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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.





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Monday, February 20, 2017

entry arrow2:25 PM | Miguel's Small World

I am endlessly fascinated by the small and miniature. When I was growing up, I fantasized there were tiny people living underneath my bed — all of them thumb-sized — and that they navigated our world into theirs via a tiny enchanted door somewhere along my bedroom wall. I was so convinced of this that I’d spend many nights on stakeouts, waiting for one of these magical creatures to open that door and give me a glimpse into their miniature lives in their miniature world. (I have a feeling this was induced by my childhood devotion to the TV show Fraggle Rock.) That this glimpse never materialised never fazed me. It was a kind of wonder that proved sustainable, and sometimes, even in the full reckoning of adulthood, I’d still think about that childhood fantasy and believe that one day I’d be granted entrance to that world, like Alice into Wonderland, like Dorothy into Oz.

This fascination has since blossomed to assorted other things of a similar nature. I am fond of the small. Like the haiku and other gnomic verses. The bonsai. Doll houses with their miniature furniture. Matchbox cars. Lego. And miniature art.

And so, when Miguel del Prado started an Instagram account [ @mig_doodle ] devoted entirely to miniature doodles, I was hooked instantly. That this impulse came from him was both a surprise and not a surprise. The first because I had never known him to be particularly expressive over overtly artistic endeavours, something that can truly be declared as part of the personalities of his siblings: Ramon is into animation, Gabby is into culinary arts, Anna is into theatre and dance, and Carmen is into documentary filmmaking. We know Miguel as exemplary hilot, a completely different sort of craft. But this hidden talent — at least to me — ultimately proves unsurprising — because artistry must truly run in the Del Prado blood, and these doodles are only another revelation of that.



In his doodles, Miguel makes the effort to partner his drawings — usually done in color pencil — with an everyday object of comparable size. A thumb. A coin. The tip of a pencil or pen. Beside these objects, we see the full resonance of the doodles’ miniature nature. The result is a kind of whimsy that brings out a merrier consideration of these works.

What I love about these drawings is the seeming ease of their execution — and that’s part of these doodles’ deceptive appeal. Truth to tell, these are not easy to make: to reduce the essence of the original inspiration — an ice cream cart, a bottle of Coke or beer, a violin, assorted animals, Dexter and his sister, a jeepney — to something the size of a 5-centavo coin is an achievement that requires great skill, a reality that I believe only poets can limn. And the poet Edith Tiempo did try in her wonderful poem, “Bonsai”: “It’s utter sublimation / A feat, this heart’s control / Moment to moment / To scale all love down / To a cupped hand’s size…”





























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Sunday, February 19, 2017

entry arrow10:12 AM | A Memory of Bayawan as Hometown

I have three hometowns. The city I was born in: Dumaguete. The city my late father came from: Butuan, in Agusan del Norte. And the city my mother came from: Bayawan, at the southern tip of Negros Oriental. I live and work in the first; the second is the source of all my longing for paternal roots, but also the one place I have never really been to; and the third is the mythic source of all my heartbeats, and a significant number of my fiction. And because February 18 was Bayawan’s fiesta (one of three it celebrates annually), I shall write about it. I should: because I rarely go back anymore to visit, but every time I do, I fall in love with it all over again.



The last time I visited was quite recently — only last December 2016, and friends of the family had willingly toured me around even as far away as the mountains of Omod, where we visited the very site on which the legend of Bayawan’s naming came from.

Its old name is Tolong Nuevo, then a part of Tolong Viejo, which is present-day Sta. Catalina town. “Tolong Nuevo” had existed as a place-name as early as 1868. But in 1953, the name was changed to Bayawan, and the name “Tolong” had since lapsed into obscurity, forgotten by succeeding generations.

To “bayaw” means to raise, and in the legend’s case, to raise the chalice for a mass, the very act by which a Spanish priest was doing when he was speared to death by a native Maghat. Today, the site of that old chapel which gave witness to this historical murder is graced by a gigantic statue of the Christ, which overlooks most of Bayawan’s mountains, as well as the plains of rice and sugarcane fields below. It is a rarely visited site, too far away from civilization, overgrown by weeds, and not many Bayawanons actually know of the place, to my surprise.

