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

Interested in What I Create?


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

entry arrow11:38 AM | Dumaguete in the Eye of the Beholder

Here's an interesting blog about Dumaguete, from American eyes. It's always good to look at the familiar from a totally different perspective. I have an American friend named John Stevenson, a photographer who has made Dumaguete his home (no, the blog above is not his). I always found it fascinating to note that everytime I take pictures of Dumaguete, they come out touristy. Like this.

His pictures come out from a netherworld, Dumaguete rendered in film noir, always with a hint of dark mystery or something sinister to them. Like this.

Which is the real Dumaguete? It's all in the eye of the beholder. We all create our own sense of place.

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entry arrow11:08 AM | The Giving

Oprah in the past has given her audience free cars and their wildest dreams...

Now she has given away $300,000, which is $1,000 for every audience member -- and promptly tells them to give the sum away ... to charity. Ouch.

CNN reports: "I can honestly say that every gift I've ever given has brought at least as much happiness to me as it has to the person I've given it to," the 52-year-old talk-show host said. "That's the feeling I want to pass on to you."

Okay. I bet the audience was happy.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

entry arrow10:46 PM | A Confession

"Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit.
(Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall
even this.)"
-- Aeneas, in The Aeneid Book 1

Only three people know about this: I broke down last month under the weight of sheer depression, it incapacitated me. I have what you can call a mild form of manic depression, nothing too clinical to certify me a nut, but I have managed for most of my life to put it under some control. But after August -- given the whirlwind of expectations and recriminations my life constantly harvests -- I broke.

It lasted a full month, ending only when I finally told a friend -- a psychologist -- what was going on with me. I told Mark, too, and there was one night when I just walked out of my apartment, and walked half the city in a daze. I can't tell you what happened next, but it was bad.

For the longest time, I've felt that I've taken this slowburning vacation from my life -- a gradual descent that has me flummoxed, bewildered, disoriented. Sometimes, when I take a shower especially, I get this shiver of recognition about what a sorry state this existence has turned out to be so far. Involuntarily, I'd curse out a prayer, always an "Oh, Jesus, I need your help." It would be cute if I didn't do that like twenty-four times a day, always after being bitten by this shadowy rebuke, this sense of failure.

But I have always been my own worst critic, and to my mind, I have yet to reach my full potential. And it pains me no end to realize that I have fallen short of my expectations. Sometimes, my own prayers seem to reach only deaf divinity.

Let's hope I'm wrong.

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entry arrow10:37 PM | Make the Macho Squirm

Read the latest entry from John Bengan. It's heartbreaking.

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entry arrow9:59 PM | Great Night

The truth of the matter is, sometimes the unplanned things take on the highest degree of pleasure. A long time ago, during the summer, a bunch of us friends -- Mark, Angeli, Goldy, Charlotte, and probably half of Dumaguete's party crowd -- just congregated into what was for once a cozy El Camino Blanco interior without any real plans from any of us to have a good time, and danced the night away to the intoxicating beat of Banda Manga, this percussion band that knows exactly how to lure people into the dancefloor. (And if there is one thing about Dumaguetenos one should know, it's that it is virtually a challenge to bring anyone to dance at all.) That night sticks in my memory as one of the best night-outs I've had for the longest time. It was all the more fun because we never expected the night to turn out the way it would. Afterwards, there were many other nights when we tried to replicate the sense of gaiety and abandon of that Banda Manga night, always ending in various forms of disappointment.

I guess, the same is true when they also talk about love: it finds you when you don't go around looking for it.

Tonight, while I was dusting off the pad, Mark came along to take me out. I hadn't seen him the whole day. I was off to work after the semi-vacation of the past three weeks. When he dropped by, he was wearing my old blue shirt and my old blue jeans. The guy looks great in my clothes.

"Hi," I said.


"What are you doing here?"

"I promised you a steak dinner some time ago," he said. "We're having filet maitre d'hotel in Le Chalet."

"Now?" I said. I was sweaty. I only had a shirt and skimpy shorts on.

"Now," he said.

So off we went. He had his steak well-done, and I had mine medium-rare. Just once, we wanted to veer away from our usual rare fare, carnivores that we are. It was a grand meal, the beef cut into three tender balls of oozing perfection, every bite of which was smothered with succulent herb butter. We missed the juicy bloodiness of rare steak, however, but no matter. Later, for our nightcap, we dropped by CocoAmigos. Mark had two glasses of martini bianco, and I had one, quickly followed by another glass of Bailey's on Kahlua.

