Well, not really, but that got your attention, didn't it? But if you are still in a Pottermania hangover and refuse to believe that the whole series is over, here's something to cheer you up: CNN reports on J.K. Rowling gleefully giving us more of what happens to Harry and the gang, long after the demise of Lord Voldemort. In a recent web chat, Rowling reveals that, among other things, Harry Potter becomes head of the Auror Department under the new wizarding government, Ginny Weasley becomes the senior Quidditch correspondent for the Daily Prophet, Ron Weasley joins brother George as a partner at their successful joke shop, Hermione Granger joins the magical law enforcement squad, and Luna Lovegood marries the grandson of Newt Scamander (author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). And oh, Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way" is Albus Dumbledore's funeral music. Doesn't she know that's the deadliest karaoke song ever in the Philippines? People have died fighting over that song. Oh well.
Too soon after the death of Ingmar Bergman, another film master, the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, passes away. With these two deaths all incredibly within days of each other, the serious film world can only shake with so much shock. The Associated Press reports in The New York Times: "[Antonioni] whose depiction of alienation made him a symbol of art-house cinema with movies such as Blow-Up and L'Avventura, has died, officials and news reports said Tuesday. He was 94... Antonioni depicted alienation in the modern world through sparse dialogue and long takes. Along with Federico Fellini, he helped turn post-war Italian film away from the Neorealism movement and toward a personal cinema of imagination... His exploration of such intellectual themes as alienation and existential malaise led Halliwell's Film Guide to say that L'Avventura, Antonioni's first critical success, made him a hero of the highbrows... "In the empty, silent spaces of the world, he has found metaphors that illuminate the silent places our hearts, and found in them, too, a strange and terrible beauty: austere, elegant, enigmatic, haunting," Jack Nicholson said in presenting Antonioni with the career Oscar." More here.
[UPDATE: Antonioni died on the same day as Bergman, the Times now reports. How's that for Cinema's Black Monday? Rick Lyman writes a wonderful obituary here.]
It's the most uncanny thing. How you can pause in the middle of an afternoon, buried deep in work, and think out of the blue, I'm so in love. Because I am. After almost four years of being together, I still find myself giddy, and I think, with so much contentment, I'm in love.
The great Ingmar Bergman, the foremost chronicler of our buried guilt, hate, and neuroses, dies today. The New York Times' Mervyn Rothstein writes: "Mr. Bergman dealt with pain and torment, desire and religion, evil and love; in Mr. Bergman’s films, 'this world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory,' Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times Magazine in a profile of the director. God is either silent or malevolent; men and women are creatures and prisoners of their desires. For many filmgoers and critics, it was Mr. Bergman more than any other director who in the 1950s brought a new seriousness to film making. 'Bergman was the first to bring metaphysics — religion, death, existentialism — to the screen,' Bertrand Tavernier, the French film director, once said. 'But the best of Bergman is the way he speaks of women, of the relationship between men and women. He’s like a miner digging in search of purity.' In his more than 40 years in the cinema, Mr. Bergman made about 50 films, often focusing on two themes — the relationship between the sexes, and the relationship between mankind and God. Mr. Bergman found in cinema, he wrote in a 1965 essay, 'a language that literally is spoken from soul to soul in expressions that, almost sensuously, escape the restrictive control of the intellect.' In Bergman, the mind is constantly seeking, constantly inquiring, constantly puzzled." More here.
Wasted, Gerry Alanguilan's seminal graphic novel of obsessive love, is now available in serialized form online. The work, which I include as one of my primary readings for my Philippine literature class in Silliman University, is a thing of stunning beauty -- if one manages to go beyond the blood that drips in almost every page.
Gerry writes: "Why bring Wasted completely online? I think I've reached pretty much all that I can reach with the print version of Wasted. It had been printed, published and distributed several times in the last 12 or so years and the only thing left for it is to bring it online if it's ever going to find new readers. The decision to do it came with my decreasing wariness about webcomics and acceptance that it's a strong and valid way to share stories. I'm still dubious one can make serious money out of this, but I've never done Wasted to make money anyway. Who knew something I finished writing and drawing 12 years ago would still be of interest to readers? I'm only doing this because I just want the story get out there. Whatever comes after I'll just wait and see. Wasted begins serializing, one page a day, 7 days a week, on this site on July 16, 2007. The most current page will be on this page, while the strip will be archived at Web Comics Nation."
... and so it was. A great Saturday. The last time I remember having a great Saturday like this was two or three years ago -- which is an eternity -- and Mark and I had decided we wanted to eat everything and anything we found for sale in the Rizal Boulevard. For those who do not know how Dumaguete looks like, the small city faces the elegant blue of Tañon Strait in the Visayas, and hugs the harbor with a paved boulevard lined with old fir trees, grassy spreads, and old Spanish mansions, some of them since converted into hotels and restaurants. This is the heart of Dumaguete, where everybody meets the sun jogging or doing tai-chi early in the day, and picnics in the middle of the afternoon, and congregates for late-night dinners in a variety of restaurants now mushrooming everywhere. That Saturday three years ago, Mark and I walked around and had our fill with vendor delicacy: from boiled sweet corn to balut to sliced green mango dipped in bago-ong, to tempura. That afternoon remains to date one of the best Saturdays we've ever spent together.
Yesterday, much to our delight, equaled that long ago pleasure -- but this time, our "trip" was decidedly upscale. And we no longer had to walk: there was a car now to bring us to whatever we fancied on going to. Talk about age and progress.
I don't know how we can tell how the best of days exactly begin -- there is no science to this, only a hopefulness that all things fall to a precise and perfect fit -- but this one began with a Friday night of pain. I had been doubling up all night long in a strange case of food poisoning, which went away as easily as it came.
Saturday came with promise of a humid sun. And so we woke up late in the morning, Mark and I, ready to slog through the sweat and the weight of an innate tiredness, which didn't come. Mark, who has the best instincts for our pets (he just knows things, an instinct I envy), had cleaned the hamsters' cages Friday night -- which was the right timing because by noon of Saturday, our Russian dwarf hamster Coffee gave birth to her second litter of cute pups, which was a beautiful sight. We fretted like worried parents. Imagine that, two grown men going about in strange velocity, fretting about hamsters.
Later, we went to Mark's place to get Pepe's package. Pepe was back in the Philippines from Chennai, and was visiting Iloilo, and he had sent Mark a beautiful Indian shirt (see above). He also sent me a gorgeous notebook and a precious DVD of Lagaan, that Indian film which was the first Bollywood musical to get nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and which I could never seem to get anywhere, not even my trusty pirate. (Thanks, Pepe!)
After a late start, we went for Mark's weekly shave at Barberia -- and he went out looking like a swanky teenager. In Pepe's dashing Indian shirt. We had a great late lunch in Sans Rival (Mark has the chef's salad, I had this buttery concoction of a fish dish that melted in my mouth) ... and then we went to the Boulevard for a quick Saturday shoot ... and then went to Lee Super Plaza for a lazy ice cream parfait and chocolate cake dessert. We also bought new t-shirts, just because. Because I needed my two cups of coffee, we went to Don Atilano, where we met up with photographer friend John Stevenson and society don Manolet Teves, who regaled us with stories of the elegant 1970s Bais -- one of the major settings of the novel I am working on. (Oriental Negros in the 1950s to the 1970s was the heart of Visayan high society -- now decayed, and disappeared.) Manolet, in fact, gave me an idea for a working title: "The Long, Hot Summer." His was a recollection tinged in regret, however. "Tara is gone," Manolet said with a dramatic finish. That may be, but I have definitely decided I am going to resurrect it with my fiction.
Then we went to have dinner at Persian Palate, and then we went home. And a great Saturday came to a graceful end.
