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

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Friday, January 27, 2012

entry arrow1:01 AM | A Renaissance

First of Two Parts

These days, you can feel a palpable stirring, culture-wise, in Dumaguete City. Not that the arts are dead here. Of course not. It’s just that—starting more or less about half a decade ago—it has never been this alive. And how it sparkles in the kind of life it has now!

There was a time, especially in the early 1990s, when the cultural well seemed on the verge of going dry relatively speaking. (I play safe here, because there will be others with differing opinions. I can imagine somebody writing to me soon, thundering: “That’s not true!”) But for some reason or other, many of Dumaguete’s resident artists, writers, and cultural workers were answering the outside lure of better jobs and bigger cities. (Some stayed. Many more just faded away.) The National Writers Workshop lost the support of the university it had been part of since its founding in 1962, and it floundered like an orphan until the Tiempos found generous institutions which pledged enough to continue the revered workshop’s existence. Around the same time, the Renaissance Man himself, Albert Louis Faurot, died in Dumaguete. A relative came “to settle his affairs,” so goes one story from Moses Joshua Atega, and gathered pieces of his collection—and proceeded to burn them for reasons we can only speculate over. That bonfire seemed quite metaphorical of the state of things. Faurot’s End House, site of many recitals and poetry readings, fell into disrepair. His book collection and paintings were scattered about—and some of us would occasionally wonder during meetings, “Where are those paintings now? And those books?” I saw some of those books. Vintage hardbound copies of the best of literature—some worn to old age by silverfish and dust. Oh, those were dark days. I came into my youth in those early years of the 1990s, and for me these were wisps of once mighty names I had to get to know because largely forgotten.

And yet, look.

Nothing can be farther than the reverse of all that, these days. Our artists and writers are flocking back to Dumaguete once more, making it—in the words of Carmen del Prado’s documentary on the subject matter—“an artists’ haven.” There’s a budding community of young writers and filmmakers starting to make waves. The older visual artists may still be squabbling with each other—but consider Razceljan Salvarita and Hersley-Ven Casero, the vanguards of the new wave: they hold their heads above the vicious sway, and their art is fresh and revitalizing. We have new filmmakers in the making—Hersley’s Paper and Stephen Abanto’s Suga just made it into the roster of SineRehiyon Film Festival, representing the film scene in Dumaguete. There’s a film club in the city now, also a photography club (under the guidance of master photographer Greg Morales), and a fledgling group of young writers. The National Writers Workshop is also back with Silliman University, which has also been in the process of creating a Creative Writing Center to be named after Edilberto and Edith Tiempo. Last year, the workshop celebrated its fiftieth year with a reverent nod to how it has helped shape contemporary Philippine literature. And Faurot has a lecture series named after him, with some of the world’s top artists, writers, and cultural workers—from Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones to poet Marjorie Evasco, from composer Ryan Cayabyab to sociologist Lorna Makil—coming to the city to share their thoughts on art and culture as well as their process, all under the shadow of Faurot’s name and memory.

I first thought of this for real when I was invited last weekend to a dinner being held at the Silliman President’s House last Saturday. Dr. Ben Malayang III and wife Gladys were hosting, and our guest of honor was the environmentalist Nicanor Perlas who was in the city to launch a book. Chef Andreino—Dumaguete’s Pasta King—had prepared a sumptuous dinner for us, a two-course meal punctuated with great dessert and fantastic wine. And so we came: among us, there were Jojo and Myrish Antonio, Dessa Quesada-Palm, Simon and Virginia Stack, Arlene Delloso-Uypitching, Esther Windler, John Stevenson, Ian Malayang, the master classical guitarist Michael Dadap, and some others. It was a night of conversation, as scintillating as they come, fueled by the red wine. One knows how that goes. And soon enough Mr. Dadap—the brother-in-law of the cellist Yo Yo Ma—gave us a mini-concert cum lecture. “I am going to play for you two Visayan folk songs,” he said. One is happy, he said, but the song itself is really sad; the other one sounds sad, but it really is happy. “I think we do sadness with a dash of happy attitude—to mask that sadness. And we coat our happiness with a sad tone, because we don’t want other people to take away that happiness.” First he played a masterful rendition of “Dandansoy,” plucking away its melancholic tone, but with a knowing wink that this is about a man who feels assured that his love for a woman is secure enough for him to say a temporary farewell. Then he goes on with “Pobreng Alindahaw,” playfully underscoring its upbeat tone with the song’s story of a dragonfly who is swept away by the wind while flying among flowers. Somebody—I think it was Simon—asked about folk music from Luzon, and Mr. Dadap went on to play a kundiman favorite “Jocelynang Baliwag.” When we start asking him questions about the classical guitar, what we got was a brief and inspired “lecture,” with musical excerpts, escorting us to the world of the Egyptian kithara, the Spanish flamenco, and the consummate artistry of guitar giants Andrés Segovia and Agustín Pío Barrios—“whose genius,” Mr. Dadap proclaimed, “is perhaps equal to Mozart.”

I looked around the sala in the President’s House. This was also where some of us—Sir Ben, Ma’am Gladys, John, Simon, Tata, Annabelle Lee-Adriano, Bron Teves, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Myrna Peña-Reyes, Mariglor Arnaiz, and sometimes RV Escatron and Indian scholar Annie Kuraichan—meet every Wednesday night, to talk about literature over food and drinks, and we have gone from John Donne to Robert Frost to Jorge Luis Borges to William Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot to Allen Ginsberg. A literary salon, so to speak. We have a merry time, a once-a-week exercise of our critical abilities as well as our imagination.

It seems fitting that all these stem from this house in Silliman campus. The President’s House as a center of culture, but done in a lovely fit, loose and easy-going. This is art, and its appreciation, with heart. And I am glad I live in this time, with a city buzzing with so many possibilities.

It is a good time to be an artist in Dumaguete. (To be continued…)

[Photo by Arlene Delloso-Uypitching]

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