It was a perfect, perfect night.

Unplanned, too. Like the best things in life.


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Sunday, October 29, 2006

entry arrow9:37 PM | How Much More Blood, Mr. Perdices?

"Natuslok ka na ba ng ice pick sa Lo-oc? O naka-pick-up ng babae sa Tocino Country? O nai-snatchan ng bag sa Luke Wright? O na-hold-up ka na ba sa PNB? May gana ka pa mag-aral sa Silliman nursing? O maagawan ng cellphone sa Tinago? Tara na tara na! Byahe tayo sa Dumaguete City, City of Gentle People!"
-- content of text message, a reworking of the popular "Wow Philippines" jingle, currently circulating around the country

We are slowly being murdered, all of us.

When the boy was rushed to Silliman Medical Center's emergency room in the early morning, no one, not even the PGI on duty, knew exactly what was wrong with him. He was already a syncopetic mess, complaining of a black dizziness that drifted in and out, but other than that, there were no real reasons to suppose that the boy was going to end up dead before daylight could even come.

He had straggled in on the shoulders of friends whose faces were masks of concern and fright. Theirs were college boy faces etched with surprise at sudden turns of events -- guises of youth given in to an unanticipated collision course with hospital gray walls and early morning tomb silence, when they should still have been out celebrating being blissfully careless, the way only the very young can. All of them were, predictably, refugees from the Friday night, straight off from El Camino Blanco. They still smelled of beer and cigarette smoke, but now their gelled hair were disheveled, and creases marred the silky sheen of their nightlife clothes.

On most Friday nights, surgery and the emergency room in Dumaguete were beehives of activity. Always, on weekends, there were bursts of vehicular accident cases coming from all over the city and nearby towns: mostly young people with broken arms, or broken legs, or broken necks. The weekend dead count was usually high, a pathetic statistic marked by hormones and reckless exuberance -- boys and girls who'd crossed the deceptive veneer of mortality, meeting it head-on in a crush of metal, rubber wheels, asphalt highways, and scattering of blood, and flesh, and brains.

The boy in question was soon barely conscious. There was a fight in the parking lot outside the bar, one of the boys said slowly. Later, in the hospital, the ER staff would discover a puncture wound in the right lower half of the boy's belly. It was small in diameter, almost undetectable -- something an ice pick could cause. But they knew the small wound was far deeper and deadlier than it looked, its gash only a wink to the deep slash underneath, perhaps already perforating his intestines. The blood and intestinal contents, including the feces, might have since spilled into the abdominal cavity, and the bacteria might have already eaten through the sterile cavern. It would not be long before there could be peritonitis. Or worse: a ruptured abdominal aorta, gushing blood into the peritoneum like a mad river, the body a ticking time bomb. Already, the boy was exhibiting a rapidly extending abdominal distention, and soon shock would take over from the lowered blood pressure. That was why he was groggy, dehydrated, blacking out.

But for some strange reason, the resident ruled out surgery, and the boy was taken instead into the Intensive Care Unit, just as dawn was breaking out and there was a shock of deep blue scattering throughout the wakening skies. Amidst the dark and the hum of machines, the boy was bleeding inside. He was dying. Before daylight came, he was dead.

That boy was a friend of mine, a college mate. I wish I could name him specifically here, but in the name of privacy -- and friendship beyond death -- I cannot. How many years ago was this? Not too long ago. I usually think of that unfortunate night as one of the beginning death knells that have led us now to a city curiously awash in blood. Every morning now seems to bring us bad news of newer massacres, of senseless murders.

Angeling Lajato. Erlinda Tomongha. Jong-jong Sibala. Dennis Mainit. Joel Canon. This litany of names, of course, is only a fraction of the many who have met grisly ends. And to add to that horrifyingly growing list, here is one more name: Nina Estacio. The last two -- Joel and Nina -- were students of mine, two people you would never think of as candidates for murders. In the end, the senseless manner by which they died could only sharpen what is true about crime: that it could happen to anyone.

Of course, it still puzzles me how their lives could end the way they did, in a place where we used to joke around like this: "Nothing bad can happen to you in Dumaguete. If something bad does happen, you'll like it." Now, nothing is plain laughing matter anymore. Perhaps we have overdrawn too much on our past as a place where nothing much happens. We have become complacent to the surges of the times, and that may have been our biggest mistake.

