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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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Saturday, March 31, 2007

entry arrow4:11 PM | The Long Story. The End.

I made it! I was able to make the 7,500-word Challenge for LitCritters just now, barely squeaking past the deadline. Final word count: 9,014 words. Whew. Dean, that was excruciating, but fun! All in all, that's three short stories written for the year, a definite record for me. So, did my new story make sense? Yay. This is where editing and revision will make their presence felt. And soon.

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entry arrow1:24 PM | If Sanjaya Wins...

This New York Times story about Howard Stern, of all people, plotting to "destroy" television juggernaut American Idol highlights an uncomfortable truth about how the world works. You know what they say about most "great" things? They eventually die off, the victims of their own success.



Think of the ancient pax Romana, which soon allowed for barbarians to crash the Romans' elegant gates. Think of "democracy" in Palestine, where elections actually allow radicals to take the top posts and continue waging their war against whom they consider "infidels," or in the Philippines, where jokes like Lito Lapid and Joseph Estrada can find themselves elected into office, or in the U.S., where a George W. Bush can actually become the so-called "leader of the free world."

Consider the current joke that is now American Idol. Do you remember when we used to go ga-ga over this karaoke fest? I used to, and later realized all of that was bullshit I was too willing to swallow.

So now comes this brilliant website called Vote for the Worst, which has an interesting rationale why it wants Americans to vote for the hopelessly tone-deaf Sanjaya Malakar. (The campaign increasingly seems to be a success.) The funniest section in the whole website has got to be the vitriol of angry fans of the show. (Read: people who have no lives.) Most of the angry emails are a riot. Here's a few unedited ones:

U no wat???????? y shoulden't call this mail bag, u should call it HATE MAIL!!!!!!!!! every1 hates u!! and ur ruining it 4 every1!! and i heard ur doing this because "oh u wanna watch more CSI" well stuff that in ur face cuz u'll get fed up with it after like a week!!! CLOSE DOWN THE WEBSITE!!!!!
-Anastasia

hey VFTW, my name is alex. i want you to stop this horrible thing. i REALLY want lakisha to win and i want that fucking bastard sanjaya whatever his last name is off the show. he is a JOKE. look at his hair, dumbasses. GET THE PICTURE? whats the point of picking the horrible ones if youre going to be hearing the songs they made after they win the competition?? wouldnt you rather listen to an awesome lakisha song than a gay song from sanjaya??? i mean, COME ON PEOPLE!!!! please email me back why you are actually doing this, or else i will start a petition to stop this fucking SITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-Catie

YOU SUCK! SANJAYI SUCKS! YOU ARE GAY! I THINK THAT ANY ONE WHO VOTES ON THIS SITE IS BIAS! WHY DONT YOU GET A LIFE? THE ONLY REASON TAYLOR HICKS ONE LAST YEAR IS BECAUSE OF YOUR SITE WICH REALLY CUKS BECASUE NOONE WILL EVER BUY HIS C.D OR GO TO HIS CONCERTS. GOOD JOB, I BET THE PEOPLE AT THE BUTT OF THIS LILL SCAM REALLY FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES NOW! JERKS! YOU SUCK!
-Stephanie

DO YOU SEE THAT BITCH FACE??!! DO YOU SEE THE DAMN BITCH FACE! HE IS SO UGLY HE LOOK LIKE JORGE! HE IS A NAHSTY PIGSHIT MAN, COW SHIT. ITS PISS! IF I SEE ANY OF YOU IN THE STREET I WOULD JUMP ON YOUR MOUTH. I'D PUNCH YOUR FACE MAN!! THE UGLY SANJAYA HAS NO TALENT. HE NEEDS TO MAKE WAY FOR REAL TALENT, BECAUSE HE IS JERK!! JERK CHICKEN!
-Martin

Most, like St. Donita of the Tadpole Fixation, can't spell. (Why can't Americans spell ba?)

There's also a fascinating website that speculates on a raging possibility: "If Sanjaya wins, I, _______________, will..."

Let me take the challenge and finish that: "If Sanjaya wins, I, Ian Rosales Casocot, will proclaim a certain personal blog the best blog ever in the history of Philippine blogging -- and mean it."

Go, Sanjaya, go!

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Friday, March 30, 2007

entry arrow6:31 PM | The 46th Summer

This weekend is the deadline for manuscripts to be considered in the running for a place in the prestigious (and hard-to-get-into) 46th Dumaguete National Writers Workshop, the oldest writing workshop of its kind in Asia. What is also significant with this edition of the workshop is that this year marks a transition period for what Krip Yuson has called "the mother of all workshops" in the Philippines: it will see a return to Silliman University, where the workshop was conceived by two enterprising, and passionate, Filipino writers.

For a little bit of history... The workshop was established as the Silliman National Writers Workshop by Dr. Edith Lopez Tiempo and the late Dr. Edilberto K. Tiempo in 1962. The three-week live-in summer workshop for Philippine writers (writing in and from English -- although creative writing in the regional languages once was part of earlier editions of the workshop) aims "to provide opportunities for interaction between a panel of established writers and critics, and selected writing fellows."

The Tiempos designed the workshop, according to the book Silliman University 1901-1976 written by Edilberto K. Tiempo, Crispin C. Maslog, and T. Valentino Sitoy Jr. (Bing's father), "to help serious creative writers, both published and unpublished, to discover their own strengths and weaknesses as writers, to stimulate their creative faculties, and to develop their critical insights through frank discussions of their works in regular sessions and informal gatherings among their colleagues, as well as with literary critics and publishing editors." Writes Doc Ed of the process: "The bases for interaction are the manuscripts in any of the literary genres submitted by the writing fellows for reading and analysis."

The panel of discussion for the past years is composed of National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo, the Director of the program, and critics and creative writers of the Creative Writing Foundation, as well as visiting writers and critics from other countries.

Panelists have included Nick Joaquin, Gregorio Brillantes, Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Bienvenido N. Santos, NVM Gonzales, Francisco Arcellana, Celso N. Carunungan, Fr. Miguel Bernad, F. Sionil Jose, Alejandro Roces, Leonidas Benesa, Ricaredo Demetillo, Mig Alvarez Enriquez, Rolando Tinio, Doris Trinidad, Estrella Alfon, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Gémino H. Abad, Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Alfred Yuson, Butch Perez, Susan Lara, Marjorie Evasco, DM Reyes, Anthony Tan, Jaime An Lim, Francis Macansantos, Merlie Alunan, among other top writers in the country.

Renowned American writers and critics Paul Engle, Leonard Casper, Kenneth Rexroth, and William Gaddis have also been part of the workshop panel.

Today, the resident panelists include Bobby Flores Villasis, Ernesto Superal Yee, and César Ruìz Aquino.

Every summer, ten to fifteen writing fellows get the chance to have their manuscript critiqued by the panel of writers and critics. Each manuscript receives varied appraisal and interpretation from the panel, "allowing the fellows deeper insight into their own performance, the range and limits of their freedom and responsibility as literary artists as well as their mastery of techniques in the craft of creative writing. Years of application of this analytical procedure have proven its efficacy in guiding young writers into self-discovery of the rigorous demands of the craft and the pleasures of the art of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and drama."

Over the last 46 years, more than 500 of the best writers in the country, many of them winners or eventual winners of the prestigious Palanca and other literary awards, have participated in the workshop. From the start, an appointment as a writing fellow has been regarded as a mark of recognition in Philippine literary circles.

Since its inception in 1962, the workshop -- which is patterned after the famous writers workshop in the State University of Iowa -- was a program administered by Silliman University and its Department of English and Literature, with funds allocated by then President Leopoldo T. Ruìz. At the start, the workshop was jointly sponsored by the University and the Philippine Center of International PEN. Since then, it has been subsidized by various grant-giving bodies including the Asia Foundation, the Congress of Cultural Freedom in Paris, the Philippines Press Institute, the Manila Times Publishing Co., the Philippine Education Co., the International Agency for Christian Literature Development, and the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.

In the early 1990s, Silliman University unfortunately decided to stop being the administrator of the workshop, and responsibility and control fell into the hands of the Creative Writing Foundation Inc. and College Assurance Plan (CAP).

Since 2004, the Dumaguete Literary Arts Service Group Inc. has taken the responsibility of managing the workshop (which was now known as the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop since its parting from Silliman), with funding from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

This year, with Silliman University President Ben S. Malayang III and Dr. Edith Lopez Tiempo at the helm, the University once again is part of the future of National Writers Workshop, with 2007 being designated as a transition period.

