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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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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

entry arrow7:23 AM | Ritmo sa Ritwal

Once upon a time, I had illusions of becoming a film director. I was into films, and still am -- although largely in the capacity of a critic. (Which may prove the truism: critics are frustrated wannabes.) In college, I made this short film titled Trahedya sa Kabila ng Liwanag, a melodramatic tearjerker about two brothers and the dangers of drug abuse -- which was unfortunately the script assigned to us by our professor who was also teaching the scriptwriting class. We shot that film on video in two weeks, and came out of it delighted over coming into pure encounter with the cinematic elements, which were mostly abstract concepts we argued over or admired in our favorite films, until then. My chief cinematographer for that film was my college kabarkada and fellow Midnight Society member Clee Andro Villasor, who went on to do graphic and web design and photography in Cebu. (He did the design for my LJ a few years back -- but the impact of the design is better appreciated in Explorer.) About two year ago, he texted me, suggesting that we go back to filmmaking again. I told him I felt it in my bones that the boat had sailed for me, and that creative writing for me was it. Today Clee has directed his first documentary titled Ritmo sa Ritwal, which is about the Sinulog in Cebu, and this is the DVD...



Shows you how far one could go when you set your heart to it. Congratulations, Clee!

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entry arrow7:09 AM | Mark in Antulang

Some pictures I took of Mark in Antulang, with Michael Ocampo's broken camera...



What do you think?

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Monday, January 29, 2007

entry arrow4:38 PM | Erased From Phone Book

Permit me to de-pressurize.

Makasapot jud kaayo. Here's this writer-friend, let's call him... Dixie. You text him, he doesn't reply. I can understand not replying to chain text messages and god-awful viral quotes and jokes. (I don't send out any of those.) I can understand replying late, because super-busy, because walang load, because... But not to reply to simple text messages?

(Basig naay bag-ong number, Ian. Nope. Same number. He texted the other week or so, to ask a question. That surprised me, made me happy. When I answered, however, the silence returned with vengeance. Ambot ngano.)

My paranoia goes on over-drive. Did I do anything to make him mad? Did I say anything bad that would merit a virtual silent treatment? have my old detractors been telling stories about me again? Did I...? Last week, I sent a small message, hoping to spark a little cinematic conversation. Wala pa rin. It's been like that since... since dugay na. Gisapot ko. Da, gi-erase lagi sa phone book. I mean, keber. You don't want my messages? Then I will not text you anymore. As for those detractors, ambot nganong ana na sila. Never did anything to them. (Except, maybe, out-write them? Haha. Pero makaluoy baya pud.)

And really, you reading this, it's not about you.

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entry arrow6:30 AM | From a Weekend on a Beach, to Monday Work Day

I kinda disappeared from this blog midweek last week. Truth is, I was busy with preparations for the Tiempo Tribute this coming Friday, and there are endless things to do since I just got the job of organizing it roughly a week ago, and so I am juggling a thousand things, fervently hoping nothing falls within my being able to catch it. And then Mark's cousin Jeffrey breezed in from Manila around Thursday, which required that typical "babysitting" tour around the city, checking out the local restaurants, going to Forest Camp, etc.

We just got back from a great weekend down south of Negros, in Antulang, somewhere in Siaton town -- thanks to good friends Annabelle Lee and Edo Adriano (and their daughter whom I call Scout, after the plucky girl in Harper Lee's novel) who've been trying to get us to their resort forever. Here's a shot of the place...


A sunrise, with photo taken from the infinity pool

This was the place where Alfred Vargas had that famous photo shoot for his nude and barely there picture coffeetable book, together with photography genius Ronnie Salvacion. Last weekend proved that stars could align, and Mark, Jeff, and I were off to this beautiful secret spot. Early Sunday morning, Mark and I woke up early to catch the sunrise, and to restage some of the shots Ronnie did for X-Ray with Alfred -- not quite successfully (who am I to out-shoot Ronnie?), since I had with me a broken digital camera that kept turning off. Still, we got some good shots, and called the exercise a small success. I will be writing about this trip within the week.

Right now, I'm easing into my Monday, with a sad acknowledgment that weekend's "play" has ended, and "work" is just beginning. And there are many, many things to accomplish...

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

entry arrow12:25 AM | ... And Oscar Makes the Cut



What? No Dreamgirls for Best Picture or Best Director? No Volver in the Foreign Language Film category? (Our very own The Blossoming of Maximo Olivero was already shut out from the short list of ten last week.) No Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen for Best Actor? No 51 Birch Street or This Film is Not Rated for Best Documentary? No Devil Wears Prada's Emily Blunt or For Your Consideration's Catherine O'Hara (the perfect comic, ironic choice) for Best Supporting Actress? No The Queen's Michael Sheen or Babel's Brad Pitt or The Departed's Jack Nicholson for Best Supporting Actor? This year, Oscar opted for a lot of surprises. There was no way anyone could have predicted anything.

And, oh my, dear old funky crotch-grabbing Marky Mark is now an Oscar nominee. Eddie Murphy, too. Call that an evolution.

The complete list of Academy Award nominees can be accessed here. Read the story here, and the shocked or happy responses here.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

entry arrow7:49 AM | Newsbreak Bites the Dust, Sort Of

This...



... is the last hardcopy issue of Newsbreak. Which is a sad development, because it had signalled an evolution in Philippine news magazines. However, editor Marites Vitug says that "we will continue our work online, the platform that is transforming journalism by opening the doors of our profession to citizens all over the world and, at the same time, forming tightly knit communities and audiences in cyberspace." [More of that here.] Good enough, but still...