I was living in the marvelous mid-1990s in Tokyo when Madonna's Ray of Light came out. Her single, "Frozen," had already been out for a few months, but most of us were not prepared for the glory that was "Ray of Light" (and its kick-ass video), which had a sound so insidious we were practically frothing in the mouth when the full gravity of its power manifested itself, willing our bodies to let go in a hypnotic trance. Oh, how we danced and gyrated, most of us in that abandon that defines youth. (Sometimes, today, I would go into a club and get amazed by how tame these young people are today: they dance like twigs in the wind, and I have to ask, What happened?)
Japan has got to be the place to enjoy the pulsating beat of the Great One's techno sound. The Japanese just have this certain edginess, bordering on camp and on the robotic, that makes techno or house its appropriate national sound. I think of techno, and I think of two things: the crush of bodies in a European nightclub, and the strange otherworldliness of the cosplay kids in Harajuku. I remember the Tower Records megastore off Shibuya station having this gigantic banner five stories high promoting the album, but it was the dancing places around Ropponggi, Shinjuku, and Shibuya that defined for me how it was to dance to the sound of Madonna. Because no one in Tokyo really drives a car, and because the mega-city's subways halt promptly at midnight, most of those who want to enjoy the night have to hie off to clubland around 10 or 11 in the evening, and stay on to party until the subways open again at five in the morning. Partying thus becomes a commitment to the night, and techno was our Pied Piper's music.
When we were all settling into maturity in the cusp of college life, electronica -- Paul Van Dyk, Robert Miles, DJ Quicksilver, Energy 52, DJ Taucher, Mike Koglin, splices of Fatboy Slim -- was the dance sound that best defined our generation (when we were not too busy being soulful about angst), and Madonna tapping into that energy with a knowing sense of possession became our enduring icon. Thus, "Ray of Light," together with Lisa Loeb's "Stay," Joan Osbourne's "What if God Was One of Us," the music of Pearl Jam, Alanis Morrisette, R.E.M., Nirvana, and Beck would be the discography of my generation's 1990s youth.
1. A fat man telling me, with such gusto, that I had gained a little weight. "You filled up your barong last Monday!" he said. Fat people should never say that, especially those with mirrors in their houses.
2. A pseudo-feminist of a student journalist writing in The Weekly Sillimanian, making sweeping statements without doing her research. It's a retread of old whines about beauty pageants, something I don't buy anymore, because really it's just not true.
3. An older woman who is so clearly jealous of what I have accomplished thus far, she has tried to make my life a psychological hell. But enough. And she still has the guts to sound friendly every time she gets around my orbit. My style now is just to ignore her.
4. Not being listened to most of the time, and being accused of the same -- and in my head, I just tell myself: Hey, you do it, too.
5. Meat-eaters who make you feel like a weirdo for giving up on meat. The worst are the patronizing ones. "I don't think I can ever give up on meat," they gush. Nobody's asking you to, moron. It's not like I'm forcing anyone to go this way or that.
6. Every time George W. Bush opens his mouth.
7. Those who roll their eyes over global warming, or population control. I mean, for Pete's sake, I respect people for being at least gung-ho about taking care of this earth.
8. Prejudice without basis.
9. That whiny student I had kanina who complained about why I just dropped her from the class. "You were absent six times in a row!" I told her. And she whined some more.
Nakakainis! Whew. Now let me take a deep breath...
8:05 PM |
Gibbs, the Past, Penises Talking, Banality, and Reviewing Local Theater
The brilliant and fearless Gibbs Cadiz, Philippine Daily Inquirer's own version of critic Ben Brantley or Kenneth Tynan, is somebody who does not hesitate to call a spade a spade in local theater. He is posting his old review of Joel Lamangan and Mel Chionglo's dreadful All About Men 2: Penis Talks Reloaded in his blog. Gibbs reminds me that that actually occasioned the first time we emailed each other. I'm thinking: I did? But a simple search through my Gmail brings me that exact missive, dated 24 October 2005. (That was such a long time ago!) I wrote Gibbs then: "Just read your review of Penis Talks. Finally. Someone fearless enough to call banality to its face in a national paper. We need criticism like this in the Philippines, where reviews often read like publicists's materials... So thanks." Bitchy! And Gibbs replied: "Thank you for your feedback and encouraging words, Mr. Casocot. Best regards." So formal naman, Gibbs! But who knew we'd be blogmates after that?
It's July. And nearing August. There are some things you just have to do to make your life a semblance of how you've always hoped it would or should be. Think. Cry. Decide. Organize. Do. Finish. Say goodbye. Move on. And never be afraid to pursue that dream. So how do I see the finish of this year? That is the big question. The answer is somewhere, in my pocket, around the corner, on the dead stillness of the television turned off for real. Move.
On July 27, Fox's worshipped, Emmy-encrusted comedy — featuring Homer Simpson, a man so dumb he once called a spoon "that ... metal deelie ...you use to ... dig ... food" — finally hits theaters. The Simpsons Movie promises to be an emotional saga about a man who falls for a pig, ignores his wife's advice, and potentially dooms his town. It also aims to honor the show's rich history (coming this fall: season 19) with physical gags, corner-of-your-screen winks, and beloved Springfieldians (Nelson! Chief Wiggum! That old man with the ZZ Top beard!). Yet this 35mm mission wasn't easy: Cows were had, shorts eaten. But after all the blood, sweat, and Duff beers, Homer's helpers think they've created something entertaining enough to pay for, maybe even woo-hoo!-worthy. And they know what's at stake: a billion-plus-dollar franchise's good name. "Nobody wants to be the one that rams the ship into the iceberg," says [creator Matt] Groening, who first scribbled the Simpson clan in 1987 for [writer-producer Albert] Brooks' The Tracey Ullman Show.
Or as [writer-producer Al] Jean sums up: "As an event, I think it'll be somewhere between Sgt. Pepper's the album and Sgt. Pepper's the movie."
I feel so much more excited anticipation for this movie than I ever had for Transformers. Robots I'm ho-hum about. Yellow, four-fingered people I get. But this is turning out to be a great year for movies already... Ratatouille, Away From Her, La Vie en Rose, Zodiac, Waitress, Sunshine, Hairspray, Knocked Up, Sicko, and a slate of upcoming movies (The Golden Age, Lions for Lambs, Lust Caution, The Golden Compass, Becoming Jane, Atonement, Charlie Wilson's War, Revolutionary Road...) that has all of us salivating like mad.
I've never felt this excited since 1993, a year which had Steven Spielberg's double-whammo of Schindler's List and Jurassic Park bookending cinematic storytelling at its best.
The Book of Things Which Must Not Be Remembered by C. Scavella Burnell The Hours Before Sunrise by William Congreve The First Dream by Robert Jed Malayang The Dead Girl's Wedding March by Cat Rambo
Last two weeks
A Thin Layer of Skin by Fredjordan Carnice Summer by Robert Jed Malayang The Golden Boat by Lyde Gerard Villanueva The Haunting on San Damian by Rodrigo Bolivar The Collectors by Michelle Eve de Guzman The Flicker by Ian Rosales Casocot The House in Piapi by Marianne Tapales Padre Santiago by Anthony Gerard Odtohan
Three weeks ago
The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls by John Irving Next Sunday at the Bazaar by David Evans Katz The Death of Fray Salvador Montano, Conquistador of Negros by Rosario Cruz Lucero
Four weeks ago
Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma Fox Magic by Kij Johnson A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila and Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature.
In Dumaguete, we welcome new LitCritter Justine Megan Yu, a fellow from last summer's National Writers Workshop. Justine's a feminist essayist trying her hand with other genres. We've invited her to add more female perspective for the group. (With Marianne in Japan, Michelle's the only one left to balance off the boys.)