In 2008, the workshop will once again be called the Silliman National Writers Workshop, in coordination with the Department of English and Literature, the Creative Writing Foundation, and the Dumaguete Literary Arts Service Group.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

entry arrow7:46 AM | The Finalist From Downtown

Dean just texted me some good news this early morning. His "Six From Downtown" is a finalist in the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards! Woohoo! This is great, great news. He wrote that story while "vacationing" last summer here in Dumaguete, and even dedicated the story to moi when it first got published in PFP, so you can say I'm quite proud of it for more than literary reasons. (The character of Mr. Rosales is me, right, Dean?) The story is also available in Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2.

That said, I feel wonderfully challenged. Back to the fiction trenches!

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entry arrow7:33 AM | The End.

The final Harry Potter book, with cover by Mary GrandPre.



"The structures around Harry show evident destruction and in the shadows behind him, we see outlines of other people," David Saylor, Scholastic's art director, said in a statement. "For the first time, the cover is a wraparound. On the back cover spidery hands are outstretched toward Harry. Only when the book is opened does one see a powerful image of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, his glowing red eyes peering out from his hood."

In other words, this:



(The news story here. And a larger image of the panoramic cover rendition here.)

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

entry arrow8:08 PM | Searching for Stories

Dean, over at Notes From the Peanut Gallery, is talking about where his new stories are going. (Worldwide, it seems!) Me, I only have two measly stories to show since the year began, and about five percolating (languishing?) in the burner. Ahhhh! I think I'm going to have to channel all of my ranting energy to finishing these stories. That, even if most people say they want me "to bitch more."

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

entry arrow4:24 PM | Summer's About to Begin

Tuesday afternoon, and I am in the process of cleaning my apartment. This is because I have so much work to do and finish before my summer vacation must begin. Those who know me very well know that I cannot even begin anything unless everything in my house is spotless and in their proper places. I'm your regular non-dangerous obsessive compulsive. But I'm taking a few minutes off to blog.

My summer's beginning to shape up. There's the MA to finish by hook or by crook. There's the unfinished story and play to finish before submission to a particular contest. There's my trip to Siquijor for Holy Week on assignment from Men's Health. And I was excited to go to Iloilo for the start of April for the Tamaraw Workshop, but that seems to be out of the question now, given that Far Eastern University has cancelled the entire thing. (Poor Winton.) But, aside from my summer classes on Philippine literature beginning April, there's also the prospect of becoming busy organizing the return of the National Writers Workshop to Silliman University. And then, in the middle of May, when the workshop's already in full-swing, I'd be leaving for my first trip out of the country in a decade. God, I so need this trip. I can't disclose the details yet because I don't want this jinxed, but I'd be gone for more than a week. So goodbye Dumaguete for May. I'm traveling the world before returning home to face the prospects of doing the same old grind again in June.

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entry arrow4:00 AM | Initial Political Decisions Prompted By TV Ads

Richard Gomez is pathetic. I'm not voting for Cesar Montano because I want him to make more films, not more politics. And I'm not sure I can vote a vegetable (Pichay!) into office. What will they do all day? Wither and turn yellow? And I can't stand the dancing of Manny Villar. Anybody that stiff doing a small jiggy cannot be trusted. And anything Kris Aquino endorses is shit, so no Noynoy. And everybody in the administration ticket -- except perhaps for Joker Arroyo -- are all a joke and a half. And I'm a probinsyano, but Chavit cannot speak for me: I have never betted on any numbers game. Only that Cayetano guy seems to put a semblance of a political issue in his ad campaigns but looks too much like a matinee idol gone to seed for me. Who to vote for?

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entry arrow2:49 AM | I Heart Scandals Caught on Video

Here's the scandal du jour from Hollywood, with evidence two years late. (But better late than never -- and the whole thing is still delicious anyway because it gives us a rare, raw, unedited, firsthand view of the ways of Hollywood and the conflicts of interests that always arise in collaborative art-making.) While filming 2004's I Heart Huckabees (IMDB information here), the fabulously talented Lily Tomlin breaks out her frustration over the erratic filmmaking of David O. Russell, who then throws a giant tantrum. The videos first appeared in YouTube (where else?) where they created a giant stir, then got pulled out by the poster, only to have the vacuum filled by others who made bootleg copies. Here's the first clip, and here's the second clip, and here's what people are saying in the IMDB message board. It's sad and funny all at the same time. My heart entirely goes for Lily. Russell may be a talented director (Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster, and my favorite incest movie of all time, Spanking the Monkey), but he's work ethic -- legendary for his anger management problems that included George Clooney once reportedly taking aim at him during a tussle while filming Three Kings -- is the very equivalent of hellish ineptness.

[Defamer has a good post about the whole incident, complete with excerpts from the Sharon Waxman article from The New York Times that first talked about it. It also has an interview with Tomlin who can laugh about the whole thing now. "Oh my God, the one in the car is on there too?" Tomlin asked.]

Seriously though, this should give us pause over how technology has so overtaken our lives that there really is no such thing as secrecy or privacy anymore. Hell, even the latest issue of Uno Magazine has a feature (ineptly-written) about how to deal with the increasingly instances of personal video sex scandals, with the salacious evidence posted online from lost cellphones. (It's supposed to be a "how-to" article without any "how-to's" in it. What a sad excuse for a men's magazine, all the more dead with its curious dude-speak writing style.)

How would you deal with your own video scandal?

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Monday, March 26, 2007

entry arrow11:11 PM | Slow Day. Elegy.



From The New Yorker.

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entry arrow2:14 PM | Non-Fiction Overload

This morning, when I woke up, I went straight to watching two documentaries in a row: Patrick Reardon's Wordplay, which is about crossword puzzles and the people fascinated by them, and Kirby Dick's This Film is Not Yet Rated, which is a fascinating attempt at muckraking versus the moralist raters of the MPAA. I've been watching several documentaries over the past few months, endlessly fascinated with their true stories, with the device of non-fiction in film. There's something riveting about them because you know that these are real people in real events, telling real stories.







They can be very demanding, and some -- like Tarnation -- can be off-putting, but I come away ultimately better-informed. And I feel good about that. You see the world so much more differently.

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entry arrow12:26 AM | What the Blogosphere Looks Like...

... or at least a snippet of it.



This is a project called 2k Bloggers, which attempst to put into a kind of montage at least 2,000 of the world's bloggers. (That's me somewhere in that gamut of faces.)

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

entry arrow9:30 PM | From Arrogant, Provincial Prick...

... to Anonymous.



Thank you. Bow.

But to put things into perspective, I've been asking people around me who've known me for the longest time: "Why am I ranting a lot these days? Why?" Because, really, I never rant. I've been accused before (by Mark, of all people) of being too nice to a fault. So why all the rants, now? I have no idea. When I ranted before, it was always about inept local politicians, but that's nothing remarkable. I have some theories: (1) it's my no-carb diet taking a toll on my faculties, or (2) that "momster" issue a few weeks back unleashed something in me that could no longer be suppressed. I bitched, and got results. I bitched, and saw that I was capable pala of bitching.

Tell me...

What should I do about my current tendency to bitch?
Stop.
Continue.
Tone it down a little.
Bitch even harder.
Who cares.
  
pollcode.com free polls


UPDATE: By the way, if anyone plans to open the comment link below, be prepared to encounter the worst kind of vitriol ever unleashed in The Spy in the Sandwich. "Anonymous" invited me to a highly creative [at least language-wise] sassy ride this side of bitchiness. He/she was content with almost monosyllabic putdowns -- a 5th grader can do better. I, on the other hand, channeled Robin Williams with his delicious insult-fest from Hook, and unleashed something nobody has ever seen me do: sass like there's no tomorrow. It's fun and quite liberating. Everybody should try it sometimes. So be warned.