Still, a little more than three weeks ago, Silliman University and the rest of the Dumaguete community finally did what should have been done a long time ago: we rose to protest the seemingly endless cycle of blood that has drenched the city.

It's remarkable to me how we are finally capable of something we are not usually known for: outrage. Is it enough, however? Because if there must be a final recipient to end the blame game that has now ensued, the culprit would very well be you.


All of us.

It's the utmost irony worthy of an Oedipal tragedy: that when we finally get to unmask who the proverbial murderer is, we are the one who is slowly killing ourselves.

Never before in the history of Dumaguete City has seen this community stumble in a state of slowly dawning shock, of outrage and disbelief, of siege. Our nature has always been to take for granted our genial ways, our myths of trustworthy neighbors, and our legend of cultivated sophistication. Nothing bad can happen in Dumaguete. That has been our consistent mantra for years.

How foolish that mantra sounds now.

We do live in a state of siege. The siege's name is fear. And the fear is palpable in the way we go about our lives now: always looking over our shoulders to see who might be following, always being wary now of the overcrowding of strangers, always mistrustful of the pulsating and descending darkness of night. But even the daylight no longer provides the sense of security which we now all feel to be elusive. For it was in the daytime, after all, when Sillimanian nursing student Nina Estacio was brutally murdered in what should have been the safety of her home, a knife sticking out of her chest, one of her eyes gouged out by strangers who did not respect the sanctity of life.

What is happening now is a perfect shock to the system. We stumble simply because we are coming to grips with the reality the way any nitwit would stumble through something completely foreign and unprepared for. The city simply does not know what to do with this flood of blood.

There has been much finger-pointing in the wake of all this blood. Some of us, of course, are all too quick to assign the murderous reality by harping on the theory of foreign elements, that those who perpetrate these outrageous crimes are misfits from Davao, from Cagayan de Oro, from Iligan, from Zamboanga, all of them come to Dumaguete attracted by its element of naivete. The attempt in this message seems to be that Dumaguetenos are completely incapable of bloodshed, a perfect delusion that erases the city's hidden bloody history.

Some blame the city's progress for the escalation of crime. "It's perfectly natural for a growing city," one friend remarked, the way a teenager acquires zits, for example. Dumaguete is indeed growing, its population mushrooming, and with that probably comes an innate inability to monitor everybody the way small towns usually can. In small towns, conformity and moralistic prejudice are the ready buffers for everyone's behavior (not always a good thing, of course). That small town safeguard quickly dilutes in a metropolitan setting. Still, no one can halt progress. And progress as a harbinger of evil is really a lazy myth, with a perfect foil in the fact of Singapore, where progress moves on but chewing gum is still considered anathema.

Some blame an incapacitated police force, many claiming that the current number of policemen simply cannot handle a growing city. And there are many others who claim a certain ineptness in police procedure. "That's why most people do not even trust the local police anymore," says a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. "We were robbed once. We called the police. A plainclothesman came over in less than an hour, surveyed the damage, and said, 'Do you have a camera which we can use?' Can you imagine! They don't even have the equipment to gather evidence! The police soon told us that a complaint would be filed, but that there was nothing they could do really."

Which should provide our mayor an answer to his complaint last week. What did he say? He said something in the vein of how impossible it was to solve these crimes when no one was even filing charges.

Simple, Mr. Mayor. Because no one wants to bother. Or if we do want to bother, we are inherently afraid of reprisals, no matter how paranoid that may sound.

Because we know nothing will happen, bisag magpa-ugat ug file ug complaint.

Because we know that even the deaths of people of consequence -- Angeling Lajato (a close friend of the mayor) and Erlinda Tomongha (a City Hall official) -- remain unresolved, their deaths reduced to mere statistics and cautionary tales. How much more the majority of us who only have ordinary lives to lead? Only a few, for example, can remember the name of that grade school girl in Taclobo who was recently raped, and then murdered. Worse, no one at all remembers that Boulevard banana fritter girl whose body was dumped like ordinary garbage years ago, when I was still in college. I don't know what happened to the killers, or whether they were caught.

Because we know that the old cliche remains true: that the local brand of justice does not work, or is infuriatingly slow, especially if the criminal in question happens to have deep pockets, or deeper political connections. We also know too well about the botched attempts at criminal prosecution. (Consider the still unresolved Dumaguete sex scandal.) We have generally lost trust in the way justice gets done. Or if we do want to raise noise, we fear most for our lives.