Somewhere around that area, my own family had once made an old fortune — now gone — from sugar. Our hacienda then was named Hacienda Roca, after “Rosales Casocot,” one of the biggest plantations then at the height of the sugar boom of the late 1950s into the early 1970s. We lost everything in the terrible bust that followed. I have scant memories of this time in my family’s lives.

All I know is, like many Bayawanons who were born in the 1970s, I was born in a Dumaguete hospital — but grew up, and knew childhood, in Bayawan. It is my mythical place of roots, like no other, not even Dumaguete in which I’ve lived most of my adult life.

In Bayawan lay the secrets of my blood, my history. Also here is the setting of my mother’s bedside stories, of those moments when I was a young child and she’d tuck me to bed and gamely recall a life when she was a young woman and World War II was brewing, or much later when she had returned to Bayawan as a married woman in the heyday of the sugar boom and became, for a while, one of its fairer society hostesses. Those were the heady days, when sugar cane oiled the pockets of young hacienderos on the make, and everybody was rich. (And then there was the hard, hard fall…)

  
  

Bayawan means memory—and this word alone means so much in the ways it must mean: as a threshold of recollections both happy and tragic.

Bayawan is the stuff of stories. And no wonder that after many years of listening to my mother regale me with her growing-up stories in this place, I would become a writer, most often chronicling what I can from a childhood of ghosts. One such story would later win me a Palanca Award.

When I, too, would move away from Bayawan due to the circumstances of family and adulthood, it was always this place that I kept turning back to as my essence of a "hometown," as a past, as a cache of memories that sustained me as a writer.

It is fixed in my mind like my true north. I remember my family once lived in a fortunate corner just along a narrow stretch of road in Poblacion. I say “fortunate,” because this corner was the focal point to everything else, especially when one was a young boy just ascertaining the world outside, his immediate environs his kingdom of discovery.

  

My Tita Fannie just lived a stone’s throw away from us. And just next door, in a block that contained so many relatives I cannot remember them all, my three lolas — Rose, Lily, and Adeling — manned their stores, and would give me treats when I passed by. To this day, I cannot forget my Lola Adeling’s lechon de carajay, which remains, for me, the best of its kind anywhere.

Across the street, to the right, there was Oriente Cinema—my bodega of dreams, the place I first saw a movie in. It remains in my imagination as the true birthing place for my current scholarship on film. To the left across the road was Chua’s general merchandise store, its mud yellow paint still sticking to my memories; and further down the road is the old Diao house, where I played away so many afternoons. Everything was big and large in my memory.

Today, however, whenever I go back to Bayawan, everything looks smaller when once they had all loomed large in my seeing as a child. And things have also changed — for the better, I guess, but all these I cannot help but feel as a slight betrayal to a boyhood memory.

The first time I saw the corner of what used to be my family’s house, when I was already in high school and had come back to visit, I saw that it housed a ramshackle selling second-hand clothes from abroad. The ukay-ukay felt sad then, but also somehow liberating. Today, there’s a building there, a squat and common thing of no architectural value, finally obliterating what is left of my memory. But even then this tiny spot continues to haunt me to this day, and provides me the inspiration with which I have built a literature upon: of this spot I remember my mother’s lively beehive of a beauty parlor, my father's yellow sakbayan, my older brothers' merry shenanigans.

Here, there used to be thickets of bamboo guarding its roadside wall, and it was in their very shadows that I’d hide in, most of the time, from little friends hunting me down in our games of hide-and-seek. Occasionally, from within these bamboo thickets, I’d spy the town’s resident madpeople, Pidong Buang and Wana Buang (for a long time, I thought they were married because they shared the same family name—Buang), who both embodied the perfect caricature of a town’s conscience. Years later, when I was in high school (or college?) somebody reported to my mother the news of Pidong Buang’s death—and it was surprising to feel inside me a surge of memory folding in onto itself, like a chapter in my life of remembrances suddenly coming to a close. How strange that even mad people from our childhood can have such a hold on our imaginations! Our lives!

