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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?


Friday, June 27, 2008

entry arrow8:24 PM | Just Asking...

What do you think of the cover? Any suggestions?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

entry arrow8:49 AM | Fully Booked and Neil Gaiman Present the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards

And it's that time of the year again. Has it been three years already? I still remember dining with Neil Gaiman as if it was yesterday. From the official website: "After two successful years of exploring Filipino Unrealism through prose fiction and comics, the Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards opens its third with a new category: short film. All Filipino citizens may send their original entries in the prose fiction, comics, and short film categories to any Fully Booked branch. The winning prose and comics entries will be compiled and published by Fully Booked, with a foreword by Neil Gaiman. All winning short films will be screened on awarding day." The contest guidelines are detailed in the website, and the official entry form can be downloaded here. Good luck, people.

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entry arrow1:35 AM | Calmness

Life can be so hard sometimes. You're tired from another fretful day. You look lost. You have ten thousand burning questions swimming in your head, and you know too well that there are no answers to hope for. There is only silence, and the unfathomable chasm. But sometimes a hug, an embrace that lasts the whole day and night, is enough to find perfect calm. It doesn't last too long, but for once, there's calm.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

entry arrow2:22 AM | Get Some Shelter

It's been quite a while since I've seen a queer film that I loved, and that moved me. I've been watching queer films since I can remember -- my brother Rey used to send me all the videos he bought for me from TLA, and I've watched practically everything. From classics such as William Friedkin's The Boys From the Band and Derek Jarman's Sebastiane and Arthur Hiller's Making Love to camp favorites such as David DeCoteau's The Leather Jacket Love Story, from Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together to Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet to Chen Yin-jung's Formula 17 to James Ivory's Maurice, from documentaries such as Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's The Celluloid Closet and Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning to the teen romances of Jim Fall's Trick and Simon Shore's Get Real and Tony Vitale's Kiss Me, Guido, from the early experiments of Kenneth Anger's Fireworks to local dramatic sizzlers such as Carlos Siguion-Reyna's Ang Lalake sa Buhay ni Selya, from the strangely erotic violence of Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation to the romantic comedy of Tommy O'Haver's Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, from the stark realism of Stephen Frear's My Beautiful Laundrette, Hettie Macdonald's Beautiful Thing, and Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling's The Sum of Us (where Russell Crowe plays a gay man) and Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (where River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves play hustlers) to the contemporary AIDs dramas of Norman René's Long Time Companion and Randal Kleiser's It's My Party, from the comedic theatrical mold of Christopher Ashley's Jeffrey to the sad theatrical mold of Sean Mathias's Bent (where Clive Owen plays a gay man), from the mild kilig of Miles Swain's The Trip to the swoon of C. Jay Cox's Latter Days. Heck, I have both the British and the American versions of Queer as Folk (and my boxed DVD set of the first season of QAF has Gale Howard's -- otherwise known as Brian -- autograph on the cover), and I have the complete set of the mini-series Tales From the City. And don't let me start about Boys Briefs, that popular series of the short film anthologies, usually a hit-and-miss affair (but when a short film hits, boy, does it hit).

What can I say. I've watched everything. Name the gay film, I've probably seen it, even the most obscure ones like James Bidgood's Pink Narcissus. I even used to host a monthly film watching night with some friends, but growing up soon makes you edgy and hard, and you soon lose the capacity to fall in love with a movie. I guess the current Filipino indie take on the queer life proved the ultimate downer, with movies like Duda and Bathhouse and Bilog and Ang Lalake sa Parola too relentless for my taste in their drive to prove to everybody else that there's nothing sadder and tragic and humorless than the life we lead. Adolfo B. Alix Jr.'s calm Daybreak was a welcome respite from all that, but the last time I was really moved by a film was a long time ago, when Greg Berlanti released the seminal The Broken Hearts Club, which was a kind of corrective to the sadness of Joe Mantello's Love! Valour! Compassion! and Boys From the Band, and the tragedy of everything else.