Still, there is one unbendable truth in what the mayor has complained about. It is not an excuse for any of us to be living in fear, to be complacent about things. Silence, and an unwillingness to prosecute when needed, can only breed a more vicious cycle of things. Our inaction will not stop the horror. There will always be a certain nobility -- quixotic it may be -- in raging against what seems to be an impossibility. Who cares about justice predictably going awry? The point is to try.

In the final analysis then, what is slowly killing all of us is a mutant kind of Dumagueteno complacency. It is a complacency that is both benign and festering with fear. The last one I have already detailed above. That other characteristic of being benign, however, is a gradual accretion of our "gentle airs" and "inviting hospitality" -- so much so that we have become like contented cows, breeding a false sense of security and a naive view of the ways of the world.

A good example for this tendency exploded in the last elections. Convinced that our little gentle bubble should not burst and that the old gentle ways should still remain the status quo, we voted to keep Dumaguete the way we thought it should always be: we voted for a man whom we know would do absolutely nothing. Three years ago, somebody said, "Dumaguete deserves the mayor it votes for." Three years later, we can only reply: And how!

Because the crimes in Dumaguete is nothing but a damning indication of a failure in leadership. (What does the proverb say about the buck stopping where it should?) The only decisive thing this mayor has ever done is concretize our roads (which has led to the overwhelming heat that now engulfs this city on most sunny days), and banning movies. There is a word for this kind of politician: lameducks -- incapacitated public officials whose days may be numbered. There are talks that he may go on for the next term he is still entitled for. Or that he may go on to run for governor. The thought comes to mind: administrator for the whole island? He can't even run a city properly!

What we need is new blood in politics. Where are the civic-minded young men and women who are still uncorrupted by all these traditional politics? Why not put to pasture the old, always recycled political geezers of Oriental Negros, and bring this city and this province into the twenty-first century?

Because how much more blood should be spilled, Mr. Mayor, before you will do anything?

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

entry arrow9:06 PM | Hello...

My God. I haven't blogged this long?



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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

entry arrow9:43 PM | Thing I Tell Lazy Students When Being Mean is the Only Way to Get Into Their Heads, No. 2

By Tom Wayman

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

Originally from The Astonishing Weight of the Dead, Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

[from maryanne moll]

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

entry arrow11:04 PM | Thing I Tell Lazy Students When Being Mean is the Only Way to Get Into Their Heads, No. 1

"My standards are too high? Whoa. Well, you really don't have to go to a good college, you know. The economy also needs sales ladies and gasoline boys."


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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

entry arrow11:01 PM | Holy Shit


From CNN.com:

[Newly-religious] Mel Gibson [in an interview with Diane Sawyer] calls his anti-Semitic rant following his arrest for drunk driving in July "the stupid ramblings of a drunkard" ... The interview with Sawyer is the first time Gibson has spoken to the media since sparking a scandal by unleashing what he later called "vitriolic and harmful words" during his arrest. Gibson told the arresting officer: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asked him, "Are you a Jew?"

But really, Mr. Gibson, in vino veritas?


From Salon:

[Has-been actor] Stephen Baldwin has released a memoir, The Unusual Suspect, a reference to the one critically acclaimed film for which he's known. The book, the "Gospel according to Stevie B.," is part testimonial and part evangelical manifesto, a cocktail of anti-intellectualism and a biblical interpretation that would have Jesus spinning in his grave, had he stayed there. Baldwin preaches that free will is a lie of Satan -- we must shut off our brains, he says, and be led by what God tells our hearts. Furthermore, he writes, efforts to end global poverty and violence are just the sort of "stupid arrogance" that incur God's wrath, which we'll be feeling any day now in the coming apocalypse. I suppose when the star of Bio-Dome is advising the president and converting kids by the thousands to his gnarly brand of faith, the end is, indeed, nigh.

The Unusual Suspect features an open letter to Bono, lambasting him for lobbying for debt relief for developing countries instead of preaching the gospel on MTV. Bono must be in league with Satan, whom Baldwin spends a lot of time thinking about. "I am smart enough to know that Satan is alive and well today," he writes. "Satan has all kinds of power, and he is able to control the minds of anyone whose mind isn't controlled by God." Baldwin's theology -- and criticism of secularists and Christian poseurs like Bono -- is written with remarkable confidence for someone who can only recite six of the Ten Commandments and four of the Twelve Apostles.