[via mlq3]

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Monday, January 22, 2007

entry arrow2:28 PM | A La Carte



The book will soon be available from Anvil Publishing.

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entry arrow3:20 AM | In the Inquirer

My article on the women in the films of Amado Lacuesta Jr. is in the Lifestyle Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer today. Thanks, Lito!

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entry arrow2:17 AM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 4

This week:

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
L'Aquilone du Estrellas by Dean Francis Alfar
Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor
The Beginnings of Grief by Adam Haslett

Last week:

How Rosang Taba Won a Race by Dean Francis Alfar
Xilef by Augie Rivera
Menggay's Magical Chicken by Nikki Go-Alfar
Am I Blue? by Bruce Coville
The Dancers of Malumbay by Raissa Claire Rivera
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Last, last week:

The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Manananggal by Irene Sarmiento

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entry arrow1:09 AM | What My Heart Longs For...

I've been dreaming of getting my hands on these for the longest time...





The search continues...

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

entry arrow10:12 PM | Do We Still Make Stars Like These?

It's already a shame that most Filipinos do not know the vast tradition of cinema we have. It's even more shameful that when we are asked to name movie stars of old, especially the goddesses who have tickled our fancy, foremost in our mind are always Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, and other similar silverscreen vixens. Then again, one can go to any local video store and come away with virtually nothing in terms of stock from our film heritage. Which is sad, because when we compare the likes of Sandara Park, Pauleen Luna, Kim Chiu, Toni Gonzaga, and other contemporary actresses with these...



... today's girls more than pale in comparison. They wilt. We had goddesses the likes of Paraluman, Gloria Romero, Amalia Fuentes, Nida Blanca, Carmen Rosales, Lolita Rodriguez, Etang Ditcher, Mary Walter, Bella Flores, Susan Roces, Rosa Mia, Charito Solis, Daisy Romualdez, Corazon Rivas, Rebecca del Rio, Lita Gutierez, Zeny Zabala, Marlene Dauden, Myrna Delgado, Alicia Vergel, Luisa Montesa, Barbara Perez, Delia Razon, Mila del Sol, Tita Duran, Leonor Vergara, Lani Oteyza, Norma Blancaflor, Cynthia Zamora, Lilia Dizon, Norma Vales, Priscilla Cellona, Tessie Quintana, Emma Alegre, Carmencita Abad, and Olivia Cenizal, among many other Sampaguita, LVN, Premiere, and Lebran stars. What glorious, and intereseting, faces they had then. Today, most of them are lost in obscurity, condemned there by our collective cultural amnesia -- or they have become mere vinegar from the deteriorating celluloid of our unarchived old film titles left to rot in miserable conditions.

And so, today, we simply make do with Angel Locsin with the strange Adam's apple.

[Click here for a brief history of Philippine cinema. All pictures found in the Pinoy's Tambayan Classic Film Actresses Forum.]

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entry arrow9:42 AM | About Saturday

I had great, uninterrupted sleep last night. I simply sank into deep sleep somewhere between 10 o'clock and watching murderous Annette Bening in Mrs. Harris. But it had been a full Saturday that really started Friday night, when I chose not to sleep to finish cleaning the apartment, which had become a nuclear zone of mess.

When I wiped away the last bit of dirt from some forsaken corner of the pad, I proceeded to prepare for my two literary workshops slated for Saturday: first, a talk on the aspects of fiction and a small lecture on the demands of writing for children for my LitCritters (in the morning), and a lecture-workshop on poetry for the school paper staff (in the afternoon).

You could very well call last Saturday as my Creative Writing Day in hell, but both workshops went splendidly well. Even when I was so tired and sleepy, the whole day felt good, capped with great lunch with Mark over at Sans Rival.

The LitCritters, once again, made me proud by their ferocious command of literary criticism (where did this come from?) as we went through our latest batch of stories to read and critique. (This week's list is composed of children's stories by both Filipino and foreign writers.) The LitCritters were dramatically constipated by one short story which will remain unnamed (not yours, Dean and Nikki -- don't worry, hehehe), and there was froth practically forming in their mouths as they detailed their objections over a piece that, paraphrasing one LitCritter, felt like one huge cop-out that went nowhere fast. "And it was creepy to boot," said one.

(Ouch.)

After this long day, Mark and I went to have dinner with the gracious and beautiful artist Sharon Dadang-Rafols, and her husband Jaruvic. We were there to discuss Sharon's set design for the February 2 tribute to Dr. Edith Lopez Tiempo, which I am facilitating for both Silliman University and UP Likhaan. Sharon and Jaruvic's house, in beautiful Silliman Heights somewhere in the outskirts of Dumaguete, was truly and artistically avant-garde, an open-door affair embraced by perfectly placed plants (bamboo for the most part). I loved that dinner of bulad with green tomatoes, chicken from Golden Roy's, and paksiw. There went my diet, and I didn't care. I haven't seen Sharon in eons, and it was a great reunion of sorts.

The night breeze coming in and out of the house made it a cool evening to remember. And it also made me decide: this year, I'm getting me a house.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

entry arrow10:08 PM | The Ten Best Books of All Time



Time Magazine writes about J. Peder Zane's The Top Ten, which weighed many critics' and writers' top ten choices, and came up with the ultimate Top Ten Best Book of All Time list...

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

And I'm thinking: I've only read four out of these ten? And I call myself a reader? (Feigning heart attack.)

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entry arrow5:03 PM | Infamous Answers in Beauty Contests

[because i'm both busy and bored...]