But seriously, how psychotic are these fans of a certain blog? And why do they maintain I'm "inggit" daw? Because if I am, I'd be rabid over all five. But I'm not. I actually like the other finalists, and most of the finalists in the other categories, who all deserve the acclaim they are getting. And was I even nominated in the first place? I don't think so. While I got wind of the whole PBA thing from friends' blogs, I could only manage to look it up once the list of finalists was put up -- and then I recognized something I blogged about months before, and couldn't believe my eyes. Must everybody be critique-free in blogosphere? Did I break some blogging brotherhood/sisterhood code I didn't know about? {"Thou shalt not criticize the content of another blog.") Is it wrong to ask for a better personal blogging standard, whatever that means -- and to put someone under critical consideration, someone who has herself admitted to being "shallow"? The bottom line is, it's your right to enjoy her, and my right not to. That doesn't give anyone a right to shut me up at all. If you want to debate with me, debate on acceptable, reasonable terms based on points I've made that you've disagreed with. Don't be a palengkera and go off-tangent just to hurl an unearned insult. ("You look like a tadpole." Duh. That was supposed to hurt? It's sooo Grade 3. Yaks.)

But enough already. It's not the end of the world. Let's move on to worthier topics...

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entry arrow10:08 AM | The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in These Digital Times

[Beware: This is a rant.]

There is a quiet, thought-provoking scene in Brad Bird's wonderful The Incredibles that makes me think about the nature of the contemporary world. Mr. Incredible, by the time we see this particular scene, has already been forced by society to become an ordinary guy called Bob Parr. His son's school has just held an event where all the kids get to come home with trophies so as not to make anyone feel bad. Mr. Incredible grouches, "They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!"

It's food for thought indeed.

Because do we really do that in real life? The answer is, yes. I'm a little perturbed about how things are in the world today: people seem to award the bad, and patronize even the despicable (or at least the underwhelming). Let's just say there's high tolerance for mediocrity these days, something that was the subtle message in the Pixar animated hit I mentioned. (Another favorite line of dialogue from The Incredibles: Helen coos, "Everyone's special, Dash." The kid puts on his pouty face: "That's just another way of saying no one is.")

Here's a short list that will make what I say a little clearer... Be a bumbling college frat boy and draft dodger, and you become President George W. Bush. Be an anti-Semitic drunk, and are Mel Gibson, director of the surprise box-office smash Apocalypto. Be a dimwit pseudo-porn star and heiress, and you are Paris Hilton. Ransack a country and buy thousands of shoes, and when you return from exile, you are Imelda Marcos, numero uno socialite. Pretend stupidity is cool because it is surprisingly marketable, and you are Jessica Simpson. Be white trash, and you are Anna Nicole Smith. Write trashy pulp fiction about an unoriginal idea, and you are Dan Brown. Show your boobs and moan like crazy in "Monsters Ball," and you are Oscar Best Actress Halle Berry. Write a blog... Let's not get into the specifics.

It's scary when you find yourself in such a world where something is obviously so bad and you say so, and you get an attack of rabid apologists who stretch too much the acceptable relativity of "excellence." Of course, everybody can believe that something they do is "the best" no matter what -- but they forget that's a principle that people like American Idol's William Hung also cling to. (Sometimes, watching the show, I can't help but feel a mix of pity and revulsion over some of those who audition and who truly believe they're good, even if their voices are the equivalent of Piolo Pascual farting out "Kailangan Kita.")

I came across a blog that's protesting some undue criticism over awards and the quality of blog content. I believe I was one of those who did brandish the scalpel. (But only so sligtly naman. I wasn't in my best bitchy mood then.) It's a "personal" blog lang daw, and how "best" is always relative. I agree with the last part, but a personal blog is not "personal" at all, although it may possess the illusions of being so. I repeat: it is a delusion to think that "personal blogging" is primarily all about a personal sense of fulfillment. Yes, there is that, but "sense of fulfillment" is also true for most endeavors, like why we paint, or write, or... The whole idea of posting personal thoughts in a medium that the whole world can easily access also points to the fact -- consciously acknowledged or not -- that in some levels, we want to be read by other people. Blogging is a public medium of expression, and like all public stuff, it is a lightning rod for criticism, both good and bad. When it is entered in a contest (whether the blogger wanted to be nominated or not), it becomes a target of even more scrutiny. People will ask, "Why this blog and not that?" And rightfully so. That's the risk of the whole endeavor. I know this to be so true, because every time I enter a literary contest, there are always supporters and naysayers. When I won the Fully Booked Contest having tied with Michael Co's marvelous, marvelous story, I got my fair share of both. And I still lived to tell the tale, so to speak.

In the Internet age and coming from a year when Time has just declared "You" to be the Person of the Year, telling apart bad from good in the online world has suddenly become an issue everybody is talking about. A flap over several false Wikipedia entries (here and here) is the subject of a recent Newsweek article I read a few hours ago. It's titled "Dawn of the Web Amateurs" and is written by Steven Levy who has a nose for balancing all views on the matter. In that article, Levy writes about the recent tirade by Andrew Keen, author of the book The Cult of the Amateur due from Doubleday in June, who believes that the entire Internet movement is leading to a cultural meltdown. Levy writes:

The Essjay incident fits Keen's critique of the democratization of the digital world so neatly... In Keen's views, sites like Wikipedia, along with blogs, YouTube, iTunes, are rapidly eroding our legacy of expert guidance in favor of a "dictatorship of idiots." Reliable sources of information (like Encyclopedia Britannica, your local newspaper and even your beloved newsweekly magazine) are under siege from an explosion of self-appointed writers, broadcasters and filmmakers whose collective output, charges Keen, is garbage.

Levy is more positive in his final assessment:

Just as the printing press was disruptive in its time, the ubiquity of the Net and the cheap tools that give voice to anyone -- whether talented or not -- has kicked off a period of creative ferment. The optimists among us believe that the cream will rise to the top.

(The full article here.)

I believe in what Levy has to say. I love the democracy of blogging and YouTubing and podcasting and the like, but at the same time, the cream must rise to the top. So I will say it so when I have to say it so: some blogs are Michael Buble, and some are William Hung. It's just a little sad that the William Hungs of these cyberdays are pretty much accepted by the undiscerning. (Should I provide links? Well, why should I?)

Nobody -- certainly not me -- is advocating the complete wipe-put of these mediocre things. Because in the long run, there's an easy solution to this dilemma of "quality": if I don't like a particular blog, I will just have to learn to click the exit tab, or click on to the next one in our hyperlinked world. Or even this: continue reading it, because there's also nothing as spectacular as the guilty pleasure of watching (or reading) a train wreck.


FOOTNOTE: A friend recently asked me, "She's only a 19-year-old blogger, Ian. And she admits to being shallow. You don't have to be so quarrelsome about mere blogging." That's true, actually. It's just that the first time I discovered her blog in Pinoy Top Blogs months before, her description of her site really got my goat. It was the same strange feeling I usually get when somebody scratches his nails on a chalkboard -- the grating sound makes my bones all go shifty and ticklish and uncomfortable.

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entry arrow7:59 AM | Favorite Songs No. 3 : Tamis ng Unang Halik

There are other love songs from the Filipino's heartstricken near past that are close to my heart. George Canseco's "Sana'y Wala ng Wakas" is one of them. There's also his "Ikaw" (a love song he wrote supposedly for his dying wife), the sad "Hiram," and the haunting "Kahapon Lamang," and then there is Willy Cruz with "Init sa Magdamag" and "Bituing Walang Ningning," both of which have become part of the Sharon Cuneta legend. But Cruz's "Tamis ng Unang Halik" tugs at my heart more than any other.



Tina Paner sang the definitive cover (embedded above) many years ago, and every time I hear the song, I am reminded of my own lovestruck youth and the follies I've blundered into for the sake of "puppy love." If you must know, I had a long-term crush bordering on obsession with a girl classmate named Deidre. This was when we were both in elementary school in the early 1980s. My crush on her was a daydream that lasted from first grade to sixth, and in a sense provided the foundation for the romantic in me. There was a time when I'd fantasize about marrying Deidre. My mother remembers me coming to her one day to ask permission if I could marry the girl of my dreams. "But you're only a boy," she said. I was 9 years old and my heart broke over the impossibility of it all. I spent some of those pre-adolescent nights crying and hoping that this breathtaking girl would somehow know that my heart throbbed only for her. That obsession went as far as me following her to her house some days when we were both in fourth grade, and I'd hide behind a tree and imagine myself being in the same room with her, taking in the very air she breathed. Psycho stalker.

But of course, there are other first loves and puppy loves to come, loves that would just come right from nowhere and strike me dumb and bewildered with its gravity and immediacy.