All of this might seem like the easily ignorable ravings of a Hollywood has-been if the book wasn't climbing bestseller lists. Baldwin writes that "God has called me to go and make disciples of the youth of America. That is what I am going to try to do, and if you try to stop me I am going to break your face." Most frightening of all, Baldwin is succeeding. All of his dude-speak is actually speaking to the dudes. Thanks to his book, videos and live sermons, he continues to draw thousands of young people across the country into his church of celebrity and absolutism.

And to think I used to consider Threesome -- where he plays a college jock involved in a menage a trois with his gay roommate-buddy and their sultry female roommate -- one of my favorite movies!

Sign of the Apocalypse: Mr. Baldwin has recently been chosen by George W. Bush as a cultural adviser. Great God.

It's no wonder it's taking me a long time to decide to go back to church. I don't want to be with freaks, that's all.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

entry arrow5:56 AM | Step 3 Back to Normal Life : Get Back to the Writing Groove

Here's something I contributed to...

From Cecilia Manguerra-Brainard

Anvil will be releasing a collection entitled Ala Carte: Food and Fiction, which is a wonderful collection of short stories and Philippine recipes. Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Marily Ysip Orosa, the anthology includes stories (and recipes) by:

Edna Weisser
Ma. Romina Gonzalez
Corinna Arcellana Nuqui
Margarita Marfori
Alfred Yuson
Susan Evangelista
Carlos Cortes
Linda Ty Casper
Dean Francis Alfar
Jose Dalisay Jr.
Janet Villa
Ian Rosales Casocot
Joel Barraquiel Tan
Marie Aubrey Villaceran
Shirlie Mae Mamaril Choe
Reine Arcache Melvin
Erma M. Cuizon
Veronica Montes
Brian Ascalon Roley
Nadine Sarreal
Erwin Cabucos
Edgar Poma
Oscar Penaranda,

and the two editors Cecilia Brainard and Marily Orosa also have stories in the collection.

The book's Introduction follows:

By Cecilia Manguerra-Brainard

In some places in the Philippines,people greet you by asking if you have eaten: not Good morning, or Good evening but "Kumain ka na?" Have you eaten? And even if you have, they will serve you food anyway and it would be considered an insult if you did not eat. Even when I was young, I had an inkling about the special relationship Filipinos have with food. At home my mother was constantly prodding people to eat more, a habit I have picked up, sometimes to the embarrassment and annoyance of my American sons. Another thing that annoys them and my American husband is my difficulty to throw food away, so much so that my refrigerator is filled with bowls of forgotten dishes, some of them with very interesting multicolored mold on them. I had a son threaten to use one of those forgotten containers for a Science project!

I had to explain to them that the inability to waste food came from my mother, who with the family spent the World War II years in Mindanao, and who, like many other Filipinos during those War years, experienced hunger and deprivation. But I suspect the reluctance to throw food away runs deeper than that; perhaps to Filipinos, it is clear that food is life, and life should not be thrown away or treated with disrespect.

Indeed the connection Filipinos have with food is almost religious. Eating is the time when the family gathers, when the community is one, and is something of a sacred time. In the home I grew up in, the entire family sat down for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Lunch and supper were elaborate, with soup, and fish, and meat, and rice, and vegetables, followed by a variety of fruit and/or some sweet for dessert. I believe there are still many Filipino households that have meals like this. Others, because of their modern hectic lives, have simplified their daily meals, but when it comes to parties, Filipinos still go the full length to have a grand spread.

It was this deep connection that Filipinos have for food that prompted Marily Orosa and me to edit this collection of Philippine stories and recipes. Marily and I share a love for fiction primarily because stories reflect the soul or culture of people. So does food and we thought combining stories and recipes in one book would reveal Filipino culture in a unique manner and would invite lovers of both stories and food to take a look at our delectable collection.

Soon after the release of the other book Marily Orosa and I co-edited (Behind the Walls: Life of Convent Girls, Anvil, 2004) we publicized a search for this collection. Initially, we anticipated we'd get light stories, possibly comic ones. When the stories started coming in, we were surprised to see that the topic of food had triggered some serious stories. We quickly realized that food and eating bring back memories of families and friends, and relationships are always complex. The stories we finally selected were by writers from America, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, France, and Germany. The majority of the contributors are published writers who are well-known in the literary and academic communities.

