

Blogging Olympics

It’s not exactly the blogging Olympics over here, but things happen occasionally.

I just discovered that the 10,000 Maniacs song “Because the Night” is actually a Patti Smith song. Thank you, VH1 Classics.

I felt pity for our neighborhood derelict who huffs paint in the sun all day wearing a black hooded parka. I almost gave him some food from my grocery bag when I walked by him today for the umpteenth time but I wasn’t feeling generous enough to give him ALL my deli ham and I doubted that he’d want just a handful of wet meat from the pack, so I skipped the charity and went home to make myself a sandwich.

Crossing the town hall square, I think I inadvertently stepped into the photos of at least five Japanese tourists. They must have just climbed off a luxury tour bus en masse. Made me wonder how many photo albums in Japan have featured my angelic visage over the years. Which made me remember my friend Yoshi in England in 1991 and how his mom fed me chocolate-dipped strawberries when I went over to his house for tea. I told you stuff has been happening here.

I lost my wireless connection for two days. Then I discovered the “Wireless On/Off” switch on the side of my borrowed laptop.

Met an Irish man last night who wants to study with Deepak Chopra and psycho-analyze people in bars for a living. This, of course, is right up my alley.

Ran out of novels last week so I’ve been borrowing mass market paperbacks from the English pub’s library. Yesterday I read The Exorcist and today I started The Once and Future King about the young King Arthur. Which would be great except that Disney already told me the whole story.

The girls of Billabong are surfing this weekend in nearby Guincho. I told my older brother and he said “Glad to know the sexualized surfing lifestyle advertising juggernaut that has so successfully sold clothes, sunglasses, and apathy to everyone at Virginia Beach under 25 is now rolling internationally.” We’re just psyched to see hot American babes. It’s so hard being the only one in town. They expect me to wear jean shorts and to order cheeseburgers and to know all the words to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and to be familiar with all the characters in the Dukes of Hazzard. Oh, and to be hot.

Just publish my f@#*ing novel already

Dear literary agents and publishers,

Please stop playing this cat and mouse game with me. I understand that you’re trying to build dramatic tension by not responding to my query letters. This delay can only increase sales of my future memoir and make its inevitable movie adaptation more attractive to Hollywood. Everyone likes a story about struggle. But we all know that the story’s beleaguered heroine always triumphs in the end, and I think you’ve toyed with me for long enough.

Just publish my f@#*ing novel already. You’ve published way worse things. I’m not going to name names, but I’ve read some terrible books by your authors. Really lousy stuff. At least I can spell. At least I know where to put my commas. Don’t commas count for anything anymore? Are you worried that I won’t give your copy editors enough to do? iff so i kan haz changez.

Is this about money? Because I assure you that my parents and at least one or two other family members will buy my book once it’s published. They will probably even buy it in hardcover, which will put you well on your way to recouping my six-figure advance.

We all know what’s going to happen one day: New York Times bestseller list, Oprah Book Club, moody publicity photos, Guardian interviews, Salman Rushdie dating rumors. YOU could midwife this fresh talent into the elite world of letters. YOU could be the first to pay me money. YOU could be the person I call when I need white lilies in my hotel room or a mini-fridge full of chardonnay while I sign autographs.

Don’t talk to me about risk. You know what’s risky? Spending hundreds of hours writing prose about fictional people when you could have been going to medical school. Oh ye publishers and agents of little faith, let’s put some stock in my imagination for a minute. Nobody really knows what’s going to sell in this business. I’ve got lots of drinking buddies willing to write hyperbolic blurbs for the book jacket. I’ll do all my own publicity, including the Oprah interview, etc. You’ll only have to fly me to Chicago and put me up in a five-star hotel.

Agents and publishers, let’s start this process over without all the BS. Swallow your pride and acknowledge that you’ve been remiss in not replying to my letters and phone calls and unannounced visits to your Manhattan offices. I am willing to forgive and forget once that first deposit is safe in my checking account. But please – no more delays. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to borrow money from my mother without having something from you guys on paper.


Wistar Watts Murray

Chapter One: The Greatest Handbag in the World; Chapter Two: I Hate Myself

If it weren’t for movies and magazines, I’d probably have no idea that women were supposed to covet handbags and shoes. The former accessories are for transporting lip balm and the latter function as barriers between feet and dog poop. One of the opening lines uttered by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City: The Movie made my eyes roll into the back of my brain (where I was also frantically stuffing popcorn to drown out the embarrassment of being in the theater in the first place):

Year after year, twenty-something women come to New York City in search of the two L’s: Labels and Love.