Which is why watching Jonah Markowitz's Shelter was like a warm embrace from an old lover. Everything about it is calm, and rings true. No histrionics here, just a well-acted story about ordinary people living ordinary lives and being heroic about it, even as they balance their dreams with crushing reality. But the scene that gets most? It's the one with surfer Zach (the wonderful Trevor Wright) driving home after an achingly protracted tryst with writer Shaun (Brad Rowe, who first caught my attention as pre-Will and Grace's Sean Haye's object of affection in the deliriously affecting Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss). Zach thinks about the night that just passed while he's driving home, and then he begins to smile...

That smile. That truest smile. It takes me back to all those old days when we first discover we're in love. It makes me think back to that spring in my steps, to that tug that pulled my cheeks up to my ears, on that day when I thought I could sigh forever.

[manila gay guy has the song "lie to me" from the movie in his blog]

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

entry arrow4:52 PM | After Frank

Everybody knows I have no taste for the sun despite being an island boy. I live for snow and rain. I think better in cool days, and gnarl my teeth when the sun's too bright. Today, it is hot and humid once more, as it had been two weeks ago. Then, I kept praying in earnest for cooler days: please bring in some much-needed rain. It did. Somebody up there listened. And brought in Frank, who "sashayed across the Philippines like a drag queen" (Joel's take the other night), or "sliced the country like a filet knife" (Todd's take the other day). Take your pick of metaphors. When the skies turned dark Thursday and Friday, it felt beautiful. The rains in Dumaguete never really amount to much, and what we had were romantic blackouts (complete with candlelit dinners) and a continuous gentle patter outside our windows. I spent all of Friday talking to friends as we cocooned in the darkness of our common room. Beautiful day, we said. We simply had no idea of the floods that were rampaging up north, the boats that were sinking, the lives that were lost.

Be careful what you pray for, you might get it.


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entry arrow2:25 PM | Carlin Takes His Wonderful Complaints and Grievances to the Ever After

Here’s something you won’t see in Barlett’s Familiar Quotations anytime soon: “You know something people don’t talk about in public anymore? Pussy farts.” Whaa---? That line—the first one that iconic comedian George Carlin utters for an HBO comedy special, Complaints and Grievances, not too long ago—got me for eternity and sealed one true thing about life on this side of the subversive: Carlin is the funniest white man, ever, in the history of the world. I was hooked. He went straight on with his side-splitting rants, this balding man with a white beard, giving more kick than the overrated discomforts of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, or Chris Rock. For me, those guys were (or are) just foul-mouthed turds using comedy as a weapon for some form of insecurity or other; Carlin was positively foul-mouthed, yes, but he made you think: his humor was rarely personal, they were more a rabid form of social studies, with all sorts of expletives thrown in. Note his groundbreaking Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television:

Here’s a sample of his many taunts into our current political correctness: “You know why they got a cock up on a weathervane? ‘Cause if they got a cunt, the wind would blow right through it.” To listen to Carlin crack jokes is a cathartic encounter shredding to bits the hypocrisies we live with every single day but have no strength to even mock, perhaps simply because we don’t even smell the shit we’re swimming in because we’re so used to it. Until Carlin came along. And made us acknowledge we love to collect our lip crud, smell our toe nail clippings, wonder at the scabs from our heads—“little things… little things that come off ya, that [you’re curious about], especially if it’s something you can’t see, while it’s still on ya. Know what I mean? You’ve ever been picking your ass? … You know, just idly standing out in your driveway, picking your ass, and then you come across … an object! Honey, come here! You wanna couple of hits off these? While it’s still fresh?” Or how we secretly long to “disembowel with a wooden spoon” people who read self-help books, people who attend motivational seminars, people with bumper stickers that say WE ARE THE PROUD PARENTS OF AN HONOR STUDENT AT THE FRANKLIN SCHOOL (“What kind of empty people need to validate themselves through the achievements of their children? How’s it like to live with a couple of these misfits? ‘How’s that science project coming along, Justin?’ ‘Fuck you, dad, you simple-minded freak’.”), people who can’t seem to talk about the phone calls they’ve had without giving their shit, people who are self-important techno dicks who walk around with hands-free telephone headsets and earpieces, people who think it’s cute to let their children record their outgoing message...

... and people who send self-indulgent newsletters for Christmas...