An inspiration to this book is Laura Esquiviel's novel, Like Water for Chocolate. Each chapter in Esquiviel's book is introduced by a recipe so that the chapters flow out of those recipes. Likewise, the 25 stories in our collection are preceded by related recipes. Following the food theme, we arranged the book like a menu, and so we have categories of Breads, Appetizers, Salads; Soup; Rice; Main Dishes; and Dessert, with the recipes and stories falling under the appropriate sections.

The recipes included in the book are: Aragula in Blue Cheese Sauce; Shrimps on Leeks; Tokwa't Baboy; Banana Turon; Pan de Sal; Ensaymada; Green Mango Relish; Feta Cheese with Greens, Artichokes, and Crabfat; Shanghai Fried Rice; Garlic Fried Rice; Pork Adobo; Manok Inasal; Paella/Arroz; Kare-Kare; Lumpia, Laing, Sinanglay na Karpa; Pork Sinigang; Filipino-Korean Lumpia; Rellenong Bangus; Humba; Escabeche; Binagoongang Baboy; Cascaron; and Halo-Halo. They have not been taste-tested and we suggest that those who wish to try the recipes do so in the spirit of experimentation and adventure.

Some stories in the collection are light-hearted. Edna Weisser's Merienda Alemania is an autobiographical piece about a Filipina and her husband in Germany who have invited their friends over for merienda, but this time with the German touch. The stories of Dean Francis Alfar and Ian Rosales Casocot, combine magic-realism and slapstick. Alfar's Sabados Con Fray Villalobos relates the Spanish friar's attempts to win the hearts of Filipino Indios although some Indios have other ideas. Casocot's Pedro and the Chickens is about the blossoming of a romance in the town of Dumaguete and the accompanying strange events that happen to the town's chickens. The story Wok Man (by Jose Dalisay) is about the kinship of a short-order cook and his employer who both find joy in cooking. Hanging Rice by Carlos Cortes is a short-short about a Visayan eating Cebu's common street meal; what's uncommon about it is how the rice is wrapped in a work of weaver's art.

The other stories have a more serious style. In Bread (by Ma. Romina Gonzalez) a 26-year old woman prepares bread as her mother had taught her and recalls the time her father left her mother. Ensaymada (by Corinna Arcellana Nuqui) is about a homesick Filipina in the U.S. who in the act of baking visits her past. Margarita Marfori's Mango Seasons is a first-person piece focusing on the narrator's memories of a special summer, brought on by the cutting down of an ancient mango tree. Alfred Yuson's Romance and Faith on Mount Banahaw is a surreal piece accompanied by the salad recipe (in poetry form) of Feta cheese, with Greens, Artichokes, and Crabfat.

Linda Ty-Casper's story, Visit to Myself, is about a 15-year old girl and a 94-year old woman, and how they, one hurrying to the future and the other living in the past, recognize one another. My story (Cecilia Manguerra Brainard), Romeo, focuses on the narrator's mother, now old and whose sole companion is the dog, Romeo, who had once belonged to the narrator. Janet Villa's CloseOpen and Joel Tan's Sinanglay na Karpa look at people trapped in relationships that they cannot escape. Marie Aubrey Villaceran's story, Sinigang, is about a girl, who while cooking, recalls the funeral of a half-brother and it is also during this time that she comes to terms with her relationship with her father. Marily Orosa's story recalls her relationship with a handicapped relative.

Shirley Mae Mamaril Choe's Kitchen Secrets is about a young girl who struggles to reveal a terrible family secret. Through her weekly cooking lessons, she develops a strong relationship with her mother which enables her to finally share her burden. Reine Arcache Melvin's The Fish is about complex relationships among members of a household that come to head during the gutting of a fish caught after a shipwreck. Erma Cuizon's Secret Scent is nostalgic piece about a woman who yearns for the old life that is gone forever. Two Drifters by Veronica Montes is about a young woman who has to cope with the addiction and brokenness of her family members. Brian Ascalon Roley's semi-autobiographical piece remembers a menacing encounter at summer camp in the 70s, involving his Filipina mother and White father. Edgar Poma's Desperata is set in Hawaii, about a struggling writer's break when a firefighter managed to find an editor's note to have his work published. The firefighter's visit to Hawaii makes the writer realize that his mother needs more than phone calls, but that, as the firefighter said: "you gotta see her every chance you get while you still can and you gotta hold her in your arms." Oscar Penaranda's story, Mango Lady, recounts a Filipino American's visit to the Philippines after an absence of 19 years and his search of the fruit vendor who a part of the memories of his youth. The accompanying recipe is a favorite dessert, Halo-Halo.