"Tamis ng Unang Halik," in many ways, speak of that lovely bewilderment. The first time the song hit the local airwaves many years ago, Philippine showbiz was of a different breed, and the Willy Cruz tune was a song my burgis heart would not touch with a ten-feet pole. And yet today, we look at the same songs and marvel at the way they have captured the sweet, courageous sentimentality of our people. They're now considered classics of Filipino pop music, immortal tunes that define us. Today, no other Filipino composer -- save perhaps Ogie Alcasid in his best days and, more or less, Ryan Cayabyab -- seem able to grasp the pining, the anguished hopes, the lovestruck wonderment of those old songs.

Here are the lyrics to the song...

'Sang saglit ng ubod-tagal
Unang halik ng 'yong mahal
Isang saglit lang nang matikman
Isang saglit lang parang walang hanggan
'Yan ang iyong unang halik

Kailan ba 'yon, kay tagal na
Ngunit tamis naroon pa
Tuwing ang mata'y mapipikit
Bakit tamis kusang nagbabalik
Kukupas pa ngunit hindi
Ang alaala mo ng una mong halik

Refrain

Puso mo'y maghahanap
Muli at muli kang magmamahal
Lahat ay malilimot mo
Ngunit hindi, ngunit hindi ang...

Iyong unang halik
Unang tibok ng pusong sabik
Isang saglit lang nang matikman
Isang saglit lang, parang walang hanggan
Limutin mo man, mahirap gawin
Dahil damdamin mo sumisigaw
Mapipi man ang 'yong bibig
Kay tamis ng una mong halik

I came back to "Tamis" in college when it was chosen as one of the songs for the choir I had joined in. Perhaps it was in learning the musical nuances of that song that I came to realize how magical it really was, how true its eternal insight about the fleeting nature of first kisses and first loves -- things that blur when we get older, but the essences of which stay with us for the rest of our lives, molding us into the hopeful romantics we always aspire to be.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

entry arrow6:07 PM | Redesigning MetroPost

It's six p.m., and I just woke up. You read that right. I just woke up. I've been awake and working since yesterday afternoon, running on coffee and other substances guaranteed to keep my eyes wide open, trying to finish the layout of this weekend's MetroPost.

It's our community newspaper, and like most papers of that kind, it has a very small staff consisting mostly of an editor or two, plus interns of various sorts. This week, Ma'am Irma Pal -- my former teacher in mass communication in Silliman and managing editor of MetroPost -- asked me if I could recommend any layout artist to do this weekend's edition. Hers had just graduated and she was facing the prospect of having nobody around to put the weekend paper to bed.

I could not think of anybody at all in Dumaguete who could do justice to newspaper design. Usually, when I go around and see all these local papers being sold in newsstands, I die a thousand deaths at the aesthetic murder I see being spilled on newsprint everywhere. So, like the adage that goes, "The only way to make sure something is done correctly is to do it yourself," I volunteered to do it muyself. Suicidally, in fact. I had other deadlines looming, and I still had to finish my original story for this week's LitCritters session. But how do you say "no" to a friend and former teacher?

I started around Friday afternoon, having finished off two other deadlines. I was already getting panicky from the seemingly lost list of things-to-do. But nothing could suppress the mission to do a much-needed face-lift to MetroPost. Sure, I'm a columnist for the paper, and I'm loyal to it -- but MetroPost, for the past eight years of existence, was newspapering's equivalent of looking like a tramp. The design elements were so badly placed, everything laid out on haphazard pagination without heeding aesthetic commonsense that sometimes I would flip through its pages and sigh over the many atrocities of design.

And so I gave the newspaper a totally different design, from the sectioning to the masthead to the columns to the titling to the flow of articles. Everything changed, because they needed to be. In many ways, last night was like a little reminder of my first job as editor-in-chief of the (former) rival paper NegrosNews, where I was editor, writer, cartoonist, layout artist, photographer, and sometimes account executive -- all for measly pay. I had no staff, except for Ma. Fe Tabada, the co-owner's sister who was my high school friend and who was just there to give me a hand. (God, I missed having a Friday social life for a year, and I felt overused and underpaid -- and so when Silliman University offered me a teaching position, thanks largely to Ma'am Ceres Pioquinto*, I jumped at the chance and said goodbye to community journalism like it was a rash.)

Tomorrow, when the regular readers of the paper will get their copies, they will get the shock of their lives, hehehe. Here's what the front page looks like...



(See details and sample pages here and here.)

I finished tiling the camera-ready sheets for the press around noon today, and promptly went to bed. So if I'm a little bit grouchy now, you know why.

*goddess and literary theory mentor

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entry arrow4:00 PM | Is There Sex in Philippine Fiction in English?

[this is a post-dated entry. for recent posts, see below]

This will be a very strange post. Perhaps because it began with a strange question I was asked a few weeks ago -- which I could not exactly answer with anything concrete (even until today), largely because I never really thought about it, and never did make any kind of formal and sustained research to find the answer.

The question was: Who writes or has written the best erotica in Philippine literature (in English)? The emphasis given was on fiction, not poetry.

While I could easily give the names of women writers (they did produce the anthology Forbidden Fruit, edited by Tina Cuyugan), and gay writers (in the Ladlad series edited by J. Neil C. Garcia and Danton Remoto, and the lesbian anthology Tibok edited by Ana Leah Sarabia) -- I was stumped trying to come up with a list of (heterosexual) male writers, writing in the vein of Henry Miller. There are a lot of raunchy stuff in Dean Alfar's Salamanca, so I could start with that. I could make a case with Manuel Arguilla's subtle sensuality in "Midsummer." Cesar Ruiz Aquino and Sarge Lacuesta have touches of the erotic in their fiction, and I think Krip Yuson has also written one or two erotic stories. Timothy Montes has suggested that traditional love stories have always been dominated by women writers, and that Erwin Castillo has some juvenile stories that are both "macho" and "sexy" -- but that in his novel Firewalkers, he ultimately decided to forego writing a sex scene. Tim ends with this suggestion: "Doc Ed [Tiempo], in The Standard Bearer, has a funny sex scene in an early chapter. Something about eating oysters."

I remember Butch Dalisay, in an old, old column, saying something like "there is no sex in Philippine literature." Is that really true? And if it is, why? Any suggestions will help. Email me, or comment away. It's something worthwhile to look into, and then perhaps I can cobble together an essay trying to catch the erotic in Philippine literature.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

entry arrow10:02 AM | The Last Word on Kris Aquino

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the James Yap-Hope Centeno sex scandal, I wrote about the widespread fascination for Kris Aquino, but never did take sides. (Trust me, there are camps in blogosphere and beyond: one camp that is truly devoted, and another that is truly vitriolic in their dislike.) Last weekend proved to be the last straw upon my fragile neutrality, however. I remember an ABS-CBN show (was it The Buzz?) giving an "exclusive" on the Kris Aquino situation, showing a segment where a camera crew visited the convalescing talk show host in her hospital bed, where she waxed all martyr-like but welcoming as she recounted her strict diet, how her unborn baby had yet to gain the necessary weight, everything. I was riveted. But it slowly dawned on me: to what lengths will this media monster go to to cannibalize her life para lang may pansin mileage? Didn't she willingly "disappear" from the local TV scene to "concentrate" on her marriage and her "failing" health, away from the spotlight and the stress of TV cameras? What was she doing inviting the whole world into her hospitable bed, when all she could have hoped for was for everything to just fade away?

Why do we even bother to watch this pornography of attention-deficiency, even when we all willingly acknowledge that her life is our current favorite soap opera? Should we let her continue to manipulate us with her endless tales of woes and what-not?

Frankly, I have enough. I boycott Kris Aquino -- and all products she endorses -- from now on. I will not watch any of her TV shows, and I will not read anything about her anymore. (Who's with me?) Hell, I won't even vote for Noynoy, just because. She's a sad, sad, pathetic woman who can no longer recognize plain sanity -- or blogs, for that matter, hehehe. ("What's a blog? Do we need a password to access that?")

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entry arrow9:40 AM | Vignette | How to Live

He can smell the decay in the morning -- tropical almost, the rot of overripe mango left out to wither in the hot sun. He believes this is a portent, and already he feels sad, and a bit sick, the orgy of chocolate bars from yesterday now a festering sore in his throat. He shouldn't have eaten that much chocolate, he tells himself, almost jokingly, because he doen't even believe himself anymore, not the recriminations he takes himself to task with, not the gentle self-rebukes before morning mirrors. How do you believe a sad old joke? He is almost thirty, and the proverbial well has dried up for him. Or so he believes. He knows only that he feels tired.