Laurie Raymundo introduced me to George Carlin about four years ago—those long-gone and much-missed happier days when our small band of stragglers from the inanity of daily campus life used to gather in Silliman Village to have our semi-monthly dinners, and Bing and Margie would bring pot roast, Laurie would make her splendid pasta, and Wendy would bring her cake. That was the time she introduced me to Monty Python and Cheech and Chong as well, and made me realize that life may be hard, but comedy helps by coating it with icing.

Carlin died last Sunday.

[photo by vincent laforet for the new york times]

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

entry arrow3:27 PM | Mark Valenzuela Shortlisted for the 2008 Ateneo Art Award

A great friend of mine, Dumaguete-based painter and sculptor Mark Valenzuela, has been short-listed for the 2008 Ateneo Art Award by the Ateneo Art Gallery. The award, established in 2004 to honor the memory of the gallery’s founding benefactor Fernando Zobel de Ayala, is recognized locally as the arbiter of excellence in contemporary visual art practice, and internationally as the most important art prize for an emerging artist in the Philippines.

Valenzuela, a Silliman University alumnus, is nominated for “War Zone,” a collection of his sculptural works in clay which was presented in Gallery Duemila in Manila and Mariyah Gallery in Dumaguete.

A collection of his new sculptural works will also be presented in October 2008 by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee in an exhibit titled Juan Revisited/Mask Reproduction, together with artist Benjie Ranada.

The finalists were determined by the 2008 Ateneo Art Awards Jury after going through over 130 nominations. Each artist, a Filipino citizen and aged 35 years or under by 31 May 2008, was nominated for a solo or group exhibition in any public venue held between 2 May 2007 and 1 May 2008. Usually twelve, the number of short-listed artists this year was trimmed to ten. The other shortlisted artists include Kawayan De Guia, Poklong Anading, Marina Cruz-Garcia, Christina Dy, Lyra Garcellano, Robert Langenegger, Mark Salvatus, Rachel Rillo, and Mac Valdezco.

The winners will then be announced at a formal ceremony on 7 August 2008 following the 2008 Ateneo Art Awards: Zones of Influence, an exhibition of the works of the short-listed artists at the Grand Atrium, Shangri-la Mall, Mandaluyong City, from 1-11 August 2008.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

entry arrow10:35 PM | Woman as (Mythical) Hero

Are Southeast Asians and Asian Americans in a constant state of identity crisis? How do women from this milieu such issues using art, media, and technology?

Acclaimed women artists from Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and the U.S. will come together to explore the dynamic convergences between eastern and western cultures and to interact with the local arts and academic communities of Manila, Dumaguete City, Bacolod City, and Bago City from June 15-June 30, 2008 as a part of Woman As (Mythical) Hero (WMH), the TRADE ROUTES pilot project within the Southeast Asian region.

These include Arahmaiani, performance and installation artist (Yogyakarta, Indonesia), Brenda V. Fajardo, painter (Manila, Philippines), Kai Syng Tan, media installation artist (Singapore), and Angel Velasco Shaw, video maker (Manila, Philippines, and New York, USA).

The WMH project asks: Are women heroes necessary? Who are they in everyday life? How are these women culturally and socially perceived and represented? How can they function in different contexts as multi-dimensional symbols and as human beings?

Through public forums, artist talks, art exhibitions, workshops, performances, and video screenings, these women will engage in academic exchanges, formal and informal sharing of their stories, cultures, and social concerns with local artists from the different regions. Such interactions aim to break through social barriers, like ignorance, discrimination, and lack of education, hence allowing for more dynamic relations between Southeast Asian, Asian American, and non-Asian artists.

WMH opened in Manila at the Philippine Educational Theater Association Multi-Purpose Hall last June 15. The project team is currently on tour to do a full series of talks, workshops, forums, exhibits, video screenings, and performances in Dumaguete, mainly at Silliman University, from June 19 to June 23. Afterwards, they will set up an exhibit at Orange Gallery in Bacolod City, which will run from June 27 to July 5, and conduct talks, forums, and workshops there as well.

In partnership with Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibul na Kamalayan and BAGLAN, Woman As (Mythical) Hero is supported by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee, Arts Network Asia, the Asian Cultural Council, the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at New York University, Ford Foundation Jakarta, Foundation University, the National Arts Council of Singapore, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Negros Museum, Negros Oriental State University, the Orange Gallery, and Silliman University.