Seriously, I want to take back my nights. Most of my days, too. I've been going out a lot lately, and I come home oh so tired that instead of finishing things for the day, I just stare at the television (or numb myself silly surfing the Internet), and wait for sleep to come. How does one exactly balance time? I long for a rigidly scheduled existence. It's the obsessive-compulsive in me. Moderation, moderation... Now I'm off to my first appointment of the day. Not yet done cleaning the pad, but I have to go.
7:02 PM |
Fanfic! (Or: My Last Harry Potter Post, Ever)
Gabby thinks the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reads like fanfic, hehehe. I happen to agree. And one more thing: contrary to what J.K. Rowling had us believe, the last word in the series is not "scar," although the last sentence does contain it.
(You can't read Gab's post, of course. It's locked in the murk of LJ land, and is full of spoilers, anyway.)
I had no idea I was totally in love with Jean Harlow, until last Sunday, when I had a meeting with my brother concerning my mom's 75th birthday party (and my own ... ummm, 28th -- I share the same birthday as my mother, see), and I had casually opened my Macbook, proceeded to Word ... and found myself unable to write a single word with the keyboard.
I panicked, although nobody noticed it. Not Mark, not Dennis, nor my sisters-in-law. What did I do? What went wrong? Ten thousand questions went through my head. Jean Harlow's been with me for only two months, and now this? I have a year's warranty, of course, but still, I worried. I thought: I did kinda "bump" Jean Harlow at Cafe Antonio last Saturday afternoon. Maybe that was it? Oh dear God. I hastily texted Angeline Dy, my friend and fellow Mac enthusiast (and the one who sold me Jean Harlow from AACTech, her ultra-excellent and ultra-slick computer shop -- the best there is in Dumaguete), and I told her I was bringing in Jean Harlow for some serious diagnosis.
I could not sleep last night. I was tossing and turning all night long, and I had nightmares, seriously, of Macbooks in their death beds, gasping for breath. Today, when I met with Annabelle in Don Atilano for coffee and conversation, she took out her own Macbook, and I felt my heart sink. I missed Jean Harlow. It had been hours since I last opened her. After coffee with Belle, I went home, and got Jean Harlow for my appointment with Angeline. There, I opened the Macbook, turned it on, expected the worst ... and I found myself able to type again. What the...?
But I'm way better now. I can finally breathe. And I know for sure that I can't live without Jean Harlow. She's been a great help in my work -- I've written two short stories in a single week, all because she was there, always readily available, always urging me to produce. I don't ever want this scare ever again.
I know, I know... This is such a burgis thing to worry about. But if you owned a Macbook, wouldn't you worry?
10:50 AM |
Favorite Songs No. 14 : He Was Beautiful and Cavatina From The Deer Hunter
I feel the urge to share this song, even if I've already made my choice for this weekend's favorite song...
Stanley Myers's "Cavatina," the theme from Michael Cimino's beautiful and brutal The Deer Hunter, has always struck me as a poignant study of longing in recollection, and I have always found it lovely, given the masterful treatment it received from master guitarist John Williams. Here's that composition in all its glory...
But I had no idea it was made into a great and haunting song with lyrics by Cleo Laine. An online friend, Gilbert Tan, sent me the mp3 of the wonderful Lesley Garrett singing the song (thanks, Gilbert!), and it is without doubt something that reaches deep into each of us who has known great love...
He was beautiful, Beautiful to my eyes. From the moment I saw him, The sun filled the sky.
He was so so beautiful, Beautiful just to hold. In my dreams he was spring time Winter was cold.
How could I tell him What I so clearly could see Though I longed for him I never trusted me completely So I never could be free.
Oh, but it was beautiful Knowing now that he cared I will always remember Moments that we shared
Now it's all over Still the feelings linger on For my dream keeps returning Now that he's gone.
For it was beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful to be loved.
You're right, Gilbert. It does remind me of my bubu, without, of course, the note of separation we glean from the song. And for Mark, the adjective, fortunately, is still very much in the present tense. He is beautiful.
6:15 AM |
Favorite Songs No. 13 : Because of Who You Are
After a battle with crippling depression, you realize two things: first, it is best to let some things take its course to heal, because anything else -- like a false sense of finish, foolishly declaring to the world, "I am all right!" -- is denying how the heart and mind really heal; and second, you find that life afterwards is still the same, with its disappointments and hard edges, but you get to see clear sign posts now, which give you ample warning over the next bump in the road. (You also learn to avoid the cause of your worries, like the plague.) Oh, and one more thing: there's always some particular choice of music that you realize is your favored healing tune. For me, it was Sandi Patty and her brilliant rendition of "Because of Who You Are."
Which is strange, if you know who I am. I am nowhere near being an evangelical, so this is a surprising choice really. But Ms. Patty's music reminds me of the idylls of my childhood when my mother used to play Christian music all day long -- when Christian music meant the heartfelt and intelligent catalog of Ms. Patty, the original Maranatha singers, Petra, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steve Green, and Scott Wesley Thomas, and none of the curiously bland community singing of Don Moen. (Ugh, ugh.)
Music is the great Prozac. My choice of "Because of Who You Are" may spring from an early Sunday School memory with the story of King Saul and David from the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, the King is troubled by evil spirits sent by God, and to soothe himself, he sends for the boy David to play harp music in his presence. Maybe that's why I play Christian music when I, too, get depressed. To battle with the demons, Sandi Patty is handy as the nearest voice that captures the divinity of harps.
In this Oscar-nominated short film, Ben is an art college student in London, whose imagination runs wild as he works the late-night shift at the local supermarket. What does he, and his colleagues, do to pass the long, endless hours of the night? He stops time, and undresses the female customers. For art.
How come the French always has words for common strangeness? Deja vu, for instance. Or jolie laide, literally "ugly-pretty," which basically means an unconventional or off-key beauty. Or esprit d'escalier, literally "the wit of the staircase," which means the the answer you cannot make till afterwards, when it suddenly comes to you but it is too late. I'm like this all the time. I have great retorts to bitchy statements and unsubtle put-downs, two hours too late.
Maybe it's the animal lover in me... but of everybody else who meet their untimely appointment, it's you I'll miss most of all. That sense of loss is unexpected, even for me... but there you go: one cannot dictate what the heart will throb for. I do hope you had a great life delivering all those magic mail.
Whaddayaknow.The New York Times' notoriously not-so-easy-to-please Michiko Kakutani likes the last Harry Potter book. She writes in her review:
J. K. Rowling’s monumental, spellbinding epic, 10 years in the making, is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas — from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to “Star Wars.” And true to its roots, it ends not with modernist, “Soprano”-esque equivocation, but with good old-fashioned closure: a big-screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation and an epilogue that clearly lays out people’s fates. Getting to the finish line is not seamless — the last part of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final book in the series, has some lumpy passages of exposition and a couple of clunky detours — but the overall conclusion and its determination of the main characters’ story lines possess a convincing inevitability that make some of the prepublication speculation seem curiously blinkered in retrospect.
With each installment, the “Potter” series has grown increasingly dark, and this volume — a copy of which was purchased at a New York City store yesterday, though the book is embargoed for release until 12:01 a.m. on Saturday — is no exception. While Ms. Rowling’s astonishingly limber voice still moves effortlessly between Ron’s adolescent sarcasm and Harry’s growing solemnity, from youthful exuberance to more philosophical gravity, “Deathly Hallows” is, for the most part, a somber book that marks Harry’s final initiation into the complexities and sadnesses of adulthood.
I love the fact that Ms. Kakutani manages to write a significant review without revealing anything crucial to the plot. I can imagine the temptation to spoil...
To define a city merely in terms of infrastructure and population is being myopic about the mechanics of how cosmopolitan lives work, and thrive. A city is also a city because it invites a culture of sophistication.
That said, a city without coffee shops cannot be rightly called a city. It is only a shadow of its possible self, because coffee -- a brew that has tantalized many for centuries -- is more than just being the most popular legal drug in history.