Host : If you had a foreigner friend, where will you bring him to showcase the beauty of the Philippines?
Girl Contestant : Bocaue.
Host : Bocaue. Why Bocaue? There are so many places in the Philippines? Why Bocaue?
Girl : Because it's a magnificent place.
Host : Which part of Bocaue?
Girl : The Bocaue Rice Terraces.

Host : What is your best feature?
Contestant : My graduation feature.

Host : What is you favorite motto?
Contes tant : If others can't why, why can't I!

Host : What would you like to say to foreigners?
Contestant : Please come back.

Host : What is your typical day?
Contestant : I think Saturday po!

Host : If you were to describe the color blue to a blind person, how would you do it?
Contestant : That's a very good question. Keep it up.

Host : What is your edge over the other contestants?
Girl Contestant : My edge... 23 years old.

Host : What, in your opinion, is the ideal age for marriage?
Girl : Between 24 and 25!

Host : How do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Girl : I'll be 28.

Host : What is the biggest problem facing the youth today?
Girl : Drugs.
Host : Why?
Girl : Mahal eh!

Host : What is the essence of being gay?
Gay Contestant : I'm proud to be gay because what is naked is essential to the eye!

Host : What makes you blush?
Girl : Blush on!

Host : What is the essence of a man?
Gay Contestant : Testicles!

Host : Hey, I heard you almost didn't make it, how did you get here? Did you ride or did you walk?
Gay Contestant : Of course, did you ride. What do you think of me, did you walk?

[emailed in by jan villegas]

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entry arrow12:26 AM | Bagets!

Just got this from Zarah Gagatiga, the coffee goddess and current KUTING president.



She's a great, great help in my ongoing research on risque subjects in Philippine children's literature (for this year's Tamaraw workshop), and Carla Pacis and Eugene Evasco's pathbreaking Bagets: An Anthology of Filipino Young Adult Fiction seems to be a must-read for that paper. The book's just out from UP Press. Go and get yourself a copy.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

entry arrow9:14 AM | Books, Books...

Books spill over in my apartment, and I keep dreaming up ways to build new shelves in my already crowded place. Sometimes, when I clean, I throw a mantra over my library that goes: "I shall never buy another book if I can help it." All bibliophiles know this mantra -- and know how ridiculous it sounds, because it is largely untrue. Once, I was out shopping for bargain books with Nikki Alfar, Andrew Drilon, and Vin Simbulan, and I kept saying: "I'm not buying anything... I'm not buying anything," all the while picking up books from a stack, and proceeding to the counter to buy three. The truth is, books gladden, and receiving them as gifts can transport me to a minor heaven. Janet Villa, for example, sent over the following over courier, and my heart skipped a beat:



I'm a Munro fan, so I can't wait to get into this collection of short stories. Dean also gave me, besides the premier issue of The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, the following for Christmas...



I've sworn to read at least two books a month, to make me sane again. (I tend to become forgetful when I don't read.) My reading list's full. Here's wishing all of us a new year of satisfied reading.

Thanks to Dean and Janet for the books!

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entry arrow8:23 AM | YouTube's Finally Back!

After daaaaaaaaays of utter deprivation, YouTube's back. No thanks to that damn Taiwan eathquake. When I paid my Internet bill over at Globelines last month, I complained about the slow connection, and wondered why there were some websites I couldn't get into. Friendster, for example. And YouTube. "We've blocked those sites out for now," Jinky, the Globelines customer service rep and former high school classmate, told me. "It's to reduce Internet traffic while the lines are being repaired." Awww. Friendster came back within a week. YouTube was a no-show. Until now. It just goes to show how addicted I am to YouTube these days. I wonder why.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

entry arrow10:32 PM | Bad Day

It's a wonder how the tiniest bumps in the road of your daily grind somehow ends up ruining everything in your plans for the day. When I came home today to do my weekly cleaning (so that I could recapture that elusive peace of mind that would allow me to work on my projects and responsibilities without disturbing an ounce of my obsessive compulsion), I found that I had locked myself out. I couldn't find my keys for the pad. Which led me to texting Mark who had a spare. "I'm in Hypermart," he said, "with mom and Love." (Love's his sister.) Luckily my brother Dennis was beside me -- he wanted to borrow some VCDs. I told him I needed a lift to farway Lee Hypermart. He snorted and said he had work to do, and that it was out of the way. Of course, being the youngest sibling in the family, I had my own magical ways to getting what I wanted. My poor elder brother ended up giving me that much-needed ride. Which led me to having some ice cream with Mark's family, which led me to other things. Including a disastrous late afternoon nap that gave me the seed of a headache. (I don't know why I've been geting a lot of headaches lately. The nauseous kind that totally flattens you out. Ugh.) Later, I was waiting for the Golden Globes to happen on TV when Mark said he wanted to take me out to dinner. Supposedly Chin Loong, but it was full. We ended up in Persian Palate. We were so full, it bordered on gluttony. That was when the headache began to throb for sure. I ended up not doing anything for the day. No cleaning, no work ... just sleep and Ponstan to get rid of the throbbing in my head. All this just because I forgot to bring my keys with me to work today.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

entry arrow6:43 PM | Jimalalud, Small Town Pageants, Piggish Politicians, a Flat Tire, and a Fire in the City

There were dark things to herald the beginning of the week, and when we did return to Dumaguete City, we were met by fire, and a flat tire. Somehow, everything summed up to an adventure, and in the end, that's what all that matters. Positive thinking helps, my mother always intoned. She is a wise woman. If I never heeded that advise, I would have gone mad last weekend.