For the complete list of events in Manila, Dumaguete, Bacolod, and Bago City, please refer to the Woman As (Mythical) Hero schedules [in PDF]. For inquiries, questions, and reservations for the Dumaguete events, please contact Sharon Dadang-Rafols at sdadang(at)yahoo(dot)com. To get a copy of the compete WMH Dumaguete press kit [in PDF], click here. To get the opening ceremonies program [in PDF], click here.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

entry arrow8:48 PM | The Virgin Labfest 4

The Virgin Labfest — local theater's best laboratory for emerging playwrights — turns four-years old this year with a run of new plays from June 25 to July 6, 2008 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. This year’s festival features twenty-three new plays and three plays from the previous season in six main exhibition trilogies and staged readings. Activities include a book launch, audience talk back sessions and a symposium.

The Virgin Labfest has earned a solid eputation for its exciting and provocative line-up of "untried, untested, unpublished and unstaged" new work from playwrights. The line-up for Virgin Labfest 4 includes plays by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, award-winning playwrights Floy Quintos, Layeta Bucoy, Tim Dacanay, Allan Lopez, Debbie Tan, Job Pagsibigan, Njel de Mesa, George de Jesus III and J. Dennis Teodosio, previous labfest entrants Yoji Sakate, George Vail Kabristante, Rogelio Braga and Argel Tuazon, as well as newcomers to festival: Carlo Garcia, Anna Marie Gonzales, Jovi Miroy, Khavn de la Cruz and Malaysian writer Koh Jun Eiow. Summaries, director and cast lists of the plays in the six trilogies are available at the festival's website.

The Labfest Lab

As part of its objective to train young writers and to discover new talents and works, the Virgin Labfest 4 will also have as a new component called the Labfest Lab, for secondary school students who are interested in theatre and playwrighting. As part of their training, they will be given complimentary tickets to all the Labfest performances and will have workshops sessions on playwriting. At the end of the period, a reading of their works will be featured as a separate showcase. Please see the website for details of how to participate.

Children’s Plays

The festival will feature a trilogy of stage adaptations of published and well-loved children’s books, commissioned by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People. The set “Mga Premyadong Kuwentong Pambata” will feature Niel de Mesa’s adaptation of “Terengati” by Victoria Añonuevo; Argel Tuazon’s adaptation of “Bru-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, Bru-hi-hi-hi-hi-hi” by Ma. Corazon Remigio; and Job Pagsibigan’s adaptation of “Uuwi Na Ang Nanay Kong si Darna” by Edgar Samar.


Ma-Yi Theater Company — the much-lauded Filipino theater company based in New York City led by executive director Jorge Ortoll and artistic director Ralph Peña. — will have a booklaunch of ‘Savage Stage’, an anthology of nine plays developed and mounted by the company. Ma-Yi's artistic director, Ralph Pena, is himself flying to Manila to direct the reading and launch the book. Among the plays are Han Ong's Middle Finger, Pena's Flipzoids, Chris Millado's PeregriNasyon and Lonnie Carter's The Romance of Magno Rubio (2003 special Obie awardee).


From Page to Stage; The Novelist in Front of the Footlights: An interview of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose by Manuel L. Quezon III

Contest for Bloggers

Each of the five sets is scheduled to be staged four times. Attendees to the first weekend performances will have a chance to win prizes. All active bloggers need to do is write a blog [web log or online journal] review about a specific set and post it in their blogs within 48 hours after watching, Winners will be chosen for each set of Labfest plays and receive gift certificates and other merchandise.

Tickets to the Virgin Labfest are at P200 for main exhibition sets, P100 for the symposium and "Pay What You Can" for play readings. For more details, please contact Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661, or the CCP Box Office at 832-3704. For details on how to apply for a slot in The Labfest Lab, call Nikki Torres at 8321125 loc. 1607 or 832-2314 or email drama_ccp(at)yahoo(dot)com. The Virgin Labfest 4 is presented by the National Commission for Culture and Arts, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, Inc,. and the Writer's Bloc, Inc., in cooperation with Boysen Paints, The Japan Foundation and Ms. Mae Paner.