The stories in this book are a mixed bag of joyful stories as well as more somber ones; all of them explore the dynamics of human relationships. The editors of this book sincerely hope the reader will find enjoyment in them.

Buy it.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

entry arrow8:52 PM | More Palanca-Winning Pieces

Here are four more contributions to the Palanca 2006 Issue of Literatura from Bryan Mari Argos (Third Prize of the Hiligaynon Short Story), J. Dennis Teodosio (Second Prize for Dulang Pantelebisyon), R. Torres Pandan (Third Prize for Poetry), and Christian Tordecillas (Third Prize for Dulang May Isang Yugto).

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

entry arrow10:08 PM | Step 1 Back to Normal Life : Watch an Orchestral Concert

The thought came to me that Thursday night, a little more than a week ago, that the choice of orchestral music was ironically and strangely appropriate for our town.

It had been half a decade since we last heard them play. But when the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra finally came to Dumaguete for that rare concert, this time in the newly-refurbished Sofia Soler Auditorium in Foundation University, they chose Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 as its opening salvo. The Schubert piece is otherwise (and perhaps more famously) known as the Unfinished Symphony, and for those in the know, it can very well be both metaphor and irony for this atypical gathering of Dumaguetenos come to this corner of our "university town" for a taste of classical music.

I will get to the metaphor later, but first must come the irony.

That a musical score left undone by the Austrian composer should be played in a packed Sofia Soler Hall is ironic. Sofia Soler Hall had, for the longest time, been relegated to the doldrums of local theater for the sheer horror of its cramped accommodations, imperfect acoustics, and non-existent, even hellish, ventilation. Unfinished, indeed, if we only consider the potential it could have realized as a legitimate stage for local performances. When was the last time all of Dumaguete watched anything at all in Sofia Soler?

Today, however, we celebrate Sofia Soler Hall's reincarnation -- and the Sincos do it one better by inviting Maestro Eugene Fredrick Castillo, PPO's fourth music director and principal conductor, to come with the country's foremost orchestra and rededicate Sofia Soler to an invigorated thrust to become one of Dumaguete's leading centers for the performing arts.

Consider the careful redesign of the theater that comes at the heels of Foundation University's earnest efforts to refurbish its campus and its academic programs. Many of the changes are subtle, but some are quite dramatic. All in all, it is essentially a better, and perhaps more imaginative, reworking of the old building, the structure of which has stayed for the most part. There are some structural changes in the stage (now bigger) and in the acoustic and sound system (now modernized). But what has changed dramatically is the open-air design concept, each side wall of the auditorium making way for the natural ventilation of night air, of nothingness. Which may be strange for any auditorium, but in Sofia Soler's case, a strange suitability.

There is also the welcome banishment of the old and uncomfortable bleachers with wooden chairs, and raising the floor to a balcony level. There are now the orchestra seats and the balcony seats, perhaps to appropriate the old (and beloved) snobbishness to the theatergoing experience where your seat assignment largely determines your social status. I have no quarrel with that: it's a quaint practice now invariably lost in the "democratization" of local theater -- which, for the longest time, largely means the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, where even gala shows now have patrons going to the ballet in jeans. (Sofia Soler -- like the rest of the civilized world -- insists on long skirts or dresses for balcony ladies. Which makes for a merry and beautiful sight. In my snobbish heart, I sometimes wonder whether the masa-fication of local theater-going is a factor in the declining interest in performance art in Dumaguete, given the mere fact that most Dumaguetenos, for better or for worse, love to be seen. Because, really, we used to go to the theater partly to entertain ourselves, partly to indulge in sophisticated artistic treat, partly to keep a necessary appointment in the local social calendar, and partly to dress up and be seen. Now, even what remains of high society in Oriental Negros has shied away into the shadows, leaving culture in Dumaguete City bereft of patrons, except jeans-clad teenagers required by their Fine Arts teacher to watch and write reaction papers. How perfectly dreary.)

But to get back to the music.