  
  

Bayawan, in reminiscence and in reality, begs me to ask: What is indeed the integrity of memory? Do we really remember what we remember? But always, even with such unsettling questions, my hometown still manages to nurture me.

  
  

Whenever I am in Bayawan, I somehow cease to become the citified adult that I am; there, I become the child I once was, and everything else turns sepia… to memory, to play, to running across the brown fields while childhood friends chase me, to scraping knees trying to battle a bicycle, to hearing the sound of bamboo cannons on New Year’s Eve, to chewing on sugar canes fallen down cargo trucks, to tasting baye-baye from Manang Julia’s kitchen. And then—better late than never—I, too, somehow become part of my mother’s stories. Bayawan has become what is in the heart.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

entry arrow5:45 PM | Deo’s Dark Romance: On Deo Baseleres' Daily

An exhibition is always an invitation — a passport, so to speak — to get inside an artist’s head. What indeed is a curated collection? It’s Alice’s rabbit hole to Wonderland, it’s Dorothy’s tornado to Oz. The world an exhibit reveals or leads to is a mindscape of images that can fascinate, can trigger a million questions, can be a purveyor of tempests. As such, it is very much a Rorschach test of how the artist views the world, and depending on the mastery of execution, an exhibit can be deathly dull, or endlessly fascinating, or downright dangerous. But that’s a given for the chance to behold a work of art and see where it can lead us: art’s ultimate goal is to refract the familiar world and reshape it through the singular point-of-view of the artist. We call this “defamiliarization,” and it works in two ways: to comment and to transport.

Let me be random in my choice of explanation. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” a jagged greyscale immensity of great art, for example, can easily transport the one who beholds it to a world that’s abstract, disproportioned, and harsh in its choice of palette. Look closer, and you can easily get lost in the what-ness of the painting, its composition, its masterful command of hues, its figures that draw much from what is real in the word but stylized in certain ways that makes us take a closer look into the picture, and into the scene that is wrought. But it is also a commentary on war, the horrors of it, the unspeakable tragedy — and it means to overwhelm us with its angry message.

I thought about these things when I saw Deo Joseph Baseleres’ Daily, now on exhibition at KRI. AT first glance, it might be easy to dismiss these works done in pen-and-ink on canvas: they’re set on framing that’s too small to be considered arresting, and the medium itself — monochromatic ink — does not particularly bleed ocular invitation. The undiscriminating can walk past them and see only doodle art, but of the elevated kind, given the dubious privilege of being hung on a gallery wall — but that is a mistake. Because on closer inspection, Baseleres’ works are playful contradictions on one hand, and a fascinating survey of a particular psyche on the other.

Consider for example his artistic statement for this particular exhibit: that ‘Daily’ is the “crisp and exquisite … manifestation of the artist’s ideas [that] reveal hope, passion, struggles, inspirations, and everything that he beholds.” It continues: “The collection displays the things [the artist encounters] on a day-to-day basis, and how the artist lifts his spirits to go on everyday living.” Powerful, sincere words — but words, I think, that have more than a measure of playfulness to them.



Because “hope” or “passion” are not readily conjured by the images that Mr. Baseleres has wrought in this stark monochromatic series that recall a confluence of Tim Burton and goth art and Dia de los Muertos. There is a darkness to them. But it is a darkness, nonetheless, that play with the tension of lightness, indeed of a strange kind of uplift. Consider his “Adulation,” a truly disturbing piece that is framed like the coffin-shaped hexagon: at its center are two skeletal figures in an attempt to embrace, between them a diamond and a beating heart, and around them wispy lines that seem to indicate the two figures are from two different worlds — but joined here, perhaps even in the eternity of death, bonded by a rose. If there is such a thing as the romantic macabre, this is it.