Coffee, one must note first of all, is symbolic of intellectual ferment, as it had been in Paris, Vienna, Rome, London, New York, Seattle, and all the other coffee-drinking great cities of the world. It has come a long way from the discovery of its beans by some goatherd in the mountains of Ethiopia. From Africa and the Middle to East to wherever this brew manages to land, it has brought with it great social change. The French Revolution, so the theory goes, germinated in a Parisian coffee shop -- and with it the democratic notions of equality, fraternity, and liberty. Harry Potter came to being while J.K. Rowling trawled one coffee shop after another, each sip of caffeine firing off the neurons that would soon bring us Hogwarts and its magical denizens. I have written countless stories and essays in coffee shops, and sometimes I wonder how many creations there are exactly that first saw the light of conception on tissue papers with circular brown stains of coffee mugs.
Coffee is conversation. Coffee is debate. Coffee is an organic pump. Coffee is an elixir. Coffee, with the anti-oxidants that enrich it, has became a health drink of sorts.
Coffee is the push that makes bearable the manic struggle with which we lead our lives. Coffee is the energy that courses through our veins and wakes us up to make contemporary living more bearable, less drowned in the haze of uncertainty. Coffee is the confidence of the gloriously awake, as surely as a shot of espresso gives us the energy to propel forward with our first steps of the day.
In other words, without my two cups of coffee in the morning, I am as energetic as a drugged-out zombie.
All that said, if coffee is the very liver (if not the heart) of a thinking city, Dumaguete then is quite lucky that there is something like Café Antonio in The Spanish Heritage to propel us towards a semblance of civilized wakefulness. The establishment is the lone bulwark of local coffee culture, given the absence of more popular franchises such as Starbucks, or Bo’s, or Seattle’s Best, or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, or even Figaro. (Lee Cimbali is really just a bakeshop that serves blended coffee, and Café Memento is more like a beer bistro with barako pretensions -- and I do happen to like both, thank you very much. The New York Times has famously written about the brewed coffee in Don Atilano, calling it the best one in the country thus far, but it is a boast that has to be taken with a grain of, umm, sugar: what did that American travel writer exactly know about coffee in the Philippines? And besides, Don Atilano is not a coffee shop: it is a hotel restaurant famous more for its steak than for its menu of caffeinated beverages.)
Dumaguete has had a checkered history with coffee shops. I remember the first time a pioneering one—the long-missed Silliman Avenue Café (“SACs” to its devoted regulars) -- opened its doors to warm reception but lukewarm patronage. (One businessman I used to know jokingly said of it, “I’d rather make myself Nescafe instant coffee in my house.” Which may be, well, the practical thing -- but the businessman did not get the point of the enterprise. There’s a reason why there is something we call “coffee culture,” and it is not because of the ease of coffee-making. Troglodytes, for that matter then, can have their Nescafe.)
Is the city ready for barista-made coffee, and a peculiar coffee vocabulary that includes words like “java” and “cappuccino” and “espresso” and “macchiato” and “latte”? Can they see beyond the typical high prices for choice blends without simpering away to be content with cheap Nescafe? Sometimes I think Dumaguete isn’t. “We’re still edging on tagabukid,” a friend once helpfully said. That may hurt, but it’s true. SACs eventually closed down, burdened as it was with breaking in something new to a Nescafe-drinking population. (The old venue was promptly transformed into a massage parlor—burned down now, of course.) The only “cafés” that seem to have thrived (Memento and Cimbali, included) are more like joints who just happen to have coffee. Café Antonio had its start more than a year ago, and today remains the only one that takes coffee culture as its sole raison d’etre -- even when it goes on day by day to remain liquid, hoping for the full-blossoming of a population who will know their coffee.
Every time I meet proprietors Dixon Peralta and Rolando Piñero (and sons Raymond Vincent and Roderick), they seem always bent on improving the lot of the place -- a good sign for good business. In the first place, they have to go around the principled restrictions they have for the coffee shop -- there’s no beer or smoking here, and they open at 1 in the afternoon, easily canceling the possible morning traffic of those who need their caffeine fix early in the day. (My own solution has always been to go to Dunkin’ Donuts for takeout coffee, before I proceed to work.) The smoking prohibition springs from a Christian standpoint -- Dumaguete, if one must know, is replete with this unique business practice: Bethel Guest House is one such, and the distinction has been quite successfully ingrained in the corporate culture. Which is admirable, but the practice also significantly cuts into Café Antonio’s common coffee clientele who mostly imbibe their caffeine with their nicotine. “But we want to make a difference,” Dixon once told me -- and I agree with him: not all coffee shops should spring from the same mold.
Café Antonio is helped by the fact that it is located in what has to be prime property in Dumaguete -- a corner spot in the hallowed area between Avenida Santa Catalina and the seaside Boulevard. The Spanish Heritage itself is a grand sight from the street. It is done in the ancient Spanish style of a bahay na bato, which it really is, and the Peraltas has done great credit to the architecture by preserving it. This marks him separate from other entrepreneurs in Dumaguete who mark their own silliness and ignorance by demolishing old houses to make way for garish buildings to house even more garish business.
Café Antonio, of course, is the crown jewel in the building, and we are led to it the way we are led into the airy indoor courtyards of the old Spanish: we take the short flight of grand staircases, ornate and browned with age, that lead us to an inner courtyard. The air-steeped courtyard is named Patio Victoria, and the immediate impression we have is that of gilded elegance. The design is a mix of wood and brick, but the carefully chosen fixtures and the furniture of the tropical baroque kind lend it an Old World feel that goes great with each cup of coffee. Patio Victoria breathes: it is great to sip cappuccino while, from the sea nearby, a breeze gently wafts away the heat of the day.
There are new innovations: the wifi for the laptop set (another crucial market for coffee shops) is in place, the gallery is always filled with choice works of art, and Dixon is pushing for Café Antonio to be the site of cultural goings-on -- poetry-readings, book club discussions, and the like. Last summer, it hosted the writers of the renowned National Writers Workshop, making it one of the few businesses in Dumaguete to readily see that what sets apart Dumaguete from the rest of the country is its sense of culture. (Tagabukid we may be, but we are high-class tagabukids nevertheless.)
I decided to drop by Café Antonio last Saturday, to find out how it’s been faring of late. The Spanish Heritage is a little out of the way from my daily grind in and around Silliman University -- but I do make an effort to visit it most weekends or on free days. (I find the atmosphere of Café Antonio most conducive for book reading.) I’d been hearing some great news about the place, and I wanted to find out what the buzz was exactly. Seems like they have a “Perfect Blends” campaign that pairs your brewed coffee with some choice cake (either the buttery and crunchy Toffee Krunch Cake or the Swiss Choco Macchiato Cake covered with marshmallow meringue) -- and from 1 to 5 in the afternoon, something they call “A Perfect Afternoon” (and it is), you can refill your cup or mug of brewed coffee as much as your heart longs for an extended caffeine fix. That sounds entirely heavenly for somebody like me who needs more than three cups to feel remotely alive. (For those who are not caffeine freaks, you get free regular iced tea for every order of tuna -- or tuna crunch -- sandwich.)
To be sure, Café Antonio is readily your typical coffee house, menu complete with the usual array of hot and cold brews: from the usual espresso, espresso machiatto, café latte, cappuccino, café mocha (also the white variety), caramel latte, caramel macchiato... to what they call as special “barista” creations that include hazelnut, strawberry, macademia, and vanilla lattes, raspberry or strawberry mocha, and cookies & cream... to brews topped with condiments from raspberry to almond to crème de banana, to caramel to butterscotch to macadamia to peppermint to chocolate… to classic frappe blends, among them something called Peanut Butter Blast, which just happens to be my favorite. They have frajellis of mocha, strawberry, or caramel, and special drinks such as Granita Blush, Blue Crush, Peachy Mango, Creamy Pineapple, Choco Mallow Shake, and milkshake that comes in the plain variety or something that comes with strawberries or brownies. Basically the whole gamut of gourmet coffee.
