Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Two Poems by Louise Gluck

Persephone the Wanderer

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth — this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone's initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne —

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
"home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration —

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety —

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion —
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover —
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother's
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life —

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth —

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

The Evening Star

Tonight, for the first time in many years,
there appeared to me again
a vision of the earth's splendor:

in the evening sky
the first star seemed
to increase in brilliance
as the earth darkened

until at last it could grow no darker.
And the light, which was the light of death,
seemed to restore to earth

its power to console. There were
no other stars. Only the one
whose name I knew

as in my other life I did her
injury: Venus,
star of the early evening,

to you I dedicate
my vision, since on this blank surface

you have cast enough light
to make my thought
visible again.

Louise Glück
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Monday, February 27, 2006

Alegre’s Allure

It was an hour-and-a-half ride from the Mactan Cebu International Airport and the unseasonable and seemingly perpetual rain that morning did not bode well of the 2-day stay we were scheduled for in Cebu’s best-kept secret, the Alegre Beach Resort. Tucked away in the town of Sogod, about 80 km from the Queen City of the South, Alegre, which is Spanish for happiness, is like a home away from home at the far end of the world.

It would have been a whole weekend of R&R, with an itinerary that included a sunset cruise onboard the hotel’s yacht, dolphin watching, and a trip to scenic Calanggaman, an all-white sandbar-slash-islet that is right in the middle of the viridescent sea that divides the islands of Cebu and Leyte. But the La Nina was threatening, uncooperative for two straight days. So, our weekend getaway in Alegre, a double Kalakbay awardee (as a one-time resort of the year and for ecotourism) was more about rest, rest and more rest.

Upon reaching the hotel, 10 minutes after a circuitous drive from the main road, we were greeted by the hotel staff. They welcomed us with leis of white dendrobiums that we later learned were grown in Alegre’s in-house orchid farm supplying the resort with daily fresh picks of cattleyas and blue princesses, among other varieties.

After we checked in and downed our welcome drink, a group of young kids from the town’s public elementary school performed a couple of traditional Pinoy dances, while a live acoustic band played in the background. A novel twist to the repertoire was the live rendition of Orange and Lemons’ Pinoy Ako, which the kids danced to while dressed in their petticoated baro’t saya and crinkled cotton barong tagalog. And the realization sank in: we finally escaped the daily dread of city living into Alegre’s idyllic experience.

Alegre is set amidst 27 acres of lush tropical gardens, whose development was faithful to the natural terrain of this beachfront property that boasts of 3 natural private coves. It has 20 thatch-roofed cabanas, each of which is divided into 2 huge guest rooms with a well-appointed verandah, where one can luxuriate on a divan while relishing a panoramic view of the ocean, with a cup of brewed coffee (each room is provided with its own coffeemaker) and a basketful of complimentary fresh fruits.

But half an hour before we were called for our lunch, we repaired in our room, whose contemporary Asian design featured two huge beds, a mini bar and comfy chaise lounge. A folding louvered wooden door divided the bedroom from the bathroom (about almost a third of the entire room’s floor area is devoted to the bathroom; it’s so spacious we thought we could do cartwheels in it); the bathtub was set right between the toilet and the shower on separate corners.

Lunch was served at the resort’s restaurant, called The Pavilion, where we were joined by Chef Martin Przewodnik (but we’d rather call him Chef Martin, for obvious reasons), PR consultant Aissa de la Cruz and guest services manager, Andrew Delgado, who was always there to attend to our needs, including room calls for lunch and dinner.

Back to our lunch, Chef Martin prepared for us what the resort staff called nativized international cuisine. Aissa explained that the German chef uses locally available, if not indigenous, ingredients in his cooking. We had spicy squid, steamed parrot fish or isda sa bato, sumptuous jackfruit cooked humba style, and of course, the piece de resistance and Chef Martin’s masterpiece, the clay-baked beef, the one thing that really piqued our curiosity and challenged our tastebuds. Chef Martin broke the white hardened clay right in front of us, drawing oohs and aahs from our table, and gleefully served us slices of the beef that was still steaming and dripping with juices. The beef was so sinfully tasty and indulgent we opted to feast on it without any dip or sauce.