[sent in by allan lopez]

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

entry arrow12:31 AM | The Luce in Progress

[This post is largely for the benefit of Sillimanians and Dumagueteños everywhere, but not here.]

The Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium at the heart of Silliman University, a gift from New York's Henry Luce Foundation, is finally getting a facelift. (Above, see the workers doing work on both stage and house. I took these photos this afternoon, and it was quite dusty inside.) When it opened in 1976, the Luce, considered as the best and largest theater for the performing arts outside of Metro Manila, was not actually quite finished, with some parts of the original plan -- including an orchestra pit, several dressing rooms, a park fronting the building, among other things -- unbuilt because of the budget, which mushroomed only a few years after the initial one was approved. There is still, sadly, no orchestra pit or park (due to budget constraints again), but most of the other things in the original plan are being finished, with fresh funding from the Luce Foundation. There is also going to be an improved lighting and sounds system, with the theater generally being updated to suit international standards -- which meant reducing the 900+ seating to 660. But the seats will be bigger and sturdier, and the aisles wider.

Construction is scheduled to finish sometime in late July. (Here's crossing our fingers.)

Violinist Jay Cayuca may be the first one to perform on the new Luce stage come August 9, with Lisa Macuja and Ballet Manila performing "Pinocchio" and "Sonata" a few days later.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

entry arrow11:49 PM | Last Song Syndrome

One lazy Sunday afternoon, while walking down Hibbard Avenue to home in Tubod...

Mark: (starts singing out of the blue) Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky...

Me: (starts singing as well) Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same...

Mark: There's a green one and a pink one...

Me: And a blue one and a yellow one...

Mark: And they're all made out of ticky-tacky, and they're all made of clay.

Me: (looks at Mark) I think it ends with "... all look just the same."

Mark: "They're all made of clay" sounds better.

Me: I can't stop singing this song!

Mark: Here's your cure... (starts singing again) 'Coz everybody is kung fu fighting!...

Me: (starts singing again as well) ... Your mind becomes fast as lightning... Arrrg!

Mark and I are watching way too much TV.

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entry arrow11:21 PM | I'm Smelling New Rhodia Paper

Two things are guaranteed to make me happy on dog days: (1) a trip to a used bookstore, and (2) new notebooks. Don't ask me why. I love notebooks. I have hundreds of them in my apartment in various stages of use. Which makes these gifts (Rhodia notebooks! the orange notebook brand with a cult following!) from Tedo -- one of my bestest college buddies now based in Skokie, Illinois -- perfect antidote to the end of a strange summer. Thanks, Tedo!

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entry arrow9:46 PM | Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo

Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo or LIRA, the organization of poets writing in Filipino, now blogs. LIRA was established in 1985, and among the respected Filipino poets in its ranks are heavyweights such as Rio Alma, Michael Coroza, Roberto and Rebecca Añonuevo, and Vim Nadera.

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entry arrow12:36 AM | More Glimpses Into the Coming Dumaguete Cultural Season

Things are slowly coming together for the Cultural Affairs Committee, with the last MOA with different artists and artist groups to be signed, the last pa-artistic diva-ness to be considered, the last dates set, the brochure fixed, the posters all laid out, the sponsorships sent out, the marketing and publicity campaigns put into place... These are the things that have occupied my attention in the past few days. Most of the shows are in place. And these are the exhibits and lectures we hope to bring to the city in the coming season...

Again, everything is still tentative, but things are firming up indeed.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

entry arrow7:16 PM | In Dumaguete, Five New Places to Have Great Food

There used to be a time when the search for gastronomic pleasure in Dumaguete City was a one-note affair consisting entirely of simple home-cooking. Or a sit-down dinner with friends who either live secret lives as chefs (Patrick Chua, the city’s most hard-working dentist, easily falls into this category), or nurture unbounded pleasures in small dinner parties and conversation (Arlene Delloso-Uypitching is Dumaguete’s undisputed queen of the dining table, regularly hosting conversation-filled banquets for the city’s power movers and culturati in her so-called “highway house” near Valencia town).