Their food comes with the same list of delectability: from regular sandwiches to Pasta Alfredo, Pasta Bolognese, and Pasta Antonio (a vegetarian dish in fresh tomato sauce and Italian herbs). There are heavier fare with their paella, their pork and chicken cordon bleu, their pork and chicken schnitzel, fish fillet, Spanish omelet, and roast beef -- something I can’t take because of my current vegetarian leanings. They also serve pork cooked in mild pepper sauce with kangkong leaves, or in barbecue sauce topped with pineapple and onions, or in cheese. There is also something called orange glazed pork strips (which is basically tender pork strips in fresh orange flavored sauce), and pork tenders drenched in either sweet chili sauce or creamy mushroom sauce. They also grill pork and chicken (in chili and with cabbage sidings), as well as burger steak (topped with a la pobre sauce).
Best of all, they serve greens. For a vegetarian like me in a culture that practically discriminates non-meat eaters, that is God-sent.
I asked Karl, the waiter on hand, what the bestselling cake in the place was. He readily replied, “Chocolate Decadence, but there are days when our cheesecake sells more than anything.” I had that with my brewed coffee, twice refilled.
And that defined for me what a perfect Saturday really was: coffee in an airy place, with delicious caramel-on-chocolate cake on the side, with Nat King Cole singing in the background, with friends, with glorious conversation.
1:24 PM |
Because the Magic Finally Begins Its End Tomorrow
I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in hardback a long time ago when the hype was still nowhere in sight, and somebody from the U.K. had suggested that I read it. So I ordered one from Amazon (back in the days when I used to be quite profligate with my brother's credit card, hehehe). I swear I didn't quite find the book interesting, so I put off reading the second volume ... until the Harry Potter phenomenon became too large to ignore that I decided to soldier on, and read the damn series. (I didn't want to be accused of living under a rock.) To my surprise, I found the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban, quite a wonderful read, and that sealed the deal for me: I had to read all the books and be part of the magic of Hogwarts. And tomorrow, July 21, the last book will answer every question every muggle has about the final battle between Harry and Lord Voldermort.
I will be in line in National Bookstore when that comes.
In the meantime, here's a video of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint asking each other questions on Moviefone's Unscripted show. Minus patronizing hosts and their stupid questions, this has got to be the best HP interview I've seen since the hype for the fifth movie began...
7:42 AM |
The First Cultural Season of 2007-2008 for Silliman University
This has been keeping me both busy -- and sane -- for the past four months, although I nearly bailed out from the effort because of the paralyzing bout of depression I plunged into last June. Good thing Ma'am Susan Vista-Suarez (my second mother!) and my friends were there to get me out of the dragon's mouth, just in time for me to buckle down, settle to work, and produce the posters, banners, etc. for the year's slate of cultural shows.
This is my second year as a member of Silliman University's Cultural Affairs Committee, my function mostly in the aesthetic and literary side of marketing. This year, though, I have to admit the new bunch of committee members is more gung-ho, more fun -- and more ambitious than usual. We all gel like there's no tomorrow, and we are all united by our common goal to give culture in Dumaguete City a kick in the ass. The mantra we've adopted for the year goes: "Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee invites you to a cultural renaissance in Dumaguete City..." That's me being cheeky as usual.
Finally, this year, CAC has come out with a brochure (something people has been demanding for, like forever), complete with the whole line-up of coming shows. (That has never happened before, having a complete line-up that is. The whole operation used to be a hit-and-hopefully-it-will-stick affair, with the CAC approving and staging shows only as they come and go...) We also have a new website, a new project plan... and a grand launching last Monday night.
Here's our invitation for last Monday's soiree...
It was a night borne out of our collective mugna-mugna. We were saying last summer, "Why don't we invite all the society people of Negros Oriental, tell them to dress up to the nines -- in gowns! and suits! -- and ask them to become sponsors for the coming shows?" Which was a considerable thing to ask because long gone were the days when Oriental Negrense society would gather together in their Parisian high couture, for a party, or for a cultural gathering. (Oriental Negros used to be the locus of southern Philippine society, complete with our local girls making their debutante's ball in such hallowed spaces as St. James Court in London. But most -- like the famed Isabel Preysler of Madrid, who's really from Bais -- have gone abroad, and the rest are old and graying...)
But they did come, many of them, all dressed to the hilt, and under the starless skies in the foyer of the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, they wined and dined. And for them, we presented the first six shows of the season...
And the rest, including Tanghalang Pilipino's Geegee at Waterina and Welcome to Intelstar, will be coming in the second season.
Reserve your tickets. There are only about a hundred seats left for the entire season.
The heat that wraps us in Dumaguete now seems more dangerous to me than it had been last summer, because it is insidious. Or perhaps I think that way because I have largely forgotten what it had been like to live through that old heat wave of utter unbearability, when the summer sun was a murderous bright thing that ignited every molecule in the air, its vapors seeping into our sweating pores and into our troubled breathing. Everything now seems the picture of moderation -- but everyday, we get news of friends getting sick, having the flu, contracting colds, etc. It's the change-of-weather syndrome, I tell friends. We've been having rains since June, sporadic though they may be, but we got used to the cooler winds. Now, the heat is intense, but subtly so. Now, the heat seems to come from within. I feel the common cold creeping up to me these days, so today I take 1,000 ml of Vitamin C, and a double dose of Neozep to keep it at bay. Which explains my general state of narcolepsy today. It was a strange state of being: I felt that my brain was hyperactive, but it easily surrendered to the vigorous want for sleep, my eyelids dropping by the second with such weight. Mark took me to CocoAmigos for afternoon cappuccino today, and while we sat for a spell in the waning afternoon sun, I had to beg for a few minutes' respite: for God knows how long, I dozed off for a while. When I woke up, I felt so much better. More awake. Later, we come home to a pad that's the very idea of trapped heat. We have plans for acquiring an air-conditioning unit now, and for once I find myself embracing the idea.
I met Ana in the summer of 2006, met her and her braids in the dark dining room of the El Oriente in Dumaguete. I had dragged my black monster of a suitcase three floors up, past colored underwear hanging on window blinds, up narrow concrete steps to a bedroom where the showers were separated from the bed spaces by thin plastic curtains printed with black and white cows. When I trudged downstairs, Ana was in the dining room, eating pineapple and negotiating the wary conversation between.
The first few days were days when criticism, carefully, even poetically phrased, would wake me up at three in the morning and send me hurtling out of the bedroom into the rain to write story plots on wet scraps of paper. I was feeling poetic those days, even if I never wrote a line of poetry; I thought there was something desperately romantic about walking in the dark and feeling miserable. I remember sitting in El Amigo one night, surrounded by my co-fellows, reeling from my third bottle of Red Horse, and letting all my humiliations and stupidities and various insecurities spill out of my eyes to Ana beside me. I remember believing, at that moment, with the clear, unshakeable certainty of the almost-drunk, that Ana cared, and that in spite of the also-unshakeable certainty that I was being a self-pitying fool, Ana would understand.
Until that hot, humid morning in May, Ana was only a name to me, another poet on the list of people bound for the three-week National Writer’s Workshop in Dumaguete. I find that strange now, the idea that there was a time I didn’t know Ana, even if it was only a little more than a year ago when I followed her and her Velcro-and-rubber sandals down the boulevard. Ana was the one who first put a camera into my clumsy hands, and who told me she trusted me. I remember seeing her sway in front of a boutique mirror once, draped in a softly gray dress with slim straps, fake jewels sparkling on her hair. I remember her stopping to ask us if she looked pretty, remember rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the question. She would ask us that question, again and again, over the next year, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized that the lovely girl with a butterfly tattooed on her ankle had very little idea of how beautiful she was.