Quickly, he got up from bed resembling the ruins of last night's ridiculous attempt to make love. The body beside him is not moving, and it is alive only to him as in the careful measure of early morning snore. He does not wake the body, and, zombie-like, he gets up, staggers really, to the shower, where the shock of cold water is not even enough to breathe the slightest hint of life into wasted body.

Quickly, he turns to the comfort of routine, sans coffee: the toweling away of wet body, muscles rippling, the sudden invasion of wardrobe, only to come up with a grey shirt with red stripes, and yesterday's pair of jeans. The sartorial equivalent of disappearance. He doesn't care.

From last night, he can still taste the delirium of having come from some aimlessness, culminating from the recent succession of scattered days; he was in Kitty's place, with the city's artists, and with them he had toasted to all of life's shit with so much wine, and little of song. It was, in hindsight (but is there any other?), perhaps a very bad idea. He had, naturally, gone to bed staggering like a fool, and in consequence woke up late Monday morning, with barely minutes to go before work starts.

Dressing up in the grey shirt and old jeans, he realizes youth is finally over when one doesn't even think about summer vacations anymore. The idylls are gone. And suddenly, he just wishes he can stop breathing.

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entry arrow8:47 AM | Why Daughters Should Listen to Fathers

"The greatness of a ruler lies in his ability to exercise restraint in the use of tremendous power. The essence of a democrat consists of the patience to secure his wishes through the complex machinery of the system of checks and balances which is the indispensible life-blood of the democratic system and not through the expidiency of crushing all opposition. The essential trait of a democracy is not power but responsibility, not authority but duty."

Diosdado Macapagal

[via mlq3]

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

entry arrow10:00 PM | Jeepneys and Other Mirrors

Frank Cimatu on the rules and sociology of jeepneys. Now, why Pine for Pine isn't nominated for best personal blog (but this one does) is a mystery as deep as the universe.

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entry arrow8:57 PM | Madonna and the Futility of Not Remembering

I can't stop listening to this...



It's been blasting from my CD player all day. Like most people of my peculiar persuasion, I worship Madonna beyond all her transgressions in Swept Away or Body of Evidence. And I'm thinking, for vintage tarty Madonna, the only sure album to have is The Immaculate Collection, where you get all her classic early hits from "La Isla Bonita" to "Like a Virgin" to "Justify My Love." But for a meditative Madonna -- in a gentle, contemplative album that was really her audition for the role of Evita Peron -- you have to get Something to Remember, where you get the somber takes of "Take a Bow" to "You'll See" to "This Used to be My Playground." It's a perfect album, destined to be a classic. I haven't played it in years. And now I just can't seem to press the "stop" button.

Nor do I want to, if you have to ask me.

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entry arrow3:58 PM | Queer Birds

Martin Scorsese's The Departed versus Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak's Infernal Affairs? I find it utterly pretentious when cineastes all go snotty and say the original's always better.

Many times, that's true (compare Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights and its horrid South Korean remake, Jae-ho Park's Summer Time, or George Sluizer's excellent and scary Spoorloos from 1988 and his own English language 1993 remake and inexplicable dud, The Vanishing).

Sometimes that's downright false (compare Roy del Ruth's The Maltese Falcon and the definitive John Huston remake).

But most of the time, the original and its remake can stand beside each other and in many ways, even complement each other. I like both Billy Wilder's and Sydney Pollack's versions of Sabrina (although you can make a case of Audrey Hepburn trumping Julia Ormond anytime). Or Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's and Peter Jackson's King Kong. Or Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven (2002), which is a more revelatory version of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955). Or Andrew Davis's The Fugitive (1993), which was based on a popular 1960s television series.



This afternoon, I just got off watching Edouard Molinaro's wonderful 1978 farce La Cage aux Folles, and I remember Mike Nichol's 1996 version, The Birdcage. While there are many similarities as well as a slew of differences, they both provide significant trans-Atlantic takes in the story of two senior gay men couple -- one of whom is a funnily insecure nightclub transvestite diva -- and the comedic lengths they go to to conceal their "lifestyle" in order to dine with their grownup son's very conservative prospective in-laws. The French-Italian version has teeth and edge, while the American one is largely soft and pillowy. But I like them both very much. It's like choosing between red and blue M&Ms: both may be colored differently, but they are still the same sweet, crunchy stuff.

But then again, in the original, you also have this:



Sigh.

Here's a sobering thought however: Remi Laurent, the actor who played the son, died of AIDS in 1989.

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entry arrow11:43 AM | Abducted Still

I get at least two déjà vus every day lately. Yesterday, it was while driving through the city with the wind in my hair, and at that precise moment when something clicked in my head, it was the exact spot in my fuzzy recollection of sorts, and the exact angle of the city blocks, the exact conversation, the exact everything... Something's weird in my world. Or maybe it's the grading week taking its toll. And the deadlines... The effing deadlines!

...

[deleted gripe. i don't need this aggravation right now.]

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

entry arrow12:43 PM | Define Stupidity

Gotta blog about this. This is the second time this maddening peculiarity of academic life happens to me. This time, though, I'm no longer so amused. See, we're almost at the tail-end of final exams week here in Silliman University, and I'm calculating the grades of my graduating students, most of whom wish to march in their togas this coming Sunday. One of them, a student in my Philippine literature class who has a history of off-hand machismo and devil-may-care attitude, handed in just now a very late take-home exam -- which I really shouldn't be accepting anymore, but still... I have delusions of being an understanding teacher. Ehe.

The whole thing smacked of plagiarism.

What's worse: his answer to the second question in the exam, which dealt with the Filipino novel in English, was a shameless cut-and-paste job straight from the Internet.

Unfortunately for him, the original article was written by me.

I mean, how stupid is that? You're going to plagiarize a paper written by your own teacher? And so the misery of grading week continues...

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

entry arrow2:06 PM | Thoughts Trail Off as They Come Along...

...

7.

I'm browsing through Friendster and one of my friends has this photo of him having dinner with The Imelda. At first, I was fascinated ("Wow, Popong is having a sit-down dinner with Mrs. Marcos..."), but the discerning (really?) political animal in me soon kicked in, and I had to wonder: if I were in a social situation with the former dragon lady, what would I do, given what we know of history? I've always said that Filipinos are particularly tragic for their capacity to forget too easily. So if it were me in front of Imelda, would I: (a) grab my fork and knife and carve her up in the name of all victims of martial law? or (b) throw my Italian shoes at her and shout, "Add that to your collection, bitch!" or (c) be dazzled like the rest, and be silent, and treat the past as a sad footnote that should not be a downer for any party? or (d) finish my wine and tell myself, "Yay, sikat na ko. I'm so sosi. I'm dining with Meldy! Here's to all the jealous fuckers back in Dumaguete who called me a social-climbing whore! ... Yes, madam? You like the caviar?"

What would you do?

6.

From Kokak's Diskurso blog...

During our radio program last week, ... I sat with three beauty titlist in Australia. All of them were half Filipinos and half Australians... Needless to say they were all gorgeous. I highly believe that when you mix Pinoy blood with any other race, you almost always come up with that perfect mixture of features. These three beauty titlists were no exception.

When asked about their plans for the next five years, all three responded that they would be going back to the Philippines to pursue their passion for acting, singing, and modelling. The Australian audience isn’t much for oohing and aahing over celebrities. They do scream and go gaga sometimes, but not to the same extent that Filipinos in the Philippines do when in contact with a celebrity.

While they were off air, one of the beauty queens remarked about her experience in Manila. She spends quite a lot of time there (half the year, if I’m correct) and so she’s had more experience about the Filipino atmosphere than the other two beauty queens. She said the first time she went to one of the broadcasting company’s audition building, she couldn’t believe the length of the queue of half-Filipino half-whatevers from all over the world.

When Pinoys breed, they breed big time.

There is honestly no shortage of mestizos in Pinas who want to be on TV and be idolised like every sikat celebrity on TV. She was surprised. But it only strengthened her resolve to learn Tagalog and pursue her dream of being in the spotlight.

Well, for every Sam Milby, you also get a cold, flash-in-the-pan Troy Montero.

5.