Sunday morning, Mark and I -- together with his mom Glenda -- started on our three-hour trip (two hours if one drove like mad) to faraway Jimalalud, Mark's father's hometown. Jimalalud, if you have to know, is a backwater town where nothing much ever happens and where there is largely nothing to see, except a coastline facing Cebu undistinguished by its rockiness. But it's a clean town, and something about it makes me tremble in memory of my childhood in Bayawan. I had longed for an out-of-town trip since the year started, and this one promised buckets of possibilities: besides the ease of having Mark's relations around to make the visit more comfortable, it was also the town fiesta. I was thinking of lechon, lots of it, all the way to northern Oriental Negros, daydreaming away the furious rush of mountains and sugar canes and coastal beaches from our car window.

Mark was to host the annual town fiesta beauty pageant, and his mom and I we were there to cheer him on. Or more precisely: to be the support we somehow knew he would never have from the small-town organizing committee where the insularity and boondock-ness of the place contrived to make any effort a Kafkian experience. And it was.

Shall I tell you about the lack of definite accommodations accorded a visitor? Or the convoluted flood of changes for the show's program that occurred every second of the last minute? But these were the good parts of the Jimalalud nightmare. The bad parts: One, starting a program (scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.) at around 11:30 p.m. instead. Imagine the wearying wait.

"Why can't we start now?" someone asked.

"We can't. [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is not yet here. We have to wait. She has a speech in the progam," was the reply.

(Yes, my dear people... in small-town Negrense pageants, it is typical for shameless politicians to hog the spotlight. Last night, I counted five self-serving political speeches scattered throughout the entire program -- there was one before the coronation, and another after the coronation. It was rumored that a high city official supposedly gave instructions to close the entrance, so that no one could leave before the top brass had their say.)

"Why can't we go ahead on time, and accommodate [Pompous Politician Running for Office] when she comes?" someone suggested.

"We can't. We have to wait," was the reply.

We waited. In between the waiting, we got conflicting news, each one coming in the heels of the other: [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is not coming anymore. No, [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is coming. No, [Pompous Politician Running for Office] has sent a message she won't be here. Wait, [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is coming for sure. In the end, we started without [Pompous Politician Running for Office]. (She arrived very late.) That was near midnight, and I was about ready to commit hara-kiri. All around me, the contestants milled about with their bakla make-up artists and coaches. Their faces ranged from the grotesque in kabuki make-up, to the transcendent. (One girl was particularly beautiful ... until she opened her mouth, and had absolutely nothing to say.)

Two, in the middle of the show, somewhere near the 1 a.m. mark, it started drizzling. The comedy of the contestants' answers in heinous English could not even stop the dark skies from raining down on the circusy spectacle. Mark however soldiered on.

But in hindsight, I can even say I enjoyed the show despite its glaring flaws, and mind-numbing wait. At least it was a spectacle, no matter how minor it was. What was not enjoyable was seeing the parade of politicians -- the vice-mayor, the mayor, the governor, the congressman, the congressman's wife now running for his old post -- use the stage to jumpstart their election campaign for the year. It was an orgy of shamelessness that only convinced me how dirty local politics was.

What amused me, however, was seeing how the whole circus of a town beauty pageant become the local community's chance to out-do one another in a race for Warholian fame, each one determined to get their 15-minutes of "mention" despite the uselessness of the whole endeavor. People clamored to have their names read out loud as sponsors and "acknowledgeables." (Mark had to read a list that went on for more than two pages.) People clamored to be called upon as "presenters" of awards for winning candidates. One fat woman -- a major sponsor -- barged in, and demanded to be part of the Board of Judges, just like that. And of course, there were the shameless politicians in their smug Cebuano, patting each other's backs and announcing to the world how wonderful they all were.

The whole circus ended a few minutes before 4 a.m., and we went back to the organizing committee chairwoman's house with our spirits like paper fed through a shredder. Around 9 o'clock, with the sun having burst through the rain in a minor miracle, we settled in our car with dreams of reaching the civilizing air of Dumaguete in record time.

The towns rushed by in our effort to come home fast. Jimalalud, Tayasan, Ayungon, Bindoy, Manjuyod, Bais, Tanjay, San Jose, and Amlan flew by. In Sibulan, one town away from Dumaguete, we had a flat tire. Ma'am Glenda, feisty as always, took charge, immediately setting out for a mechanic to change our tires. (Mark and I just looked at each other, complicit in our common ignorance of car maintenance and repair. How un-butch we were, not that we cared.) That flat tire took a while to fix -- but it became an instant fascinating study of the craft of vulcanizing: in a mechanic's shop, I watched transfixed as the able-bodied but sweaty and dirty young man went about his process of fixing the holes in our car's inner tube. There were too many holes, he finally said, and Mark ended up buying a whole new tube.

That episode could have been the stuff of more headaches. But we were finally home in Dumaguete, and in that very moment, that was what mattered most. Soon, inside the car once again, we passed by the charred remains of Body and Sole Massage Parlor, Marjorie's Boutique, and Rosante Bar and Restaurant (all right at the intersection of Alfonso Trese Street* and Silliman Avenue) which went up in flames the previous night while we were gone.

I took note of my excited indifference: in Dumaguete, after all, no place ever progresses to something better until it has been burned to the ground. What will this new corner become when it springs from the ashes? A Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf branch? With parking? We can only hope.

On that note of strange hopes for better urban planning, I must confess there are a list of Dumaguete blocks and building I'd like to see go up in flames... But I don't want to be accused an arsonist, so my lips are sealed.