We came out of lunch, which lasted until nearly mid-afternoon, fully stuffed and felt as though a few pounds heavier. The rain continued to pour heavily with some gusty wind, making our planned sunset cruise that afternoon so remotely possible now. Because there was nothing much to do outdoor, Andrew and Aissa took the opportunity to take us to a short walking house tour. So, we trooped to the main reception area, past Alegre’s 47-meter swimming pool.

First stop was the new Function Room, which, according to Andrew, can be divided into three separate rooms and can accommodate up to 120 persons in a classroom set-up. But it was in the Game Room where we lingered for a while. Some hotel guests already had the billiard and ping-pong tables to themselves, so we just played darts and after a few dismal misses, lounged in the mini library browsing through some old mags.

When we went out for smoke, there was still no hint of sun, the sea looked grayer and grayer, and the horizon barely visible beyond the curtain of nonstop rain. We decided to retreat to our cabana at the opposite side of the resort property and reread Menchu Sarmiento’s Daisy Nueve until we dozed off to sleep.

Our itinerary said the casual cocktail with the Kahlers and some of the resort’s execs would start at 6pm. We went to the cocktails, in our all-white linen outfit and white Havaianas, half an hour late. Aissa introduced us to GM Fritz and his Pashmina-shawled, gracious and beauteous wife, Cynthia. After a few glasses of red wine and our shoptalk with F&B service manager, Manny Laruap, our mainly continental a la carte dinner was served outside the Pavilion. We thought the gods must have been jealous with our stay in Alegre, they refused to stop the rain and give us our fair share of the sun. If it were not for the inclement weather, we would have had an al fresco barrio fiesta dinner at the beach, at the resort’s new Cliff Seafood BBQ and Bar.

The downpour was such major letdown (and that’s stating the obvious). But after having foregone a number of activities (including what we love most to do when on the beach: sun-worshipping) that promised a weekend escape nothing less than extraordinary, our hosts, the Kahler couple, made up for what we missed, seeing to it that service and the food were given special attention.

Entertainment was given by a professional dance troupe from the city that rendered a number of familiar traditional Filipino dances, including Cebu’s signature Sinulog. An acoustic duo serenaded guests with their eclectic repertoire of standard, pop and OPM hits. Over coffee and the surprisingly scrumptious ampalaya tea, post-prandial conversation swerved from religion to the Kahlers’ seemingly peripatetic life abroad (until they finally settled in Cebu) to the debate as to what exactly is authentic cooking to the best destinations in the country and to the newly opened Alegre Spa.

Being a spa addict, we suddenly were all ears when Cynthia enthused we should try the spa’s signature massage, the Alegre Orientale. It combines Shiatsu, Thai, Javanese and the Filipino “hilot.” Alegre Spa employs Indonesian therapists and offers various packages of facial and skin treatments, therapeutic body massages, and floral baths.

It continued to rain on the second day. So, the whole morning, we chose to stay and sleep in the room and just an hour before lunch, soaked in the tub, while other guests went on a tour to visit old Spanish churches in the surrounding towns and villages and a trip through small villages in the town of Carmen up to the hills to hear morning mass at the picturesque Church of Our Lady of Manaoag.

We had a late lunch that consisted of a bowlful of seafood pasta. Over cups of ampalaya tea, and while we were talking about various aqua sport activities (jet skiing, kayaking, banana boat rides and diving, among others) the resort offers, Aissa mentioned that the resort has its own marine sanctuary, an area which is marked by white buoys and located between the resort’s beaches and the house reef. Manned by a resident marine biologist and the aqua sports department, the Alegre Marine Sanctuary has won the UCLA Environmental Awareness Award. A desiltation and coral reef recovery program, according to Aissa, has been established several years ago with the purpose of restoring the bio-diversity of the area.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the spa. Instead of the signature massage, we sampled their Traditional Eastern Massage, which is actually a traditional Indonesian deep tissue massage called “pijat.” This is characterized by a combination of long, deep strokes, rolling movements and acupressure with pure almond oil.

If only the weather permitted, a massage at the spa’s outdoor gazebo on the resort’s Talisay Beach would have been irresistible. Nonetheless, the massage we had indoor further stressed that this was a weekend of rest, which already has become a luxury in our life back in the real world. That completed our stay in Alegre.