When we want to indulge in rare evenings dining out, what we have are nippy choices from a slim list of restaurants about town that quickly tests the limits of our boredom, and often our patience. Sometimes, this is simply because the variety displayed in their menus is virtually nil, or limited at best. Sometimes, we find that the food is simply pedestrian—nothing to write home about. Sometimes we are simply turned off by the filthiness of their comfort rooms—which is often a good indication of the kind of kitchens these restaurants have.

Not counting the increasing number of fast-food franchises in Dumaguete, the old list of restaurants in the city is mostly a motley crew of the tried and true, and after a while they do exhaust our expectations. There is Rosante, now Don Roberto’s, and there is Mamia’s. Le Chalet and Fhu Garden. La Caviteña and Don Atilano. Coco Amigos and Lab-as. Sans Rival and Persian Palate. There are the cafeteria-style comforts of Howyang, Qyosko, and Sta. Theresa. There’s Jo’s Chicken Inato and the other grilled chicken joints around town. There is the small-scale modesty of Nerisse and Chantilly. There are the assorted hotel dining halls, including Sugba in faraway Santa Monica and the mostly undiscovered The Cellar in Coco Grande Hotel. There is the outdoorsy staple of Gimmick and Habhaban, an amakan-plus-nipa-hut dining style quickly copied by a dozen other lazy restaurateurs around town, who have since seen an unceremonious snubbing by the city’s increasingly discriminating diners no longer fascinated by the starry views and the beer-plus-pulutan ambience of such drecks (including that sad place—the name of which I cannot even remember—near the crossing to St. Paul University).

Some restaurants come and go. Who remembers Blue Oyster in Sibulan? Or Sawadee Ka along Piapi? Or Carmine’s, that short-lived Italian restaurant near Avenida Sta. Catalina? Boston Market, one of the best of the newcomers, has unfortunately gone into hibernation, and a Korean restaurant in the bowels of Twin Arcade disappeared into kimchi hell.

The truth of the matter is, a growing city inevitably comes to witness a change in its gustatory expectations, and Dumaguete is nothing but growing. With Robinson’s Place coming to the scene in the near future, the culture of local dining will see significant changes, hopefully for the better. Along with that comes an increasingly discriminating taste among locals, because with the slew of competition around town, we are no longer hostage to patronizing restaurants whose food, and type of service, is not even worth the effort of a visit. We are also no longer so ignorant as to be unable to tell that a restaurant is playing us for fools, charging us a small fortune for a variety of meat dishes, which, upon close examination, are basically several lumps of the same bland meat distinguished only from each other by the type of sauce bathing it (read: Le Chalet). The smallest things now count: bad ventilation (read: Mamia’s) and filthy comfort rooms (read: Likod sa Payag) come to play to our dining considerations. The waiting staff, too. I used to regularly eat in Nerisse, which has good barbecue I love—until we had a waiter with atrocious body odor. It was not a pleasant experience.

Tickling the palate for the increasingly discriminating (and loquacious) Dumagueteño is never a simple matter to wrestle with: success is not always earned overnight, and the word-of-mouth news of culinary disappointment is quick and easily banded about this small town. One courts the Dumagueteño diner like a patient lover, which is not always easy in a small city where the rents don’t come cheap. But once you get them coming, the rewards are often enormous, and loyalty is all but assured.

Since last year, with the opening of Portal West near Silliman University, a steady stream of dining hot spots have come to vie for our attention. I am often amazed by the variety of restaurants opening left and right. I once had a Manila visitor who once texted me that she wanted to meet up in Traveler’s Lounge. “Where is that?” I texted back. She said it was on the top floor of Portal West. When I got there, I—a local food enthusiast—had to admit I simply had no idea Traveler’s Lounge existed. (Which does not bode well for the publicity abilities of these entrepreneurs. Who do they invite to their openings? Only their friends and relatives?) Its massive floor area and wide spaces amazed me—although the cowboy country interior design threatened to overwhelm to the point of ostentation. The food, however, was a vacant affair, lacking pizazz and imagination.