Are you kidding me? Are you seriously trying to tell me, as a woman, and for the sake of alliteration, that all urban females are man-hungry label queens? Is that true for anyone but Lauren Conrad and Carrie Bradshaw? I’ve been to Manhattan plenty of times, and my trips could be described more like epic quests for cheap beer than for name-brand clothes.

Let me spell out the obvious: glitzy fashion houses buy ads in womens’ magazines, thus the magazines feel financially obligated to name drop and to feature pictorials of So-and-So’s favorite Too-Expensive purse. It’s a purse, people. You put your crap in it because you weren’t born with a big pocket like a kangaroo. So these fashionable names start to plague TV and movies and then, horror of horrors, books. And suddenly chick lit is a competition to see who’s most knowledgeable about flip-flops and scarves.

I’ve seen Sex and the City. I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada. I can stomach things in movies that I can’t stomach in books. I can try to worship a closet for two hours if that’s what it takes to enjoy a film. I just suspend my disbelief and assume fashion to be a weird subculture that only exists in Hollywood. In film, fashion affords a cool soundtrack, plump lips, windswept hair, and bottomless, guilty bins of popcorn. In literature, fashion is a turn-off. It’s a reference both transitory (the same brands revered today will be out of style tomorrow) and elitist (how many readers can visualize a Birkin bag from the mere mention of the word?). If authors want to evoke wealth and privilege, they should work a little harder and not simply plagiarize the “what to wear” pages of US Weekly. Literature should be held to higher standards than tabloids and cinematic escapism. It’s probably old-fashioned, but I still think that literature should be written to last.

But I realize there’s a market for these fashion-driven books. A paperback novel costs about $14, whereas buying the same hours of reading material on the newsstand might cost you $30. In the first case you own the imaginary lives of the people in the glossy pictures, and in the second you just own the glossy pictures. But in both cases you’re still just buying coasters for my beer.

You know what’s a good book? Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. It’s about a poor English woman in the 17th century who becomes a whore and a thief because she worships money. She covets expensive clothes and silks and baubles to the point of stealing from naive children. And she’s always denoting how much things are worth. She doesn’t pickpocket a gold watch; she pickpockets a gold watch worth 20 guineas. In her fictional narrative there’s no “Feast your eyes on ye-olde Hermes purse” or “I will presently lift a Harry Winston diamond from the Queen of England.” All flashy objects have their direct equivalent in cash money. Moll Flanders doesn’t pretend that they have intrinsic value as objects.

These fashion-conscious authors should tell it like it is. Their protagonists aren’t worshiping labels; they’re worshiping money. I’ll read a book about money any day. But I won’t read a book about some asshole handbag. I have more important things to spend my $14 on, like popcorn and beer.

How to sunbathe topless on European beaches (not that I have)

You can do it, but try not to be provocative. For instance, cultivate a leathery chest area. Chain-smoke while you tan. Place a dirty towel over your face. Cough a lot. While you lie on your back, pretend you are an asexual, sand-colored rug. If you feel the need to move, put your top back on. Movement draws attention. Pretend that topless sunbathing is normal in your country. Apply sunblock beforehand. Don’t get drunk. Don’t engage the sunglass or watermelon salesmen. You have a strict business arrangement with your sunbaked chest. Don’t overdo it. Thirty minutes is plenty. Close up shop, buy an ice cream cone, don’t make eye contact. Avoid lounging in the same spot two days in a row. You’re so European.

Foods currently in season in Portugal

1. Oranges

2. Nectarines

3. Sea snails

Moonlighting at the VQR

Here are a few posts I’ve done recently for the Virginia Quarterly Review blog:

1. Can I Get That Matisse in an Extra-Large


2. Where the Women Carry Fish on Their Heads

And I’m not being biased when I say that the Virginia Quarterly Review has the best blog in the world.

The Armadildoes and The Band Formerly Known as Sausage

The Canonical List of Weird Band Names serves as a study both in teenage psychology and in vulgarity. “Study in Vulgarity” actually makes a good band name. STD N Vulgairity playing at the Atlantico tonight with Meatloaf and the B-52s!

You know you’re in Europe when. . .

“You Know You’re in Europe When”

Episode One

The English pub that serves as my Portuguese office plays a steady stream of homegrown techno and dance music. The last song referenced both the Peace Corps and the “bourgeoisie.”

A few links about critters and the people who love them


1. They’re bisexual, especially in captivity.

2. They’ve enjoyed a short history of radical human advocacy.

3. They would prefer it if you didn’t touch them there.

4. But if you do touch them there, at least make flan afterwards.