Then there’s “Devotion,” a portrait of a girl in a Dia de los Muertos mask, deathly and devoted all at the same time, her face in spiritual repose. Then there’s “Tip of the Needle,” a painful study of punctures invading deep, suggesting skeletons and death and addiction — and yet the surprising inclusion of an outline in red gives us the mirage of a butterfly spreading its fragile wings. Is this the “hope” Mr. Baseleres is talking about?





To be sure, the other paintings in the collection are so much more darker. “Stereo Freak” gives us the suggestion of music technology as a kind of fanged monster, a hanging chain perhaps signifying enslavement — and yet we are also given subtle hints of wings and blossoming trees and a romantic moon. “Epicurean Fangs” follows up that theme, giving us an H.R. Giger monstrosity, and its not difficult to take a leap over what it wants to say about materialism and pleasure. “Liberty of the Mind” gives us a skull and what seems to be an all-knowing eyeball crowning it, ghostly wisps and jagged squares emanating from it suggesting perhaps its titular promise. “Neko,” which is Japanese for cat, is a whimsical portrait of that ubiquitous good luck figurine with the waving paw, king of a hill made of golden coins, its stare into the void of space serious and forbidding.





I like them all. They are windows to an exciting and disturbing point-of-view, one that introduces us to the idea that representations of death and darkness don’t necessarily extinguish life and lightness. They can be intertwined.

As executed, the paintings of Daily have the seriousness of relief art, of intaglio, its appeal and power rendered in lithographic preciseness. They remind me of the dark, romantic art of Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) crossed with the playfulness of Tim Barnard. In the Philippines, there’s Kerry Rosanes who specializes in art of this kind — but of the whimsical. Deo Baseleres is his dark, romantic comrade.



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Friday, February 10, 2017

entry arrow3:53 PM | Writing ‘Compartments’

My short story, “Compartments,” is part of the Love and Sex [February 2017] issue of Esquire Philippines Magazine! It’s going to be part of my forthcoming collection of erotica Don't Tell Anyone, published by Anvil. In the meantime, read this and see me bare ... my soul.



Truth to tell, it felt different, seeing this short story finally in print, on the pages of something other than just ephemeral text on my computer screen. I began writing “Compartments” sometime in 2010 after the biggest and most overwhelming heartbreak of my life. I needed to soothe my ache via the only thing I knew could help me: fiction. I wrote one scene — but I couldn’t go beyond that, and so it remained unfinished for a long, long time. But the story was there, in one of the folders in my laptop, at the back of my head. Rumurumbo sa utak, so they say. I knew how the story was going to end, but I had no idea exactly how to accomplish the middle — despite the fact that I knew already every single detail the story should possess. It was a difficult story to write, not because the words were not forthcoming, but because I felt I wasn’t ready to write it down for good and subsequently confront an intimate period from my immediate past.

In 2014, four years later, I finally managed to write it all down in white heat, over the course of a summer day. (The only other person I confided to about my project around that time was, of all people, the poet Ricardo de Ungria.) It was finally finished. Still, it remained unpublished, because who in this country would publish erotica?

And then Esquire’s Kristine Fonacier emailed me late last year, and then also Sarge Lacuesta. They wrote separately, didn’t know the other one was emailing me. Did I have erotica they could include for their Love and Sex issue of the magazine? Of course I do! I wrote back. And here it is, finally.

I read the story again last night — and all the pain came back, this time with the wistfulness of surrender, the balm of time, and the comfortable remove of fictionalizing. I have published many, many stories before, in books and in magazines, but this is the first time in a long, long while that I have ever felt a certain satisfaction over having something in print.

Thank you, Kristine and Sarge!

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

entry arrow11:59 PM | A Kind of Freedom

Scene from Warren Beatty's Reds (1981). Diane Keaton is feminist writer Louise Bryant and Jack Nicholson is playwright Eugene O’Neill. They are alone in a room, drinking whiskey.



Eugene O’Neill: Why aren’t you in Chicago with Jack [Reed]?

Louise Bryant: Why should I be? He has his things, I have mine.

O’Neill: [Beat.] What are they?

Bryant: What?