But that poor quality seems to be the common denominator among the many restaurants opening in Portal West. Blessed with abundant space in an elegant building in an intersection of town that gets the most walk-in customers, these new dining places are often very disappointing. Jumong, a Korean restaurant in the ground floor, has great dishes, but is now inexplicably watering down the quality of their best ones. Their dolsot bibimbap (a heady mix of namul or sautéed and seasoned vegetables, beef, fried egg, and gochujang or chili pepper paste), for example, has gone from scrumptious to spotty. The two times I ate in Miracle Mile, an otherwise beautifully appointed place with great view and a friendly crew, were excruciating: in my last visit, I had to force myself to finish an entirely tasteless dish of lasagna. There’s some pleasure in eating at Living Café, but the Japanese food is not exactly up to par with even the sidewalk stands I used to frequent when I lived in Tokyo.

So, what are the best new restaurants in Dumaguete?

Here they are, in reverse order.

In the top five slot, we have Casablanca along Cervantes Street, right near Sta. Rosa. The restaurant, which is a more-than-makeshift transformation of an old house, specializes in European food, so one gets a lot of schnitzels, assorted pasta, cordon bleu, and the like. I love the food, although there are dishes that border on the edges of bland. A very discriminating Swiss guest I had found the overall taste only so-so, but Casablanca is a definite improvement of the menu in Le Chalet, which remains to be Dumaguete’s main European food joint. And the old Hollywood style of its interiors—casually hinted at by the restaurant’s very name—is precious and charming.

When Carmine’s, that old Italian restaurant along Noblefranca Street, opened a few months back, we had no doubt about where its future laid: while the food was great (the risotto was too die for), the courses arrived at our tables in infuriating spurts—ruining entire dinner parties with guests eating at different times. The last time we ate there, several guests got their orders an hour after the rest had eaten theirs. And the bill that we received was astronomical, beating even some of the best restaurants in Makati. The décor deserves mention. It was the very definition of tacky and cheap: imagine red-checkered tablecloth, fuschia walls, and framed pictures of alpine mountains and assorted European scenes cut out from some miserable calendar. “Six months,” we said, heralding its doom. Our word proved prophetic.

Now, in its stead, and in my top four slot, is a classy new Italian restaurant simply named Italia. The interiors alone are a far cry from the embarrassment of its predecessor, blank maroon walls offset by white lines. On one wall, advertising a good knowledge of spirit, are shelves stocked with their best wines, and on another wall, an abstract painting becomes the room’s focal point. And the food was divine. For antipasti, I had a carpaccio di Resce con verdure marinale—a thin slice of tuna with marinated vegetables that simply melted in my mouth. For the main course, I had bistecca Italia (succulent beef tenderloin sautéed in extra virgin oil, with carrots, potatoes, and herbs), and bistecca di Pepe (grilled tenderloin steak with black pepper). Chef Fabrizzio promises a homemade feel and taste for his original recipes, and his restaurant proves to be Italian dining in a most casual, classy affair.

Sampan Food Haus, near Don Bosco, is the closest Dumagueteños can get to good Hong Kong-type dining—Chinese food with a street flair unseen in our city. The place itself—my top three choice—has no frills. With only five or six tables, the entire “food haus” can easily be mistaken as one of those karinderia types offering the most simplistic of fares, save for one crucial difference: the food in Sampan is great, and very filling. During a casual dinner party with old friends, we were treated to a hot pot dish of two kinds: a seafood set and a meat set, into which a variety of ingredients is tossed to hot perfection, with either a clear or satay soup base: jellyfish, fresh eggs, fresh chopped garlic, sliced fish fillet, shrimps, squid, lobster balls, sea urchin bun, crabmeat, seafood sandwich, mayflower sandwich, chikuwa rolls, Singapore fishballs, gindora tofu, taro fishballs, fried squid cake, sweet corn, pumpkin, tomato, cabbage, mushroom, beef sirloin slices, bacon strips, cheese balls, crab roe bun, and others. The result was a sweaty fullness that sated our appetites.