*I have promised to never ever call this street by its modern name

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

entry arrow2:01 PM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 3

Today, I am in awe of my former students because, barely two sessions into LitCritters, they have somehow become virtual masters of stripping the stories we have been taking up into their barest essentials, and managing to distill what they believe is the theme of each story. They are so passionate in their arguments, too -- all I could do this morning in Chantilly was to stand back, prod them on, and watch them go at it, as they relentlessly bemoaned the subtle tragedy of Irwin Shaw's "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," went deep under the powerful, dreadful climax in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and told me that despite my misgivings over its cruelty, there is something thematically worthwhile in Irene Sarmiento's "The Manananggal." I really cannot wait for our next session, when I introduce them to the children's story.

This week:

How Rosang Taba Won a Race by Dean Francis Alfar
Xilef by Augie Rivera
Menggay's Magical Chicken by Nikki Go-Alfar
Am I Blue? by Bruce Coville
The Dancers of Malumbay by Raissa Claire Rivera
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Last week:

The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Manananggal by Irene Sarmiento

Last last week:

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges
We Won't Cry Over This by Socorro Villanueva

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entry arrow7:01 AM | Lesbians! (Natch...)

It's a Saturday. Let's have a little (politically incorrect) fun...



[from pine for pine]

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Friday, January 12, 2007

entry arrow7:01 AM | Welcome to Life

Every generation has its moments of startling truths -- things that tell us life never stays in one place, and we will never be young forever. First, you notice that all your contemporaries are getting married. Then they're getting their own houses, or cars. And then they start flirting with mortality. Ely Buendia of Eraserheads (the local band that defined my generation) had a heart attack. It makes you think.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

entry arrow3:05 PM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 2

This week:

The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Manananggal by Irene Sarmiento

Last week:

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges
We Won't Cry Over This by Socorro Villanueva

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

entry arrow6:12 PM | The Women of Amado Lacuesta Jr.



To take into consideration the slate of films written by the late Amado Lacuesta Jr. is to consider -- in the most intimate ways -- the many facets of the Filipino woman.

It is not that Mr. Lacuesta confined himself to exclusively examine in cinematic ways the psychology and mores of the Filipina. He has written other films of divergent concerns as well, some of them political, and some even overtly macho vehicles for venerable action stars.



For Lino Brocka, he penned together with Ricardo Lee, the seminal Macho Dancer (1988), which remains to date the definitive look into the underground lives of gay men and their dancing fancies. For Tikoy Aguiluz and Butch Perez, he wrote Balweg, The Rebel Priest (1986), a cinematic take on the life of Cordillera’s Father Conrado Balweg who became a rebel in 1979 and defrocked for taking up arms against Marcos. Again for Perez, he wrote Mumbaki (1996), which is in essence a study of cultural conflict -- it is after all the story of a medical doctor who goes home to the Cordilleras to bury his father, but finds himself torn between tribal wars, between city and country, and between modern and traditional ways of healing. Most famously, he created, in collaboration with screenwriters Red Navarro and Jose Bartolome, a testosterone star-vehicle for Fernando Poe Jr. in Ako ang Huhusga (Kapag Puno na ang Salop Part II), about an upright police officer's struggle against a corrupt judge.

And so, we ask: Lacuesta's screenplays as a study of women? We could begin with his work for Pablo Santiago, whose movie with Sharon Cuneta -- the titanic Kahit Konting Pagtingin (1990) -- is a certified blockbuster.

But it is Mr. Lacuesta's early works with Ishmael Bernal, all of them a conscientious examination of the many lives of local women, which will come to exemplify the relatively short screenwriting career of this former investment banker. At the age of 36, his first-produced screenplay for Working Girls gave him instant critical recognition, the success of which gave him the chance to pursue the writing for television and film full time.

When it was released in 1984, Working Girls descended on unsuspecting Filipino audiences like a thunderclap, easily capturing what was then the zeitgeist of Filipino women who, according to a recent description of the film, "worked hard, played hard, and made and broke rules." It featured an all-star cast that included Gina Pareño, Chanda Romero, Hilda Koronel, Maria Isabel Lopez, Carmi Martin, and Rio Locsin. The film charted the lives of women toiling in the corporate bowels of Makati -- among them a roving jewelry dealer, a smart but unhappy lady executive, a secretary impregnated by her boss, a haughty socialite, a receptionist who becomes a call girl, and a licentious secretary -- and came up with a satire so comic it proved revolutionary. In the early 1980s, no other film tackled the male-centric culture of the local business world, and was thus eventually championed as a shrewd (and funny) skewering of male dominion. It preceded even the like-themed Working Girl, directed by Mike Nichols, which starred Melanie Griffith as a secretary who manages to break the corporate glass ceiling, and also ultimately inspired Jose Javier Reyes's Makati Ave.: Office Girls (1993).

The same year that Working Girls was released, Mr. Lacuesta wrote Mr. Bernal's episode for the omnibus horror film Shake, Rattle, and Roll (the first and the best of the now-tired series), and immediately came away with the distinction of being the most effective of the three short films included in the anthology. In Pridyidir, Mr. Lacuesta and Mr. Bernal did not have the luxury of culturally entrenched mythology (Peque Gallaga's Manananggal) or superstition (Emmanuel Borlaza's Baso, which tackled the occult phenomenon of "the spirit of the glass") to rein in the audience into the story of a refrigerator possessed by evil spirits. The farfetched story could have easily landed the film into the murk of camp, but the screenplay succeeded in giving its central inanimate object a true sense of horror and dread, even with the minimalist shock effects of the refrigerator shaking or conjuring dead body parts inside its cold confines. The undercurrents of female sexuality, however, give the film its edge. In Janice de Belen's virginal character, the object of the refrigerator's seemingly carnal intentions, we see a subtle play on the power of a woman's burgeoning sexuality, which Pridyider has in common with Brian de Palma's Carrie.