The concert was not exactly Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra's best, which is not to say they were not good. They were very, very good -- it's just that I've heard them play better. Seven years ago to be exact, when they were still under the baton of Ruggero Barbieri. But there has always been that tendency among some Manila performing companies to "tone down" their standard for provincial shows. (Read: Promdi lang ang mga 'yun, they don't know any better.)

Should I say uninspired? Perhaps. There is the matter of the short program -- only two symphonies and a scattering of local musical pieces that is at best interesting. In their rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, the rigorous score -- famous for its cyclic legro vivace e con brio with its overwhelming crescendo near the end, its amusing and even affectionate allegreto, its coarse menuetto, and its fierce and fast allegro vivace -- does not approach transcendence like the best renditions of it. I've heard this symphony performed before in Suntory Hall in Tokyo by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra when I did not know my Mozart from my Bach, and the piece -- the first time I heard it -- moved me because it was ... well, cheerful. I did not expect that of classical music. But it has always been a score often left to the sidelines of more famous Beethoven pieces because it is not as overtly heroic as some of the others, nor too emotional. Which may be why I like it: its beauty is subtle. Carl Czerny once asked Beethoven why the Eighth Symphony was not -- as it is also now -- as well-received by audiences as the Seventh. The master was supposed to have replied: "Because the Eighth is so much better."

Their take on Schubert's Unfinished Symphony -- which opens the concert -- was comparably so much better. Or perhaps my initial reception to it was colored by the fact of personal excitement. But I have always loved Schubert -- always my secret pick every time people ask me who my favorite composer is, and I invariably reply, "Mozart," because people always get that answer without necessitating explanation. Schubert's Symphony No. 8 -- a seminal piece since the symphony's key, in B minor, had never been done before even by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven -- may be best known to ordinary people (those who loved the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Minority Report anyway) as incidental music in that Steven Spielberg movie. Those who grew up watching The Smurfs will also get its first movement as the accompanying music to the villain Gargamel. I like the way the score begins in virtual silence, and then straining, as in a call, into a mournful arc that ends each time in dramatic crescendo. The piece, like the first time I heard it in a borrowed CD recording, gave me goose bumps.

I don't remember much of the "Matud Nila" number, perhaps because I found it unnecessary, a token gesture for the Bisaya in all of us. What I found delightfully surprising was the vigorous reworking by Carmelo Elli (who conducted in lieu of Maestro Castillo) of the often sedate "Dumaguete Hymn," composed so many years ago (and sang in schools!) by Cate Villariza, and eternally reminding me of the classic Christmas paean, "Silver Bells." (Doesn't it?) But it worked, the whole new arrangement -- easily becoming one of the highlights of the short show.

But what was virtually the highlight of the show -- precipitating a standing ovation -- was the encore, a medley of all the favorite songs from the musical The Sound of Music. Everything, from the title song to "Do-Re-Mi" to "Climb Every Mountain." Because it was familiar, because everybody loved and grew up with this musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and because everybody in the popular mainstream had lost that feel for the classical (Schubert who?), it proved the musical hit of the night, so much so that many in the audience refused to budge from their seats even after conductor and musicians bowed out from the stage. Perhaps they were hoping to hear more popular fare, and perhaps they were feeling that the concert had only and barely begun. I will not quarrel with popular appeal -- hey, I found myself singing along all the songs, too -- simply because film scores (by musical theater greats, as well as composers such as John Williams, John Barry, and Thomas Newman) really are the new "symphonies," sadly relegating the music of the masters to the Museum of the Sophisticated Old Fart.

That the Dumaguete audience -- composed for the most part by the local culturati and what remains of the local "socialites" (even the mayor was there!) -- watching the concert that Thursday night embodied this very last realization provides me my example for that metaphor I mentioned at the beginning of this essay. How sadly "unfinished" we all are, taste-wise, not that it matters anymore either.

It brought me some sad realizations, but nonetheless I enjoyed a really good show.

But one last note to Dumaguetenos: please don't clap between the movements of symphonies. It's like applauding the singer after the first stanza of the song and right before the chorus. You just don't do that. It's rude.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

entry arrow4:33 PM | From the Silence of Walls

Which comes first. The silence? Or the quietly invading madness? Perhaps both at the same time, copulating and living off each other like ordinary monsters, spawning paralysis -- and dark and darker days. They came out of the closet one day, about a month ago, and kept me company. They're still there, singing to me their horrible sad songs. Last night, they made me wail. No one knows.