When we went home to the grind of our various jobs, better versed in the powers of the semicolon, wary of the ellipses, half in despair over whether we were writers or not, it was Ana who stayed, just a little longer, just enough to say goodbye to her sea. We all made promises, to keep in touch, to come back in a year, for some sort of grand reunion to celebrate a time when we got drunk on poetry and stale beer and the over-fried chicken drowned in thick ketchup. That reunion never happened, not when it was supposed to. There was work, and empty bank accounts, and the logic that we could always do it another time when it was easier.
We had our reunion last Tuesday, only this time, it was Ana we were visiting. We couldn’t find her in the glass coffin in the cavernous funeral parlor, that wasn’t her, hands clasped over a rosary, dressed all in stiff white. Ana was our wide-eyed gypsy in a flowing skirt, whose eyes lit up at tempura by the sidewalk, the young mother who bragged about the daughter in Cebu who painted while wearing lavender wings, the woman whose very stillness pulsed with aching life.
I am familiar enough with death to accept how it happens, old enough to have seen the bullet wounds and the anguished faces, the aging and the going and rough, ragged marks of pain. I understand that the world is a brutal, terrible place, and that people die. I knew all that, but all that had nothing to do with Ana.
Not the girl whose voice can calm both a clumsy kitten and a cantankerous writer with one too many bottles of beer—our Ana who walks barefoot and stands still to take a picture of the white, white moon caught at the crook of a tree’s branches.
That Ana, who would stay in Manila only for a night, “because I miss my little girl.” Ana, who swam like a mermaid and treated water as air. My Ana, who knocked at my Cebu hotel room and laughed as I bounced in bed, who giggled when we talked about boys with ponytails and boys without; who, because she too jumped on the backs of motorcycles to chase light, understood my need to keep rushing after moonbeams.
There are people, sometimes, who feel too much, see too much, some too sweet to survive. There are many things I learned from Ana. Last month, Ana turned 29, and admitted in her Sun Star Weekend column that there were still many things she wanted to do—include cherry tomatoes in her grocery list, learn the names of flowers, teach her daughter the constellations, learn to care about table settings and small talk, sprint around the Abellana track twice without feeling faint. The point, Ana says, “is to live awake, never indeed be freed of oneself again, that is, the self that is never lost, never shaken off, fastened to us hard enough until we have no choice but to claim it completely and live and love with it well.”
Maybe the world was too much for Ana, too much for a brown-cheeked poet who would lapse into daydreams, too much to live awake. In a few minutes, after I send this essay, I will meet the same poets and teachers and writers who met more than a year ago in another place, by a boulevard overlooking a sea that ends where the sky begins. I’ll take my camera, the one I never had a chance to show Ana, and try to take the pictures she would have taken. There will be stories, and regrets, and prayers winging up the sky. Ana, we like to think, will be reading her poetry with us.
I will not claim to have understood Ana, only a very little, only the parts she let us see. But I will say I loved her, still love her, and hope that now she is among her dangling stars, nothing more can hurt her.
Almost six o'clock in the morning. Looks like it's going to be a beautiful Sunday. I'm done cleaning up the pad, although my desk still looks like a war zone. I guess I can go to sleep now. See you when noon comes. In the meantime, here's K.D. Lang singing "Skylark," one of my favorite songs...
But for something happier, here's a video that's been registering quite high on my "cutesy" meter these days...
I'm a hamster-person. I love hamsters, both Russian Dwarves and Syrian, and in fact, have three right now: a brown-and-white bundle of love called Shandi, and a pair of mischievous dwarfs named Coffee and Cream. Pet them, and they take away all the tension in your life.
Do you remember that episode from Oprah where a woman's inner turmoil was reflected in the horrifying mess of her house? I've felt that way for some time now: when summer ended, and June began, I must tell you that my life turned towards hellish. The descent to depression was swift, and horrible. And because I was so messed up inside, I just watched my pad go to pieces day by day... It was not even about having too much work, I see now. It's all right when there's pressure building up -- I thrive in hard work and pressure -- but this time, I was despairing because I was being bitch-slapped around because ... I did something good, and I became the fall guy for somebody else's incompetence. I could not process my bewilderment, and I so allowed myself to wallow in the pain and humiliation that followed. But there was a point (last Sunday morning, in fact) when I realized that the whole thing was choking me, was destroying my life. That morning, I allowed myself to cry. I began the process of recovery. It was hard, and many times I seemed to have missed the exit from the darkness, and so I went on further in the highway of despair. But things seem so much better now: cranking up the creativity (I was designing things left and right, and I wrote two short stories...) proved the ultimate kicker. And guess what. It's a Saturday afternoon. I just had a luncheon session with my LitCritters (the best bunch of young people in Dumaguete, I must say), had a quick snap, and now I'm starting to clean my mess in my apartment. Let's call that capping my therapy. One thing's for sure, though: I am never ever letting this happen to me again. So, for all those monsters in our lives who seem to take pleasure in dragging us down...
I will never ever let anyone do that to me, ever again.
It took me a long time to listen to my mother’s story simply because, like most children, I was paralyzed from entertaining the very idea that my parents were once people who had lives that did not involve any of us children. It was enough, it would seem, to consider only the woman who was wife to the father I knew, who catered to all my needs or answered (with the decisive discipline of spanking) my tantrums, and who had been there for all childhood skirmishes, and, sometimes, triumphs. A few years ago, in a rare streak of familial insight, I started to consider in a rather oblique and unintended manner that this woman must have an inner life I did not know about. We were talking about the concept of Great Love over Sunday dinner, and I had casually asked her, “Ma, did you ever have a crush when you were growing up?”—not exactly expecting a reply. But it turned out she did. I remembered asking myself, Who is this woman? How come I do not really know anything about her?
Still, it took me time to listen.
I had not wanted to do what she had been egging me to do all those years, that I should listen to her tales and make a suitable fiction from their beautiful chaos, enough to memorialize an existence.
“’Ga, listen to my story,” she would tell me when she had the chance. “I think my life would make a very interesting book.” I have always thought that such admission was everybody’s common conceit. Each of us is complicit in feeling that the nuances of our lives, convinced of every moment’s originality, would make for literature. All lives are a book waiting to happen, it would seem. And just like how I often dealt with other people’s advances in telling me of the cinematic possibilities of their own biographies, I did the patronizing tango with my mother, kissed her on the cheek, ate the food she offered on her table, and promised her—time and again—that I would certainly find an inch of my week to sit down with her, to listen to her life story, to write about how she came to be. When you are young, you can be capable of such deviousness.
It would take a few more years before it occurred to me, in a moment of stray consideration, that my mother was in fact getting old, and that I had only known a slight aspect of her existence: as doting mother, and as devoted wife to my father. Still, I must admit that it was a small biography that felt comfortable enough to me—but all storytellers know that there are many sides to a tale. Mother’s story, I felt, had intricacies and revelations that could even shed light on my own life.
I stumbled on this truth when Lola Mediong, my mother’s maternal aunt (and the originator of the bamboo story) had her last bad fall. A spinster, she had come to live with us after my family got wind of unflattering reports that she was drinking away her profits from making achara (pickled papaya strips) in Bayawan. She was outdrinking the worst tuba drinkers in town, and regularly stumbled on her way to some ramshackle hut that housed her. When we sent for her to live with us in Dumaguete City, she was a lucid woman in her 80s who demanded a great deal of affection from her apos. For the most part, she was the picture of health: she still had her teeth, her eyesight was undiminished by time, and she still had the spunk to demand she be given a household task she could do despite increasingly brittle bones and a wavering sense of balance. Sometimes, that meant she would take to the broom and proceed to sweep the entire house of its dirt—stubbornly brandishing the broom like a talisman despite our efforts to make her feel comfortable with her old age, which usually (and perhaps unfairly) meant settling down in some faded corner and whiling away the rest of the days doing cross-stitch. “You’re getting on with the years,” we told her. “You might have an accident if you keep this up.”