A brief history of happiness. An excerpt:

Happiness is linked to such words as happen and happenstance. Greek tragedies were filled with the idea that happiness was a matter of fate.

"The Gods are spiteful and capricious," McMahon said. "Just when you think everything's going well, they pull the rug out from you and send a thunderbolt down."

That began to change with Socrates, but the concept of humans having some control over their own happiness didn't flower until the 18th century.

"If you ask somebody today what happiness is, they'll inevitably tell you that it involves feeling good," McMahon said.

But it meant something more to the Greeks and Romans. Aristotle held that happiness was based on a lifetime of experience. You couldn't really tell if you were happy until you were dead.

Is anybody dead yet?

4.

I should really get back to work. Now.

3.

I posted this as a reply to a comment somewhere below, for a post about existing in a time warp last Saturday, which I felt to be a Sunday -- a feeling I couldn't shake off no matter how hard I tried. But my reply bears repeating. My new theory is that I was abducted by aliens. The same thing happened last week, on a Friday. I was grading a group report for my Philippine Literature class, and I simply could not remember one particular student reporting ever. The weirdest thing was, I was fully awake, and I took copious notes of the proceedings! I asked the student sitting beside me, "Did So-and-so report?" And she said, "Yes, sir. She spoke on the invisibility of Filipino-Americans in the United States." I said, "She did?" But I could not remember anything at all. What happened in those lost minutes? Did I disappear? Did I black out? Did I go to Pluto and back again? Is this an early sign of coming dementia? Crispin! Basilio!

2.

Where in the world is Jessica Zafra? (And why is everybody pointing their finger at me?)

1.

I just realized my second passport expires this year.



Jeez. Didn't even get to use it. Have I been Philippine-bound this long? Where have I been the past four years? Suddenly my feet itch to travel. But first let me renew this damned green book.

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entry arrow10:07 AM | Music is the Language of What We Do Not Speak

Some time ago, divining the self which remains unknown to me, Moses tells me that I have a grand way of falling in love. It is almost cinematic, he says, complete with a Puccini aria in the background. (Preferably "Nessun dorma," but that's being too typical.) In my subconscious, it seems, I reach out to the romantic Pied Piper, the gentle music man who plays the song who will lure me into the (often deadly, but happily so) reverie we call falling. I guess Moses is right. It is always easy to fall in love with music men. I have always fallen for singers, or for musicians. (And if literature must be music, too, also poets.) And maybe, just maybe, it is really the drama of the song I fall for, the gentle lyrics falling from their lips enveloping me into a kind of trance. In that moment when all else seems to break in the gravity of the music, I embrace the exquisite selfishness of owning their song. "That song is for me," I tell myself, and proceed to drown. I guess all love is inherently selfish: we pursue it for the headiness it gives us, like a drug, like a surging that runs to everything we are.

It's a Tuesday morning, and unlike the past two days, the day takes its time to unfold, and there is not much sun. There's even a stir of a breeze playing outside, a respite from yesterday's heat. I'm listening to Itzak Perlman doing his serenades with his violin, from Rachmaninoff's transcendent "Vocalise," to the cinematic themes of The Color Purple, Yentl, Out of Africa, Schindler's List, and Cinema Paradiso. There's also Stephane Grappelli playing "I Will Wait for You" from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. There's also Diana Krall singing a string of standards that ache. This is how you fall in love. In the primal consideration, for music -- which is really nothing more than a perfect acknowledgment of the beating of our own hearts.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

entry arrow8:07 PM | Color Me Shallow

It happens. You bloghop through your boredom, mindful that there are piles of work for you to finish, but still... And then, out of the Internet blue, you stumble upon this blog of somebody who looks great, looks all polished, even sophisticated-looking. The way he writes is okay, too. Plus point. Then you discover something and say, "Hey, look! May video sya!" Excited, you click to play the video. The pictures move, and the guy begins to talk. And you are quickly reminded of Jean Hagen's nasally Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain. All interest fades away.

Yes, I'm shallow that way.

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entry arrow12:42 PM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 8



This week:

LitCritters Originals No. 2

Last week:

The God Equation by Michael Co
The Dead by James Joyce
The Flyers of Gy by Ursula K. Le Guin
Lucky Ducks by Lorrie Moore

Last, last week:

Stella for Star by Yvette Natalie Tan
The Music Child by Alfred Yuson
The Rememberer by Aimee Bender
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

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entry arrow11:31 AM | Remembering Godspell

I used to do theater in college, like most of us with a certain persuasion. Had directed this and that, including Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues and Rene O. Villanueva's Asawa.

When I started out, however, it was 1996 and the local musical maven had sent out audition calls for a production of West Side Story (book by Arthur Laurents, and composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim). I went to the Luce Auditorium to give moral support for a friend ... and on a dare, I ended up auditioning as well, singing a nervous version of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's Les Miserables. I got in.

The role given me was Diesel in West Side Story, one of the Jets, in fact their number one fighting guy. I relished in the butchness of the role, even learned to fist-fight the 1950s way. It was so ... un-me, which was why I loved it. Then the production hit a snag, and the director -- bound by some contract to produce a show -- handpicked a few of us to compose the cast for Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's Godspell.



That was a trip: I had earlier worshipped the beautiful and haunting extravagance (bordering on sacrilege) of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, but found Schwartz's play successfully diffusing the gap between genuine piety and biting social commentary. I very much liked its liberal slyness and its (paradoxical) bright religiosity. Godspell was both staunch Methodist hymnal set to play, and counter-culture/flower children idea of bohemia.

I am reminded of all these because when I work on my home computer, my Windows Media Player music playlist is set at random. Today, that randomness picked a song from the original cast recording of Godspell. I am thinking: Godspell. That was about ten years ago. Ten years. I can't believe that ten years ago, I was someone who acted and sung in front of audiences, onstage. Seems like another lifetime, and in a sense, another personality. Today, I am able to listen to all the old songs via the wonders of LimeWire (from the excitable "Day by Day" to the haunting "By My Side"), and I suddenly miss the old ways, when we were much too young, when we heeded no inhibition and sang our hearts out, when all of life was a stage to perform in. And all was wonderful.

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entry arrow12:01 AM | When Insults Had Class

[emailed in by margie udarbe]

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
Winston Churchill

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about."
Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
William Faulkner, on Ernest Hemingway

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
Ernest Hemingway, on William Faulkner

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
Moses Hadas

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
Abraham Lincoln

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
Groucho Marx

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."
Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one."
George Bernard Shaw, to Winston Churchill

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one."
Winston Churchill, in response

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."
Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."
Irvin S. Cobb

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others."
Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up."
Paul Keating

"He had delusions of adequacy."
Walter Kerr

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."
Jack E. Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt."
Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge."
Thomas Brackett Reed

"He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them."
James Reston, on about Richard Nixon

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily."
Charles, Count Talleyrand

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."
Forrest Tucker

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"
Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts ... for support rather than illumination."
Andrew Lang

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

entry arrow8:56 PM | Travels With Cecilia Brainard



Cecilia Manguerra Brainard now blogs. A lot of interesting essays over there.

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entry arrow8:16 PM | Why?

At $45,352, this is the most expensive purse in history.



Good money for a mongrel. I bet Paris wants one.

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entry arrow9:42 AM | What Cripples Filipino Cinema (and a Goodbye to the 'Temptation Island' Man)

What ails the Filipino national cinema is not piracy -- although that is part of the problem. It is the lack of appreciation for our film heritage. How does a national cinema progress and make a decisive mark on a people if it is mostly an ephemeral phenomenon, a flickering light show that one watches for only two hours in a darkened movie theater, which then mostly disappears from the rest our lives? If film immortality and progress must be marked, memory becomes vital. The French, the British, and the Americans must have known this, because most have made sure their film heritage will not go the way of vinegary nitrate and gooey celluloid by (1) undertaking the hardy task of film preservation, (2) propagating a strong sense of heritage through film studies, and producing books upon countless books exploring old [and new] directors, film genres and styles, movie stars, criticism, and many others, and (3) making old titles available for sale or rent so that every generation of filmgoers will know not only their contemporary moviemakers but the old guards as well.

In all three considerations, Philippine cinema largely falls flat on its face. And we complain why our industry is dying a slow but sure death.