In 1985, the duo came up with Hinugot sa Langit, this time casting aside the metaphoric and the satiric to engage in serious and realistic terms this female world. In the film, Maricel Soriano -- in a rare restrained performance that foreshadowed her minimalist triumph in 2006's Inang Yaya -- plays Carmen Castro, an unmarried woman who discovers that she is pregnant. Will she carry the child to term, or will she get an abortion? What follows are scenes that "borrow" from the prototypical female melodrama marred by histrionic displays, but minus the melodrama and the histrionics -- a feat for a Filipino film. In considering her dilemma, Carmen faces off moral possibilities in the persons of Stella (Rio Locsin), a self-confessed "independent girl" who urges her to have that abortion, and Juling (Charito Solis), Carmen's overly religious landlady who represents the other option. But in drawing these characters, Mr. Lacuesta managed to render them beyond dramatic caricatures with issues to bear, and gave the women a complex humanity not too easy to pigeonhole.

In Eddie Garcia's Kung Kasalanan Man (1989), which Mr. Lacuesta wrote with Raquel Villavicencio, the darker side of female psychology is explored in savage thoroughness, with Dina Bonnevie in a dual role of a soft-spoken and decent woman and her evil doppelganger, a one-time friend who undergoes surgery to look like her and usurp everything she owns, including her boyfriend. This is Barbet Schroeder's Single White Female, three years in advance -- a version which is so much more incisive and realistic than the run-of-the-mill Hollywood psychological thriller.

Mr. Lacuesta's last screenplay was for Mr. Aguiluz's Segurista (1996), which he wrote with Pete Lacaba, and is remembered today as a misunderstood contemporary masterpiece inexplicably given an X-rating by the MTRCB. In his last film, Mr. Lacuesta returned, with a kind of relish, to his explorations of the female condition after flirting with commercial success and male-driven films in the early 1990s.

This time around, Mr. Lacuesta upended the theme of desperation which was then only hinted at in Working Girls, and gave us a stark view of things in his story of a top insurance agent, played successfully by Michelle Aldana, who moonlights as a GRO at night. The powerful men she meets and eventually services as a GRO at night becomes her unwitting insurance clients by day, ready to buy what she is selling to get more of her nocturnal wares. In twisting the notions of the very 90's concepts of "synergy," "networking," and "yuppiedom," Mr. Lacuesta, Mr. Lacaba, and Mr. Aguiluz gave us a damning indictment of corporate life in Fidel Ramos's short-lived tiger economy, and the sad essentially Filipino circumstances that distorted it.

The film critic Noel Vera has suggested that Segurista, after it was initially banned by the censors, is "a very dirty film," but for all the right reasons: "But then," Vera wrote, "maybe it's more than just a formulaic law applied idiotically. Maybe the censors didn't like the sarcastic things that Aguiluz, Lacuesta, and Lacaba have to say about our youthful businessmen, about our Great Light-Brown Hopes with their cellulars and laptops, about Philippines 2000. Maybe it's the insistence on dealing with dark, unpopular subjects that they don't want, the digging up of dirt they'd rather not see... Maybe it's not the sensuality, it's the honesty. Maybe they're right: it IS the dirtiest film of the year."

In New Year's Day 1997, Mr. Lacuesta -- whose literary accomplishments included the Palanca Award for his short stories and plays, and whose passions included photography, golf, and history -- died from a heart attack while in Baguio for the holidays with his family. He had, by then, gone back to becoming a banker, but someone who still had more stories to tell. He was 49 years old.

In the scheme of cinematic things, the screenwriter sometimes is the forgotten artist in the collaborative effort of film art, overshadowed by the actors and, in terms of auteurship, by the director. It is a tragic mistake.

In a career that produced ten films of consistent excellence and which have given many of our actresses (Soriano, Pareño, Romero, Cuneta, Bonnevie, Aldana, and many others) the roles of their lives, Mr. Lacuesta has the distinction for being a man with a lot of worthwhile things to say about women. Among screenwriters in the industry, Mr. Lacuesta had indeed proven by and large that he was without equal.



A retrospective of Amado Lacuesta's films will be shown in UP Film Institute's Cine Adarna, Magsaysay Avenue, UP Campus, Diliman, Quezon City, from January 23-24. The slate includes Working Girls, Segurista, Balweg, and Mumbaki. Go to the Amado Lacuesta Jr. website, or email info(at)madslacuesta(dot)com, for more details.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

entry arrow1:29 PM | Getting Busy with LitCritters

Every so often, one gets bitten by the need to start something new. Call it an advocacy of sorts, even a mission, but this year I've taken a group of former students to try to explore the geography of fiction. This includes, of course, an immersion into the craft of creative writing.

It's an expected extension of any teacher's life. The four walls of the classroom can only do so much. Sometimes when marking a student paper, I find myself commenting that what I am holding is exemplary stuff, if a little inchoate in its literariness. Brilliance is always marvelous to behold in a prevalent academic atmosphere where college has become, more or less, a factory for overseas employment. (It is now sadly a culture where conscientious teaching easily labels anybody a "difficult" teacher. Do you remember that line in The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible laments about a culture where mediocrity is fervently rewarded? Sometimes I feel that way about things.) So, knowing that defeat is inevitable in the struggle for molding students of truly incisive intellect, most of the time the extent with which I acknowledge "brilliance" is to tell the student he or she has, well, "potential" (what a dirty word), and then wish them good tidings with their talent. Then the student graduates a nurse or whatever, and all writing potential is lost in the ensuing rat race.

