Day: December 25th, 2006

Christmas 2006

Monday, December 25th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Family, Film

It may have been the cold medication — still nursing this nagging cough, ugh — but I ended up sleeping in on Christmas morning. The day was something of an anti-climax — isn’t it always? — as we had dispensed with most of the gift opening/exchanging and familial revelry the night before.

I did, however, eventually make it out to Queens for a late lunch. En route to the subway, I walked along quiet streets, on sidewalks that were suddenly clear of Christmas tree vendors.

Inside the lobby of the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel: a Poinsettia “Tree”, constructed of dozens of tiered pots. The red-leafed plant is native to Mexico and Central America, and named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced it to American floriculture during his tenure as the first United States ambassador to Mexico in the 1820s. The plant’s name is one often plagued by beastly mispronunciations. I’ve heard “poyn-setta” and (inexplicably) “point setter,” which sounds like it should be a piece of fencing equipment or some kind of hunting dog. The latter malapropism is so common that if you plug “point setter” into Google, the search will return “Did you mean: poinsettia”?

Yes. Yes, you did. And it’s pronounced “poyn-SET-ee-uh.”

Sheraton Tree

On to dimsum at East Manor in Flushing (sister restaurant of the one in Elmhurst), where we feasted on the usual small plates of dumplings, rice noodle rolls, tripe, mini-ribs… In addition, the restaurant had set up long tables lined with large, steaming pots from which we could order servings of specialty dishes. I noticed one pot, bursting with dark viscous liquid, emitting warm aromas of sweet and sour, anise and cinnamon. I’d recognize it anywhere: the Cantonese pig’s feet stew, traditionally served to new mothers during their postpartum “sitting month” of reclusion. The brew consists primarily of thick, sweetened black vinegar, rice wine, copious amounts of ginger, hard boiled eggs, and hulking chunks of pig’s feet, which unfortunately look exactly like what they are. (We passed.)

East Manor Pots

Also: a griddle station with shrimp paste-stuffed japalenos (much hotter than I expected!), turnip, taro and sweet water-chestnut cakes, and chive dumplings.

East Manor Dimsum

Mom and Dad swung by Sunnyside so I could drop off SYB’s Christmas present on the way back into the city. Christmas Day is always a big movie day, and judging from the crowds at the theatre, it was going to be me, B and about half the population of the Upper West Side. Almost all of the shows were selling out, but we managed tickets to the 8:15PM screening of Apocalypto.

As usual, there were way too many previews, including an unpromising looking one for Nic Cage’s Ghost Rider (not Ghost Writer, as I initially thought it was titled. Apparently that’s an entirely different movie.) The studio describes Apocalypto as “a heart stopping mythic action-adventure set against the turbulent end times of the once great Mayan civilization.” Though several of the sets were impressive in their design, my general impression was more stomach churning than heart stopping… there is raping and pillaging, impaling, a mauling, a poisoning, pox, brain-bashing, spurting blood vessels, threats of skin flaying, and of course, the much talked about human sacrifice/ritual decapitation set piece that features hearts gouged bleeding from live chests. None of which was unexpected: as a filmmaker, Mel Gibson is known to traffic heavily in gore. Apocalypto is probably no gorier than the more disturbing parts of Oscar-winning Braveheart, and reportedly (because I didn’t see it) significantly less gory than 2004’s The Passion of the Christ.

During a couple of the film scenes, I was reminded of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which also featured a graphic heart removal and one gross-out banquet sequence.) Many have balked at Apocalypto‘s glaring historical conflations and archaeological misrepresentations, but I was focused more on the message Gibson attempted to convey through his film. The decline of the great civilization is never fully expositioned, though the story opens with what is intended as an elucidating quote from historian Will Durant about the fall of Rome: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” Are we to understand then, that the Mayans are doomed to be destroyed, having corrupted themselves through decadent immorality, by brutally asserting their will on the noble savages of the forest? What to make, then, of the deux ex machina arrival of the Spanish conquistadors? Some have lambasted the suggestion of “salvation” by the Christian Europeans, but I actually read this final scene as a great irony: the barbaric oppressors standing on the precipice of become the oppressed, destined to fall to the invading colonialists who will forcefully assert their will on the natives. (Contemporary comparisons abound…) It’s ambiguous, though, and perhaps I am giving Gibson more credit than he deserves?

Imperialist commentary notwithstanding, there’s not much of a story — after the ravaging, imprisonment and some timely astronomy, the final third of the film plays out like one long, extended cat and mouse chase, picturesque as it may be.

After such non-traditional Christmas Day fare, it was time to head home and mull on matters more sweet than vicious. What I would have given for chestnuts and an open fire.

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