I must also confess that when I was a child, I carried with me—the way most children do—that strange dislike for old skin or old smell; I avoided Lola Mediong’s geriatric cajoling and then sometimes also her pleas for me to do the mandated “mano”—cusping her hand to lead to my forehead, a gesture of respect from one generation to elders. She also had stories of her life in Bayawan, but nobody was there to listen to her—not me, not anyone of my five brothers, nor any of my cousins, the nine sons and daughters of my mother’s sister, Tita Epefania.
In hindsight, I realize that we should have been more welcoming of her stories, because today, when we are desperate to learn more about the history of my maternal family, Lola Mediong—our last link to that unexplored past—could no longer be counted on to give a straightforward narrative. She had her last bad fall about three years ago when she took to her trusty broom to swirl away cobwebs in one corner of the house and broke her leg when the chair she was standing on gave way. Recovery took months, but she was no longer the same Lola Mediong who had the ferocity of toughened country women. Somehow, mentally, she had also let go. While she still has some capacity to recognize our faces, the past for her is like broken pottery that she cannot make sense of, nor try to put back together into some cohesive story. Whenever I ask her a question, I get answers that are stuck in some roundabout that has become her inner world. “Lola,” I’d ask, “what did you mean when you used to call mother’s father a buyong? What is a buyong?” (Later, I learned a “buyong” meant a wandering stranger one must be wary about.)
Lola Mediong would give me the worst kind of quizzical look possible, as if she was trying too hard to understand what I meant by my question. “Dugong?” she would ask.
“No, lola, buyong.”
I would finally move to half a shout, “Buyong!”
This would go on for a few more minutes until I—or somebody else—would finally give up in the quest for the simplest, but most elusive, answer. Like her mind, her stories are gone forever.
Stories, especially real ones—the ones that have shaped our families, the ones that our fathers and our mothers know to be their sacrosanct biographies—are always a fragile lot. Family stories, often than not, disappear into the void of the disinterest of generations to come. Nobody ever bothers to ask some of the most vital, and the most fascinating, questions anymore. What was my mother like before she met my father? What did she dream to be? Who was her first love? What was the first movie that she saw? What song made her cry? What curses did she shout out the moment I struggled to break free from her womb? All parents have their inner lives. The tragedy of children is that they do not willingly try to uncover what fascinating stories they may reveal.
It was with this conviction that I have resolved to know my mother’s story.
Who was Charles Lane? He was a 102-year old actor you've seen a lot but never quite knew by name. In an industry that turns a blind eye on its hardworking but little known character actors, he was in every way a "nobody." To be more precise, he was "everybody" -- in a career that spanned eight decades, he accumulated screen credits in hundreds of films the exact count of which he could no longer remember. He played all types, including "hotel clerks, cashiers, reporters, lawyers, judges, tax collectors, mean-spirited businessmen, the powerful as well as the nondescript," writes Robert Berkvist for The New York Times. "Sometimes he was little more than a face in the crowd, with only a line or two of dialogue, which made it easy for him to trot from one movie set to another and rack up two or three film credits in a single day. He appeared in hundreds of comedies, dramas, gangster flicks and musicals, ranging from You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) to Mighty Joe Young (1949) and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) ... He was so omnipresent and so much the representative of his type, whatever that was, that people would come up to him in the street and greet him, because they thought they knew him from their hometowns." Mr. Lane considered his tax collector role in Frank Capra's You Can’t Take It With You (1938) as his favorite role.Treating his film roles as a regular nine-to-five job (hopping from one studio to the next...), he mostly forgot the titles of the films he worked in, and "on at least one occasion, he was quite astonished to see himself turn up in a movie he had paid good money to see." He last appeared on a feature film in 1987's Date With an Angel, where he essayed -- with gusto -- the role of a marijuana-loving priest. I'm thinking: the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor was made for this type of man: so why are they giving it to the likes of Angelina Jolie or Robin Williams or George Clooney? They're hardly "supporting." This guy's life would make for an interesting movie, or at least a riveting novel or play in the tradition of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. This one though should end in an infectious optimism that Mr. Lane had in real life.
Whoa. Vince Groyon (The Sky Over Dimas) just emailed to tell me that my children's story "The Last Days of Magic" was chosen for inclusion in the new Philippine P.E.N. Fiction Anthology! This is great, great news... I wonder who else made it into the anthology. The last time Philippine P.E.N. came out with such a project was in 1962, with Francisco Arcellana as editor. That volume introduced some of the most innovative writers to come out of that generation, including Erwin Castillo, Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, and Wilfrido Nolledo.
Third time's the charm? Whoa. We've come a long way. This is the third set of Original Stories for LitCritters Dumaguete, and for this one we all agreed to scare ourselves to death. There's a story about an onion-skinned monster who eats people, another one about a young man's encounter with a manananggal, another one about a girl's summer vacation in a haunted house in the province, another one about a writer writing about a demon-possessed nun, and another one about a balut vendor and the specter of a man with a golden boat. There will be more horror stories coming soon. (Paging Marianne and Odie...) Let's see how tonight goes. (And hey, look, it's our thirteenth session, guys.)
This is the second story I wrote this week -- and the fourth one this year. For a slowpoke like me who usually writes one story a year, this is pretty much a good run. What accounts for the sudden deluge of fiction-writing? Four things: LitCritters, which is the best push ever devised for writing. Deadlines for friends' anthologies. Coming off one particularly bad phase in my eternal bouts of manic-depression. And the realization that life is too short to just mope around and not do anything. I wrote this story in white heat for another anthology, starting around lunch time in Chantilly, where I had several cups of brewed coffee, an Oreo cake, fish fillet with rice, and spaghetti al funghi. I stopped for a bit to go to my 3 to 4 pm class, and pursued the ending till almost nine o'clock at night in Scooby's Snack Bar where I had a large cup of iced tea. This story freaked me out. I am never writing another horror story ever again. Guess what, I have another story to finish this week for another friend's anthology...
Late one night, the people in the neighborhood began to notice that there was a faint glow coming from one of the upstairs windows—soft like candlelight, but steady, its orange glimmer almost bright red.
“Someone is living in the old Ballesteros house,” Grandmother Meding said. She had crossed the quick distance between the landing of the stairs and the picture window beside the front door, and drew the curtains quickly. There was a tension in her voice, almost a tight gasp, and when she saw the faraway light steadying, she crossed herself, the names of the saints quickly issuing forth from her lips in a rushed whisper.
Elena, leaving on the dining table the kitchen knives she was wiping with a dry cloth, came to the window. “But it can’t be. It has been more than ten years…” she said.
“Eleven,” grandmother said in a dead, defeated tone, cutting in, “Eleven years, to be exact.”
“Susmariahosep,” that last one from Elena, who drew a nervous step back, and then looked at the clock on the wall, noting how far late into the night it already was.
“What is it, Ma?” came a girl’s sleepy voice from behind them.
“None of your business, Anita,” Elena said, spinning around and shushing away the girl back to the dark upstairs. “Go back to your bed. It’s very, very late, hija.”
If Grandmother Meding had not closed the curtains at the instance of the girl’s query, they would have seen the flickering light brightening from the distant windows, its glow floating from room to room of the silent old house.
Everywhere in the neighborhood, the night suddenly seemed too long.