I remember the National Artist for Film Eddie Romero once lamenting during a talk in his (and my) alma mater Silliman University that most of our films produced before the 1950s have all vanished, have turned to mulch. That's more than 50 years of heritage lost forever. (The writer Ed Cabagnot gives a talk about this once in a while.) Today, we can only hear and read about Manuel Conde's Juan Tamad Goes to Congress (1960), but we will never get to see an inch of the film because it's irrevocably lost. The late Fernando Poe Jr. seemed to be the only person in the whole country who had the foresight to fight film degeneration. Today, the only good print of Romero's Aguila can be found in the Poe archives. (Then again, the film starred him.)

Where is Philippine Film Studies? Sure, the University of the Philippines offers this, but the rest of the country's academic community still does not seem to consider it vital to tackle this significant part of our culture. There are film books here and there being published by some of the top presses (most notably by Rolando Tolentino, Nick Deocampo, Nicanor Tiongson, Mario Bautista, Ricky Lee, and Bienvenido Lumbera), but nothing much to make for a considerable avalanche of interest.

Then, of course, we come to availability. Today, it is so much easier for any Filipino to go to any video store (or pirate stall) and get a full set of the films of Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Charlie Chaplin, or Francois Truffaut. But to get the complete Lino Brocka? Ishmael Bernal? Lamberto Avellana? Mike de Leon? Eddie Romero? Peque Gallaga? Marilou Diaz-Abaya? Gerry de Leon? They are largely absent. (And for a few titles that do come to light, one sees film stock bearing the marks of eventual degradation. Even films released as early as the 1980s have colors slowly turning to rust-red. The old black and white films being shown in ABC 5 and Cinema One are shadowy and murky, the soundtrack miserable.) A few weeks ago, an Italian movie critic who was finishing a landmark book of international horror cinema, emailed me that he wanted to include several iconic Filipino films, one of which was the first Shake, Rattle, and Roll, produced by Regal and directed by Gallaga, Bernal, and Emmanuel Borlaza. He told horror stories about being passed on to this and that contact, who would further pass him on to other contacts. In the end, he became frustrated. Not even Regal Films could help him. He simply could not get a copy of the film. And this was a film released in 1984.

I'm writing this because I just learned that director Joey Gosiengfiao has recently died (read the breaking story here), and I very much want to honor the director by watching some of his "masterpieces." Gosiengfiao, after all, preceded (or at least paralleled) the campiness and the biting (and humorous) social commentary of Pedro Almodovar and Francois Ozon. If I must have copies of only three pre-1990s Filipino films, I will include in this unforgivably short list Gallaga's Oro Plata Mata (1982), Abaya's Moral (1982), and Gosiengfiao's Temptation Island (1981). (What? No Romero, Avellana, Brocka, Bernal, Mario O'Hara, or even an Eddie Garcia? Yes.)



(In photo: Director Joey mugging for the camera, and the shipwrecked scene in Temptation Island)

The movie may be "bad," however you may define the term, but Temptation Island has become a surprise icon of Philippine cinema, embodying all elements of camp and transcending its tacky filmmaking to become, without doubt, one of the best Filipino films ever made. (Ogg's Movie Thoughts has a thoughtful review of Temptation Island here.)

And the dialogue! Who makes dialogue (credited to screenwriter Toto Belano) like that these days?

Suzanne: (to Maria, the maid who's applying lotion) Careful! Careful now! Huwag mong masyadong idiin at baka masira ang beauty ng complexion ko. Alam mo naman, ang hirap hirap ma-achieve ang golden tan!

~

Suzanne: (after bumping Bambi on purpose) Sorry ha, di kita napansin.

Bambi: Bakit? Nalula ka ba sa aking towering height? It must be your failing eyesight.

Suzanne: Excuse me! 20-20 yata ang vision ko!

Bambi: Ay sorry ha, I thought it is your bustline. So it must have been my fault after all, bitch!

Suzanne: Double bitch!

Joshua (the flamboyant gay organizer): Rub-a-dub-dub, two bitches in a tub!

~

Azenith: (trying to seduce Alfie Anido upon their first meeting) I'm a crook, a damn good crook, and I can tell by your big brown eyes that you're a crook, too!

~

Bambi is whining about missing her mother.

Suzanne: I have no time for middle-class sentiments!

~

Joshua is whining about how difficult it is to build a grass hut.

Suzanne: I have no carpenter complex so I don't know what you are talking about.

~

Suzanne is bitching to Azenith whom she caught sleeping with the waiter.

Azenith: Nanganganib na nga buhay natin, pa-bitch-bitch ka pa diyan!

Suzanne: What are bitches for, but to bitch around their fellow bitches!

~

Ricky: Hindi tayo makakahuli ng isda ng ganito! Kailangan ng isang mistulang lambat!

Maria: Bakit di na lang natin gamitin ang panty natin?

Suzanne: Hoy, Maria! Huwag ka ngang boba! Gamitin mo ang panty mo kung gusto mo!

Maria: Eh, ma'am, mas maraming panty mas maraming isda!

Suzanne: Gaga! Gamitin nyo na ang mga panty nyo, but my panty stays right where it is!

~

Suzanne: Ang sabihin mo, mahilig ka lang talaga sa mga laborers, those poor proletariat, indigent men.

~

Azenith: (looking into the man's eyes) Alam ko ang iniisip mo.

She kisses him.

Azenith: Tama ba?

~

Azenith: (supposedly weak from hunger and thirst) Ang sabi nila, ang pag-ibig ay pagkain din... Halika, mahalin mo ako...

~

Everyone is desperately hungry and weak since they have not eaten in days.

Azenith: Wala tayong pagkain, wala ding tubig, bakit di na lang tyo mag sayawan?

And so they dance, Bambi slaps Suzanne, and they end up in a catfight that Maria and Dina try to stop. Azenith just keeps on dancing right smack in the middle.

~

Everyone is seriously praying while eating the barbecued flesh of the deceased gay organizer Joshua so they can survive.

Azenith: Kumanta kaya tayo para mas madali natin malunok?

And so they sing Barbra Streisand's "Somewhere." Even the boys sing along.


All these remind me of the dark, queer humor of Tennessee Williams, whom Gosiengfiao identified with. (He said so himself.) The cannibalization of the gay organizer Joshua at the end of the film is a send-up of Williams' own Suddenly, Last Summer, the 1959 film version of which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift -- and ended with the now infamous shot of the gay poet/predator Sebastian Venable (whose face we do not see at all) being eaten by island boys.

Eternal thanks to SleepyHead29 for uploading these immortal lines in his LiveJournal, and for posting this collage of scenes from the movie...



There seems to be a video for sale somewhere. It's sometimes on cable, but I can't seem to catch it. I can't seem to find any copy in any video store either. And it stars a virginal Dina Bonnevie and the late matinee idol Alfie Anido, for God's sake!

[the director's photo was swiped from the Inquirer website, while the film still photo is courtesy of ogg and the collage from sari-saring sineng pinoy]

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

entry arrow10:56 AM | Time Warp

Strange. Why can't I shake off the feeling that today is Sunday? It's Saturday, dammit. Saturday.

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entry arrow1:45 AM | Aria for Tree and Shade

Opera is a precarious thing to admire the first time around. I remember Edward, Richard Gere's character in Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman, telling Vivian (Julia Roberts) exactly this while they were watching La Traviata in a San Francisco opera house: "People's reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don't, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul."

Risky business it is then, the appreciation of opera. (Good thing I had dearest Francois to teach me the basics in the first place.) Which is why if there is one opera I will choose to see for my first time, it will be George Frideric Handel's Xerxes -- if only to listen to one of the greatest, most affecting arias in the history of opera: "Ombra mai fu." It's the first aria in the opera, sung by the main title character in praise of a tree and its shade. Sure, Xerxes may be what in the opera world is called a "pants role," but female singers have done more than justice to it. Listen to Marilyn Horne sing the aria, and you will swoon.



Here's the simple lyrics of the aria:

Ombra mai fu
di vegetabile
cara ed amabile,
soave più.

Ombra mai fu
di vegetabile
cara ed amabile,
soave più.

Cara ed amabile,
ombra mai fu
di vegetabile
cara ed amabile,
soave più.
soave più.

Translated, it means:

Never was shade
Of plant
More dear, amiable and sweet.

It's about a tree, dammit. But how we are moved.

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entry arrow12:53 AM | Favorite Song No. 2 : Dream a Little Dream of Me

Here's another favorite song from my playlist...