The torment for any teacher would be this: if one had done more to encourage, and to actually take people under one's wings, would the outcome have been more different? Mentorships are rare these days. (I had mine in writer Timothy Montes and über-scholar Ceres Pioquinto -- and they taught me well.) All people of consequence have solid tales of meeting teachers who showed them a path. It is a mythology I subscribe to because it gives me another reason to stay in a profession easily trumped by the salaried success of regular call-center agents. So I told myself I'd answer these questions this year, and thus LitCritters Dumaguete was born.

The name LitCritters is a clever (or cute -- you choose) reworking of the term "literary criticism" to denote those who take part in the practice. The idea for the group was first conceived in Manila in 2005 by the novelist and speculative fiction advocate Dean Francis Alfar to help his circle of closest writer/friends appreciate and develop the craft of fiction writing.

LitCritters (in Manila) remains to this day an exclusive group of six that includes Dean, the graphic fictionist Andrew Drilon, Vincent Michael Simbulan, Nikki Go-Alfar, Kate Osias, and Alex Marcos Osias -- all of them writers of note. Because of my special "geographic dislocation," I remain a kind of member-at-large -- although I still am expected to take part in the rigorous reading and writing exercises that Dean devises for the group in a weekly basis. (The latest writing challenge for all of us is to come up with a 75,000-word novella by 31 March 2007!)

LitCritters Dumaguete is a "branch" of this exclusive group, which I will be moderating with Dean's blessings. LitCritters Dumaguete will group together six former students, all of whom show the greatest potential (at least for me) in terms of creative writing right now in Silliman University. This would include Michelle Eve de Guzman, Robert Jed Malayang, Rodrigo Bolivar, Lyde Villanueva, Marianne Tapales, and Anthony Gerard Odtohan. We met for the first time last Saturday, taking them through an exhaustive reading of three stories by William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, and Socorro Villanueva. (Hardier tasks will come in future sessions.)

The mechanics for LitCritters is simple. We meet once a week. Everyone is expected to read the stories. Writing, after all, begins with reading: one cannot be a serious writer if one does not do the reading required for one's writerly education. Every week, we read four stories. LitCritters Manila mostly tackles speculative fiction. Due to the "amateur" nature of the members of LitCritters Dumaguete, however, we are peppering our reading with selections from the classics, as well as genres that include realism, etc. Dean once told me that "the purpose of having different sorts of stories is to see the strengths of each genre, including the 'genre' of realism." And sometimes, we deliberately choose poorly written stories "to deny the 'praise the story' mentality that tends to crawl in most workshops." Ultimately, the goal of the group is to sharpen the ability to critique. This is where we learn the words and the terminology to call a spade a spade.

There is a brief lecture on some aspect of craftwork or storytelling or literary interpretation, and each person in the group is expected to critique the text by turns, based on discourse elements and craftwork. The main purpose is to learn from the stories how to write better. We in LitCritters are expected to go beyond simple "critiquing" such as: "I like it," or "The story is nice." What we want to foster is a vigorous and detailed reasons for liking or disliking a story.

Every four weeks, we are expected to write original stories (we call these the LitCritter Originals) for the group, not to exceed 5,000 words, nor to go below 1,500 words—unless otherwise specified. The goal is to improve the story, and to revise it for national publication (in Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Story Philippines, or in any of the anthologies that are regularly published), for national awards (the Palanca Awards, the NVM Gonzalez Awards, the Neil Gaiman Graphic Awards, the Salanga Writers Prize, and others), and eventually for international publication.

We -- my former students and I -- are doing this beyond our everyday academic demands. Who knows what things this exercise will bring us? Hopefully the good stuff. That should give this one real-life narrative a very happy ending.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

entry arrow11:17 AM | The Rabbit in the Year of the Pig



Let me take a risk, and date myself: I was born in 1975, which makes me a Rabbit. According to Chinese horoscope (also here), rabbits are sensitive, creative, and lucky. They have a nose for a bargain. They are very good listeners, but sometimes ignore the real world. People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise. They don't like Roosters, but they are most compatible with those born in the years of the Sheep, Pig, and Dog. Their lucky numbers are three and four and their element is wood.

(It bears noting that Mark is a Pig.)

As for my fortunes for the year, 2007 is a very special year: it will either be extremely good or extremely bad. (Yay.) But since my lucky element is wood, it will be one of the best years of my life. This is because Pig, Rabbit and Sheep together have the mutual attraction relationship and generate very powerful wood energy.

I can't wait for this new year to start, so see you all in the Chinese New Year, on 18 February 2007.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

entry arrow11:23 AM | Can You Create a Children's Story From This?



This is a painting by John Santos. It has been slated to be the "inspiration" for the 2007 Romeo Forbes Storywriting Competition. Can you create a children's story from this? See the Canvas website for details. Or go to the Looking for Juan de la Cruz blog.

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entry arrow1:28 AM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 1

With Dean's blessing, I'm setting up a LitCritters Dumaguete Group together with six former students, all of whom show the greatest potential in terms of creative writing right now in Silliman University. This would include Michelle Eve de Guzman, Robert Jed Malayang, Rodrigo Bolivar, Lyde Villanueva, Marianne Tapales, and Anthony Odtohan. I can only handle six members -- so sorry for those who may want to join. We're meeting for the first time this Saturday at Cafe Antonio, and I'm tasking them to read three stories by William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, and Socorro Villanueva. Hardier tasks will come in future sessions.

See you guys!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

entry arrow11:22 AM | Global Warming? What's That?

There is no more snow in Kilimanjaro. No snow this winter in Finland as well. And now, for the first time ever, an entire inhabited island in India has disappeared due to rising sea levels.



Yes, Michael Crichton and George W. Bush. There is no such thing as global warming.