9:29 PM |
For Ana Escalante Neri, Beautiful Friend
My question is why -- if the stories are true. Because you didn't have to. And I don't suppose you were capable of such thing even. Not you who embodied so much of life, who was the very picture of walking beauty. You were a breath-taking woman, gifted with eyes to see what's beautiful. (Your photos -- each one a snapshot of the ethereal in the ordinary -- showed it.) You wrote moving poetry, were recognized for them. You were a wonderful mother, and a giving friend. You seemed to have led a charmed life. That's why I don't understand. Still, only you could know the depth and the finalities of those last days. I wish I had known. You will be missed, dearest friend.
Here's a recent poem by Ana, which the poet Marjorie Evasco sent me by text:
Not ready for a falling but here it is: a mango the size of my fist. Stunned open by the claim of concrete. Still green and hard. But where it began to accept its ripening, a flush emerging-- now torn flesh. Yes, the sweetest places are first to give, letting run nectar like tears. Cloying reminders of what we are not always able to cling to.
"Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
Blanche DuBois, in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire
"I’ve always depended on the ... tender kindness of my good friends."
An old woman once told me, "What you see is never what you get." She must have been wisdom herself. Today, I face the mirror that reflects the mask I put on without fail to assure the world everything's all right, and I think: you must know that behind this smile, there is a deluge of tears that every day lashes away at a slowly crumbling dam. Sometimes, especially when a day is beautiful and all I see before me is the endless promise of the blue beyond, I feel a little crack giving way to what could be the final burst of things. Sometimes I think there must be peace afterwards. On blue days, in me stirs a strange longing for the end. But also this: how much a sigh from me can be small silent comfort which I get when I feel your arms embrace me, the surprise of your touch that folds me in -- like a blanket to ward off the night -- telling me, everything is all right, everything is all right. For a brief moment, I find myself wanting to believe.
I remember my cousin's son Ucho (who is about my age) once answering the question, "What's your religion?" with this: The Simpsons. I felt that to be so true of my generation. Because, really, everything one needs to know about life can be found in a Simpsons cartoon.
Introducing me (above) as a resident of Springfield, and neighbor of Homer. Yep, I've been Simpsonized. (Get your own avatar at the upcoming movie's website.) Like the rest of the world, I can't wait to see how our yellow four-fingered favorites fare on the big screen. It's bound to be, well, nuclear.
Here's a video to put the relish to your weekend, especially if you're a musical freak like me... Dreamgirls Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Holliday (Broadway's original Effie) battle it out on stage singing their signature song "You're Gonna Love Me." Talk about over-the-top belting as sweet music to our ears, but that's why we love Dreamgirls in the first place naman, di ba?
The role, if you've been hiding under a rock, has won both Jennifers their respective Oscar and Tony.
I finished my latest story a few days ago, and just in time for the deadline of a speculative fiction anthology being published by a major Philippine imprint, and edited by an award-winning authoress. (Can't reveal the details, because it was not an open call for submissions.) The working title was "A Catalogue of Unimaginable Things," and the story was actually meant for Dean's forthcoming third volume of Philippine speculative fiction. Plans change, of course, and stories have their own way of becoming, sometimes completely different from an author's intended narrative arc. Here's an excerpt:
The Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak
“All of history—and all stories—eventually collide. That is how the Great Laon creates new worlds.” —From an old script written on bamboo, found in Ilog, Negros Island
In the old days, at the turn of the preceding century, when the last of the encantos and diwatas had yet to abandon our everyday realm—banished first by an invasion of Spanish cafres and duendes, and then finally by the sheer forgetfulness of a people too fascinated by the pomp and gilded guilt of Christian ritual—there was a girl named Epefania. She was young and, for better or for worse, was a plain-looking woman capable of the most saccharine romantic dreams. Such was the very occupation of her fabled life. There are many versions (some would say, chapters) of her tale which incredibly spans centuries, all of them differing greatly in detail and circumstances, but all sharing the same tendency to dramatize her embroidered stories of love found, and eventually, love lost.
In one ancient story, she was the young woman who chided away the sun and the moon and the stars toward the quiet safety of faraway firmaments, where they were not deafened by her endless tales of woe and heartbreak. The world then was a place of mist: the clouds hung low to the ground, and the sun, moon, and stars were all within easy reach—their heat scorching the earth that in most days, people took to caves and underground crevices to hide from the deathly oppression of the heavenly bodies. Epefania, who had only her heartbreaks to talk about, eventually ran out of willing ears to share her romantic commiserations: in the end, she only had the sun, moon, and stars to turn to for company—until they, too, flew away from her tales, to the dark reaches above, where they found the quiet humming of the cosmos a more suitable residence.
In another story, she was an obscure village nuisance whom most ancient storytellers believed to be an insignificant twit serving no gravity to the epic narrative she figured in; they subsequently purged her name from their regular accounting of the tale, and replaced with the passable mythology of a father-figure. But the earliest surviving strands of the same story spoke of Epefania as the woman whose suffocating love finally drove the Manobo hero Baybayan away into adventure around the world, seven times, where he prospered in his long journey by singing old stories from his ancient land to the peoples of Bhârat, the Middle Kingdom of Ch’in, Ōyashima, Ur, Egypt, Nubia, Hellas, Vinland, and Mesoamerica. In his travels, Baybayan sang of Lam-ang who was swallowed by the giant fish berkahan, which became the Hebrew story of Jonah and the whale. He sang of the kidnapping of the sea maiden Humitao by Lord Aponi-to-lau, a depraved act which unleashed the wrath of the sea god Tau-mari-u who proceeded to let loose a great deluge on all the land, which also became the story of Noah and the Great Flood. He sang of the virgin birthing of gigantic heroes, which became the Babylonian story of Semiramis and her son Nimrod. Back in the rugged mountains of Bukidnon, Epefania sang of her love for Baybayan, until she became like the dusk and disappeared into a mango tree.
Somebody once pointed it out to me that if you think hard about these early stories, a young woman and her unwanted heartbreak stories thus created a livable universe out of heavenly chaos; and also spurred the creation of world literature by sending adrift, and armed with old stories, an unwilling participant in her dreams for romance. Heartbreak, it can be said, is the precursor to creation.
New Line is on board with HBO to finance and distribute a movie version of the former HBO series Sex in the City. Series stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon are all on board to reprise their roles. Sex and the City writer/director/executive producer Michael Patrick King will direct from a script he wrote and will produce with Parker, John Melfi, and Darren Star. Shooting is tentatively scheduled to begin this fall.
I've finally gotten around to selecting the music for my Film Appreciation class's final project. They have to make, from scratch, two short films that should "spring forth" (or are inspired) from the soundtrack I've provided them. (No democracy here. I had to choose the music myself, or else I might get a short film done to the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" The thought is terrifying.)
Years ago, for the same class (when I was still a naive greenhorn of a teacher), I was moved by Franc Roddam's sexy-lovers-on-the-lam-in-Las-Vegas take on Wagner's "Liebestod" from Tristan and Isolde in the 1987 film anthology Aria. I took to the aria then as our cinematic prompt. In that year, one short film submitted to me was a so-so dramatic piece that bordered on the predictable (lovers dressed all in white looking for each other, and holding hands under a tree...), but the other one was a brilliant exercise in hypnotic surrealism. It was a great exercise in film appreciation, based on a principle I learned from the great Jean-Luc Godard who once said that the best way to critic or appreciate a film is to make another one. So I'm doing the same exercise for my film class this term. (It's been almost five years since I last had this class.)
And my musical choices for this term are...
I've always liked the soulful sadness of Dido's songs, and Barber's very beautiful "Adagio for Strings" (here played by The Philadelphia Orchestra as conducted by Eugene Ormandy) is a classical piece clearly spun from the music of the stars. I wanted a cinematic exercise in balance and counterpoint, so I chose a contemporary tune and a classical one, but both sharing a haunting, almost meditative, quality. Here's hoping my class learns something from this project...