Milton Adolphus and Gus Kahn's "Dream a Little Dream of Me" is a good example of a song I totally disliked upon first encounter, but which I would grow to love in subsequent chances of listening. There's something ultimately hopeful (and cheerful) about this love song that I can't quite place ("Stars shining bright above you / Night breezes seem to whisper 'I love you' / Birds singin' in the sycamore tree / Dream a little dream of me..."), which may have been the reason why I initially did not like it: taught by the world to appreciate only irony and the romance of sadness and bleak despair, one learns to back away from all instances of syrupy tunes. But I saw this heart-wrenching film Beautiful Thing once, which boasted in its soundtrack Mama Cass singing "Dream a Little Dream of Me," weaving it intimately into the theme of two boys discovering love and fairy tale endings in the squalor of the projects. I quickly fell in love with Mama Cass and her song, and I am in awe now over how she sang such cheerful lyrics with more than a dash of sadness and longing. But I think those exactly are the songs I grow to be passionate about: old love songs with such capacity for hope, wrapped with that romantic pulsing of sadness. My love songs tell me who I am precisely: a hopeless martyr for love, and decidedly and happily so.

Here's the lyrics, in case you want to sing along:

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper "I love you"
Birds singin' in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me

Say nighty-night and kiss me
Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me
While I'm alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me

Stars fading but I linger on dear
Still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger till dawn dear
Just saying this

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me

(Instrumental)

Stars fading but I linger on dear
Still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger till dawn dear
Just saying this

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries far behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me

I think I shall do this Favorite Song thing every Saturday. Gives me something to blog about on weekends.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

entry arrow1:11 PM | Last Rant for the Week

I don't want to rant, I don't want to rant, I don't want to rant. I've been ranting enough already for several posts now. (It's the low-carb diet, people. It's making my head mainit.) Still, I just read this interview with a famous Filipino fictionist now residing in the United States -- and you must know I really like her ... our emails to each other are always congenial and nice and supportive -- but in her quick survey of Filipino poets in that interview, specifically with the question "Who are the major Filipino poets writing right now?", she cited Filipino-American ones, exclusively. And I was left wondering: where are the Marjorie Evascos, the Edith Tiempos, the Anthony Tans, the Paolo Manalos, the Gemino Abads, the Krip Yusons, the Joel Toledos, the Naya Valdellons, the Larry Ypils, the Sid Gomez Hildawas in that consideration? Do we have to be living in the U.S. to be considered "major" now? But I blame the lightning nature of all interviews ... how everything must come together in quick soundbytes, and how sometimes we can only talk about things immediate to us in that given instant. But okay, peace na... I'm not going to rant anymore. At least not for a while.

I'm thinking of buying a kitten. I just saw the cutest one in the nearest pet shop...

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entry arrow2:33 AM | Backpacker

Many years ago, I became friends with an Israeli backpacker named Elan Frenkel. That was one of the first things that drew me to him: his first name that hinted of the fashionable, the chic. Nothing was fashionable about his long, curly hair made yellow by the sun, and dirtied by the many weeks on the road. But his blue eyes saw through you...

Tourists of various sorts are a common sight in Dumaguete: they regularly cruise our streets with their trademark batik wraparound or their buli hats, their short shorts, their sandals, and their tan, their faces always buried in dogeared travel books, fervently looking for the cheapest place to stay and drop their heavy bags, or for the nearest beach. Most would go south of the province, to snorkel or dive down in the depths of Dauin or Apo, or to Siquijor for the island's mystery (and more beaches).

Elan was just passing through town, having just come off the boat that had began in Malaysia, and was now docked in Dumaguete. I had seen him earlier that morning along Alfonso Trese Street, and I remembered liking his face. He reminded me of Ethan Zohn from Survivor, and he had this intelligent air about him. That night, there was a concert of Bach (or maybe Mozart) at the Luce Auditorium, and I saw him trying to get in with his backpacker wear, but was promptly told by the ushers to come back with at least decent shoes on. And jeans.

I was going home after the concert, and found him walking ahead of me stopping once in a while to look up the acacia trees lining Silliman Campus. In hindsight, it was highly uncharacteristic of me to stop and say hello to a stranger, much less a backpacker. But I found myself having beer with him at El Amigo. We discovered we liked many things in common. I soon quickly found out he was a spiritual man. In a year's time, he said he was duty-bound to join the Israeli Army, and that was why he was taking this time now to journey the world to find himself. He was on his way to China, he said. Later, he told me about Carlos Castañeda's Don Juan, the Gulf War, and what it was like to be a soul-searching Jew. And much later, I found myself inviting him over to stay in my apartment upon discovering he was living in Father Tropa's rundown, termite-infested tourist inn (or tourist trap?) somewhere in the middle of town. (Nothing happened. It wasn't like that at all.) He stayed with me two, three days. He had dinners with my family, and once my brothers and I took him out to Mark Gil's old restaurant along the Boulevard for a formal sit-down dinner with other friends. Then Elan went on his way, each of us promising to keep in touch. (People never do.)

This was the last email I got from him:

Where am I? The simplest, most difficult question possible. Easily, I’m in Hong Kong. That’s geography. Was that what you were asking? I haven’t written for a while -- I felt incompetent to do so. I’m studying Judaism here, not nearly as often as I should have -- but it is a must, if I want to stay here, for free, in this Jewish man’s far-flung hostel.

I cannot believe any wandering Jew can get free food and shelter here, for just a bit of spirituality. I can do spirituality if I have to; a backpacker on a shoestring sometimes cannot have a choice. It was either prayers, or cleaning dishes in some Chinaman’s kitchen. And what will that get me? A fleabag tourist trap in the middle of nowhere, with rotten food. Better prayers and meditation instead of soap suds.

It has been a long time since I prayed, not since I was a kid in Tel Aviv. During the Gulf War, Saddam’s bomb blew my friend’s face wide open, and for a while, I didn’t know if there really was a God.

Judaism is a way of life, I suppose, and I’m so distracted by this world which perpetually feels to be on the fringe of my fingers, never actually touching, writing strokes in the air with a falling feather.

The Philippines seems like the best I’ve had so far. I should return, yet I’m still on my way to China, stalled. I could just go, by myself, across the border, but being a vagabond no longer appeals to me. I haven’t managed to settle the inner turmoil yet. Perhaps I can make you understand now that I was more than rambling when we had those nights in Dumaguete, drinking in the stars with cheap beer. Which reminds me, I left my Lonely Planet guidebook in your place; it is brown with use, but I thought you might want it. I could no longer carry it around; I began to see the world much too simply as neat categorizations of "places to go, places to stay." It was too easy; sometimes, the point of traveling is in getting lost. Maybe things are changing, possibly I can recognize that in hindsight. And I appreciate you writing, though it seems to me behind those sometimes extravagant vocabulary, something altogether simpler lies.

I’m ridiculously lonely at times, much more with this state of separation from the world. I am tempted to say that life does no good. Which is just so common: nebbish talk. I talk, eat, shit, wake up in the morning, and as part of the course, pray to God, thanking him for the miracle of my resurrection daily from the dead. Yet I feel no miracle, no God; my words disperse in a space of four walls.

Nevertheless the quest goes on, I’m planning to buy a handicam and shoot the upcoming seminary here in a couple weeks, also a salad of Israeli backpackers, orthodox and cabalistic Jews swarming the earth. It was Passover a few days ago—3,300 years since the exodus from Egypt. I have only a lifetime, and by mistake I want it now.

I've never heard from him again. When he left Dumaguete, he left behind his Carlos Castañeda book, and his battered copy of Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. On the inside cover of the travel book, he had written: "Ian, Hang it on the wall. Take a pick once every while, till you're ready to dust the trail. Elan." I don't know what he meant by that, but he always told me -- those three days he lived in my apartment -- that the greatest thing one can do for oneself is to go on a grand adventure, to see the world, and find oneself.

Why am I suddenly writing about Elan right now? I don't know why. I was cleaning my book shelves a while ago, and found his old books. I remembered him and what he said. Something in me stirred -- and maybe that's how most adventures begin. With a gentle stirring inside, and then a hunger to leave, and live, for the world.

I don't know where Elan is right now, but I hope that somewhere out there he finally found what he was looking for. That is also my fervent wish, to know and to find whatever it is I am looking for. In that sense, we are all Elan's road companions, backpackers through life, wishing for our own arrivals.

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