O’Neill: [Beat.] The things that you have that are yours. [Beat.] What are they?

Bryant: My work, for one.

O’Neill: He’s a real mean son of a bitch, isn’t he.

Bryant: What do you mean?

O’Neill: Leaving you alone with your work.

Bryant: You think I mind?

O’Neill: You should. And for one thing, we shouldn’t be left alone.

Bryant: [Grins.] You may feel that way, I don’t.

O’Neill: Good. Don’t let those [Greenwich] Village radicals keep you from being what you should be.

Bryant: [Taunting.] What do you think I should be?

O’Neill: The center of attention.

Bryant: [Smiles.] Well, you must have been with some very competitive women.

O’Neill: Let’s just say “possessive.”

Bryant: Possessive. That’s something else. It’s a waste of time. [Beat.] I’m not. Neither is Jack for that matter.

O’Neill: Oh, yes. I know. You and Jack have your own thing.

Bryant: [Forceful.] He has the freedom to do the things that he wants to, and so do I. And I think anyone who is afraid of that kind of freedom is really only afraid of his own emptiness.

O’Neill: [Beat.] Are you making this up as you go along?

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Monday, February 06, 2017

entry arrow11:13 AM | Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered on a Monday



Going to start this Monday with an old favorite I haven't listened to in a very long time: Linda Ronstadt's For Sentimental Reasons, the third in a magnificent trilogy of standards she did with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Because it feels like that kind of week, and the album after all starts with a hopeful wishing upon a star. Have a good week, everyone.

Listen to the Spotify here:

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Sunday, February 05, 2017

entry arrow11:59 PM | Late Night Conversation

Had my share of stimulating, intellectual conversation with a good friend tonight. I hadn't seen him in years. Totally unexpected. I was writing an article in a cafe [where else?], and he barged into my bubble with his coffee and his Brooklyn vibe. This is rare; it's quite difficult to get conversations like this in Dumaguete, to be honest. And so we commiserated about Tiny Fingers. We talked about the innate frailties of the Left, and we tried to figure out how the new world order would mean on ordinary lives. We talked about the limits of postmodern art and the end of irony, and we discussed avant garde theatre. He talked about how he hated musicals [Hamilton, Les Miserables, etc.] except The Lion King, and how he hated Wes Anderson and Lars von Trier but loved Darren Aronofsky and Christo and the undercurrent of "optimism" of Black Mirror. I talked about the "optimism" in Von Trier's Melancholia and how I loved the music of Miss Saigon but hated its story, and I talked about the hype over Marina Abramović and the necessary lightness of the films of Nora Ephron and why I have only a grudging admiration for Stephen Sondheim musicals. He talked about mountain climbing in Nepal where he pared his 30-kilo backpack bit by bit down to its barest essentials as he ascended. I talked about why melodrama is in the DNA of Filipino culture, and why I couldn't be persuaded by anyone to try scuba diving. That kind of conversation. And then midnight happened.

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Thursday, February 02, 2017

entry arrow4:56 PM | A Furtive Sadness Without Definition

What am I in mourning for today? I have no idea. But it’s a phantom loss several feet deep into my heart. A longing that’s not a longing. A hunger that’s absent of pangs. A sense of loss even when nothing is lost. It feels like the end, but I am only at the beginning of things.

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entry arrow3:35 PM | The Edge of Things

I wonder sometimes about the edge of things. The disappearing dot of a boat in the horizon. The last breath of a dying man. The straw that breaks the camel’s back. The embracing vertigo one feels at the sharp edge of a cliff. The moment the heart ceases to love. Things are finite, or they go over the edge beyond the limits of our perception, crossing over to the unknowable. Even memories can be ghosts that become wispier with each passing day. Even dutiful remembrance transforms the remembered to an icon, more symbolic than real. As for the boat, even the knowledge that the earth is round can easily be denied by the longing we feel, beholding only absence. I’m not sure it’s a sad thing, the way things are born with the fate of expiration already sealed in. There's a certain comfort in knowing that the end comes like being left untethered into the diaphanous mist of oblivion. Things must end. Things must have edges. The heart must stop some day.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

entry arrow1:57 PM | Oscars Best Foreign Language Film Roundup, Done

[✓] “I’m just a boy. I want to go home. I nee—.” BOOM.
[✓] “Idiots.”
[✓] “I’m a Vanuatu Romeo, and you’re my Juliet.”
[✓] “Dad, I’m on the phone. Stop wearing that false teeth.”
[✓] “What do you mean you don’t want to go to the police?”