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entry arrow9:29 AM | A New Way of Blogging Life

I've been retooling my template for the past two days now. I feel that this year, I want my blog -- complete with new image banners uploaded every single week -- to reflect who I really am, as well as chart faithfully what I do. I now have a favicon courtesy of FavIcon From Pics and a new host FileDen, which does not discriminate over which files to upload. (A favicon is that squarish picture you see right beside the URL -- and is a geek-snobby way of saying, "Hey, I look more pro than you do." Here's how to upload.) I've gotten Feedblitz to give me RSS feed, especially for dear friends and family faraway who still have to get used to the fact that blogging for me trumps email anytime, anyday. I've tweaked by Technorati presence, and offered myself up to PLU Blogs. I've jazzed up my links via Snap. I've placed banners for my favorite advocacies (WWF, Greenpeace, Make Poverty History, etc.), and conjured the phases of the moon (hey, it's a full moon tonight). I've began charting my movie-watching and book-reading habits to make sure my head doesn't go soft. And I swear to blog every single day. Is that a resolution? Oh dear God.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

entry arrow8:55 PM | Disconnected

Waiting for webpages to load these days is like watching paint dry. It's like watching your broadband become possessed by some dial-up demon. Damn that Taiwan earthquake.



When will this torture end? I want my Friendster! I want my YouTube! I want my sanity back!

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entry arrow3:36 PM | How to Greet the New Year

Last night, when the New Year came around, I marveled about how things seem to fall into place when you least expect them to. There had been so many reasons for moping away the last days of the old year: less than a week before New Year's Eve, in the middle of frantic considerations for entertaining holiday guests, the car suddenly wouldn't start -- it needed new batteries; then my phone would not ring; my digital camera would not shoot properly, even with new batteries; my deadlines loomed like Damocles's sword; and the Internet broke down from the sheer weight of moving earth and brought a digitized world to its knees.

It was too easy to panic and curse.

In the days going into the battleground of Christmas cheer, I waded through the filth of my apartment, all housekeeping duties neglected because of demands on time and parties to attend. My bedroom was a sea of glitter and dirt: there were shreds of gift wrapping and red Christmas ribbons lying about, all of them marked with a sense of guilt that what gifts I had bought were simply not enough. Will Mother like the orange blouse I bought for her? And the necklace? Will my friends appreciate the DVDs I bought for them? Did I still have a chance to even brave a maddening crowd to get my own cake from one of the patisseries in town, or was everything too late?

It takes strange courage to look beyond the immediate awfulness of things during Christmas time, and just settle for a kind of inner quiet. That attitude, I think, colored my entire run of the holiday season. I had no intention to succumb to the madness. It was enough, so I thought, to already feel my age: at 31, it has become more acute this painful knowledge that Christmas is meant for kids, really. I have spent the past five years barreling into the season with fervent intentions to catch the so-called "Christmas spirit," haunted of course by ever-glowing memories of Christmasses past when I was also a kid, and December always seemed a Wonderland. I had many techniques to capture that spirit: one was inundating myself with Christmas carols blaring out of my stereo; another was to watch Christmas movies that never failed to move me even after repeated viewings. But this time around, the effort felt forced. I decided to give myself a break, and grow up.

It has taken a mere baby to give me that courage. Mark has a beautiful niece named Dewey who is all of four years; her grandmother and assorted relatives and ninangs and ninongs have taken to showering her with gifts from dolls to clothes to (believe it) make-up kits for tykes like her. I can still see the sparkle of joy in those four-year-old eyes as she beheld the world to be a gigantic place bursting with gifts. For her, this is the life: there are lighted up fir trees with tinsels and golden balls, there are never-ending feasts, and on two midnights, there is the strange revelry among adults who suddenly pop fireworks and gobble cakes and lechons and fried chicken and macaroni salad and bihon and ice cream, all to the soundtrack of karaoke music in the air. For a child, Christmas and New Year are strange times when all ordinary things -- like sleeping by bedtime, like eating squarely to quiet doldrums on appointed times every day -- are suspended. To a child, all of these must be magical.

Our unspoken tragedy as adults may be that we long to continue this childlike wonderment of Christmas things, even when age and circumstance (and consciousness) no longer permit it. By the time we turn to knowing grown-ups, Santa is dead, and Christmas now becomes a shared conspiracy among adults.

It has not depressed me, this realization.

So on New Year's Eve, in the afternoon leading to it, Mark and I went to have an hour-long massage at Urban Nirvana, which was a lovely time except for the sudden shrill of out-of-tune vocalists welcoming their Sunday at the adjacent Maranatha church. (I almost gave up on Christianity right then and there.) Then we watched George Miller's Happy Feet and wanted, for a short while, to be tap-dancing penguins. Then, when night approached, we quietly visited Mother and brought her a bottle of mudshake. The alcohol made us merry. Then Mark and I proceeded to his mother's place, where we ate to our fill, and surged through the first morning of 2007 crying to a sudden viewing of Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies. Then we all slept.

I woke up in the early morning promising not to make any resolutions. Cruising the quiet Dumaguete streets on the first day of January, everything in the world seemed heavy with life and promise. Everything seemed new, and capable of rebirth. Then I had my early morning walk. Then I had had my breakfast of crisp bacon and brewed coffee. Then I had my music.

Suddenly, outside, the drunken and drug-addicted neighbor -- perhaps because he had been waken too early in the new year -- started his usual tantrums, scaring away the vestiges of the morning silence with his screams and taunts thrown at no one in particular.

That sketched in for me the very truth about life, something we scarcely acknowledge with every passing season: that while many of us hope for the better especially in the New Year, some things do change, but some things do remain the same.

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