Along Avenida Sta. Catalina, just two doors away from the popular Café Noriter, we have a little restaurant that goes by the name of Nikki’s Kitchen. It’s a charming place that owes much of its appeal to the whimsy of its design. Its walls are covered with paintings and ink drawings made by its Korean owner, Nikki Kim (a former top model in Seoul), herself. The resulting art works are fluid in style and reminds me of the best New Yorker illustrations—all of which lends to the pastel, bistro-style ground floor an easy charm that soothes. On the second floor, one gets a totally different world altogether: there are curtains and low tables, and antique fixtures that lend to the place an exotic Oriental ambience to the dining experience. The food itself is varied, and is categorized to five main groups: Filipino, Japanese, pan-Asian, European, and Mexican—which means one gets a variety of food cultures, fusion-inspired, from litson kawali to tongkatso yasay, from carne de salsa roa, to tacos de pollo, from beef curry to bulgogi, from curry crepes to bistek Tagalog. The result is a quality that is largely delicious—although I must admit that in trying to encompass all kinds of dishes from all over the world, the menu becomes too crowded and no specialty emerges to make the restaurant a must-go place. Still, despite that, this takes the top two slot in my list.

But for the best food—ever—in Dumaguete, one needs only to go the short distance to the enclave of Bantayan, along Rovira Road, where a stylish new compound by the name of Florentina Homes houses a little restaurant by the name of Gabby’s Bistro. Gabby, of course, is Gabby del Prado, a young chef trained in one of the best culinary schools in the country, who has returned home to Dumaguete to open this intimate restaurant. I love the place, which reminds me of a delightful Swiss chalet made more fanciful by quirky wall art by Gabby and his mother, who happens to be a painter. (They’ve even made their comfort room a piece of caricature art.) Beside the obvious charm, the one reason to go to this restaurant is the food, which goes best with Gossips, their house wine. I would suggest starting with the Adobo a la Gabby, a succulent affair with marinated chicken that is soft to the tongue, its sauce a perfect blend of sourness I have never encountered before with adobo. In fact, it is the sauce for most of the items in the menu that opens doors to our experience with each dish. The chili sauce for the Oriental shrimp skewers, grilled to perfection, brings out a delectable taste. The fish teriyaki has an intensity and a tenderness that I love. The Cajun chicken fingers—beer-battered chicken strips with pomodoro—are delicious. Everything else in the menu—the tuna and olives penne pasta, the grilled pork chop pomodoro…--are delicious.

Which makes me happy to report that there is life yet to Dumaguete cuisine.

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entry arrow12:23 PM | Absolutely the Last Word...

... on the debate about difficult texts. Here's Roger Ebert expounding briefly on people's different responses to difficult texts, films including:

I think it has something to do with how interested you are in other people in general. Many of the truly great movies involve a close look at human life and behavior. To appreciate them, you have to be able to step outside yourself and empathize with someone else. That's the opposite of instant gratification. Some of your friends may not have reached that level of maturity. Some never will.


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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

entry arrow10:48 PM | Trust Your Black Shirt

Fictionist Karl R. De Mesa now blogs.

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entry arrow1:03 AM | A Glimpse Into the Coming Cultural Season in Dumaguete

This has been keeping me busy for the past few days, among other things that are arresting my full attention (to the point that I barely get enough sleep, and sometimes forget to eat). I've been helping iron out the details of Silliman University's upcoming cultural season, together with the members (24-strong) of the Cultural Affairs Committee working directly under our wonderful (and very hard-working) cultural officer, Dr. Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez. But I like helping out program the entire cultural season -- and I get to do what I like doing best: designing the publicity materials, such as the posters and streamers.

I'm already quite excited to see these upcoming shows, most of which will be held at the newly-refurbished Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium. What's not to be excited about these? Consider the line-up. Actor's Actors' Art. Ballet Manila's Pinocchio. Cinemalaya. Violinist Jay Cayuca, in a return engagement. The Loboc Children's Choir. The Manila Symphony Orchestra, in another return engagement. PETA's Batang Rizal and Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. The Silliman Piano Festival with Ingrid Sala Santamaria, Rudolf Golez, and Leonor Kilayco. Repertory Philippines' Tuesdays with Morrie. The University of the East Chorale. The 2009 Valentine Songwriting Competition.

And I'm not even including here the art exhibits and the lectures we will be having. It's going to be an exciting cultural season. Please take note that the posters above are not final yet -- some of the dates have yet to be finalized, and there are details we need to iron out first.

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