Done.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

entry arrow6:22 PM | Brushstrokes Signifying Longing: On Rianne Salvarita's Land and Sea

A way to approach a picture and determine its power is emotional surrender in the part of the beholder. Just a willingness to behold, and absorb, and see if there’s a fluttering from within that says something, that lingers in your head, that moves you. Nothing cerebral, not at all, nothing that reeks of –isms. That movement does not have to be cataclysmic, and does not have to have a tidal charge. It could be a faint fluttering, like the minute disturbance of air from the flapping of butterfly wings. It can even be cumulative, the immensity of something having moved you only made clear to you days, weeks, months later.

I have never ceased thinking about Rianne Salvarita’s Land and Sea, his series of paintings that quietly went into exhibition at KRI last November, and quietly egressed in January. I never wrote about it, for some reason or other. But I have never stopped thinking about those paintings.



And so here I am, finally succumbing to this belated surge, feeling the need to articulate what has remained unsaid for me, unformed in my head, even as I have mulled over these pictures so intimately, remembering with a strange affection the details, the misty composition, the haunting stillness of the landscapes that are at once familiar and unknowable.

What is Land and Sea? It is simply Salvarita’s attempt to capture the Dumaguete landscape with an eye that’s distinctly impressionistic. Here and there, rendered in brushstrokes that hint of the wistful and the romantic—actually the easiest way to appreciate these paintings—we see specific Oriental Negrense spaces—buildings, street corners, boulevards, beaches, ports—articulated in the manner of still life, borrowing the language of those ubiquitous Amorsolo knock-offs of the most pedestrian variety found almost everywhere in undiscerning Filipino living rooms, but. And there must be a “but” here. But Salvarita manages somehow to elevate his images to very good art, and the only reason that I can think of is alchemy.

They moved me, these paintings. A street at the public market. A skyline with the Bandera Building etched against a blue sky while a Ceres bus traverses the space below. Distant boats docking at the pier in the purple haze of sunset. A pristine Bacong Beach splendorous in the morning sunlight. A Rizal Boulevard lamppost standing guard over a view of boats in the distance. Another view of the Boulevard framed by a lonely acacia tree. Still another view of the Boulevard framed by another lonely acacia tree. A tree in flowery bloom shading what appears to be glimmers we can take to be fisher folk. Rolling countryside punctuated by trees, Cuernos de Negros in the distance covered in a mist. The small chapel outside of Bais City barely visible and standing out from surrounding vegetation. The campanario looming large.



They don’t feel empty, like how cheap art affects you. They feel like fodder for nostalgia, but also like a refutation of it. They feel romantic, but the images themselves evoke somehow an untethered sadness. Finally, they feel like depictions of tremendous longing, and perhaps they really are that.

I see these pictures, and I can hear the world sighing through them. Look at them, I tell myself. They are devoid of people, if you notice. There are only architectural spaces in them, as well as nature, formally composed, done in the representational style—and yet they look like there is a yearning in them, for people that’s absent in them for the most part.

It is good to be reminded once in a while that the appreciation of art can also be a Rorschach test that reveals more about ourselves than about the paintings or the artist. I don’t know what my reading of these pictures says about me—that I am a creature of longing? that I speak in the language of yearning?—but I am grateful for having seen these, and for the stirrings they have caused.

They also made me see my city in a new light, and if an artist must forever be tasked to defamiliarize the familiar in order to transform it into art, then Rianne Salvarita indeed has risen to that challenge. He made Dumaguete his own in Land and Sea, and I appreciate the vision that has been wrought.




















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