This is probably Alegre’s allure as a Triple A resort destination: luxurious relaxation far removed from the real world. This is where privacy becomes a privilege.

The next morning, when we were about to leave, the sun finally showed up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Flying High with High Fashion

At his workshop in the Cogon-Ramos area, Cary Santiago is cutting a swath of satin right on a collapsible mannequin called a stockman, draping the fabric into place, pin after pin. Three women are busy hand-stitching bias trims (with callado cutouts round the edges) on another gown on another stockman. In one corner, another pair of workers stoops over yards of cloth, unraveling silk fibers to create a fur-like effect for a jacket. Three sets of clothes, Santiago volunteers, that will comprise a significant segment of Nicolas Jebran’s fall-winter 2005 collection, are to be completed and shipped, in over a week’s time, to Lebanon, the homebase of the famous Middle-Eastern haute couture label that the designer works for.

Although he says he is on a “sartorial sabbatical,” Santiago has been making clothes for Jebran since he came back home in December 2003. In Jebran’s last season show, which was recently shown on FTV Channel, Santiago’s 9-man shop here in the city produced about 80% of the whole collection.

“After a long time, I came back to Cebu for a vacation,” he reveals. At first, I only wanted to stay here for a year to source out materials and inspiration for the collections I was going to do for Jebran. But I just got stuck here and decided to set a workshop here. What I have here is just one of the four workshops that Jebran maintains. Apart from Lebanon, the others are located in Abu Dhabi and India.”

Everything in this Cebu workshop is done by hand…well, except for the clothes’ base or underpinnings, using authentic Marco Lagatola tulle flown in from Lebanon. When he decided to set up a satellite workshop here, Santiago brought with him his 8-year experience in haute couture, and introduced couture technology (such as the stockman, laser-cutters, fabric adhesives and a number of corset patterns, those same ones that are being used in the houses of Lacroix, Dior, Westwood, etc.) that are not available in the local market.

When he begins to talk about his preferred palette for Jebran’s next collection, this auteur spews out a mouthful of Arabic. Banafsaji (purple). Wardi (rose). Dahab (champagne gold). Azrak (turquoise). This only proves that Santiago, who is well into his mid-30s, has imbibed much of middle-eastern life and culture. This holds more water though when he lets us into his unusually big prova (fitting) room that also functions as his private sanctuary, more especially when he has to brainstorm on his designs.

Found items from his travels in Dubai, India, Beirut have made their way into this room, including the wall-to-wall Persian carpet. Strewn all over are throw-pillows in made of Indian materials in multifarious solid colors. Even candleholders are of Persian origin.

“This is where I actually unwind; I’m basically a homebody,” he says. “I would rather snuggle in my bed with pillows and more pillows around me, and listen to my favorite selection of Arabic or Indian music. Or, watch DVD movies.”

Movies, both old and new, are a major source of inspiration, apart from nature. From Charlie Chaplin’s silent movies to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, movies feed Santiago’s creative hunger. In fact, his 2003 fall-winter collection he masterminded for Jebran was a couture interpretation of how the movie, The Last of the Mohicans, struck him at the core. Not just because Daniel Day-Lewis happens to be one of his film icons. Thus, the clothes turned out to be a postmodernistic take on the North American Indian culture, sending the models strutting the runway replete with maximalist Indian headpieces and accessories.

But not unlike other designers who look to the French and Roman runways for design ideas, Santiago admits he admires the works of Gianfranco Ferre, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Steve McQueen, Christian Lacroix and John Galliano. “Each of them has his own unique style and they see fashion in their own peculiar ways. In that sense, this sets them apart from their American counterparts.”

However, Santiago admitted that when he designs, especially for Jebran, he always has the international audience in his mind. No matter the urge he has to at least replicate the latest silhouettes or cuts or looks that flow out of the European runways, he has no choice but to rely on his capacity to produce more original, if not, distinctive, works. “At Jebran, we always think that these couture masters are our competition, and that our shows are being covered by international fashion magazines and FTV.”

Not only has this intense desire for originality worked for Jebran, now one of the most important haute couture houses in the Middle East, it also made wonders for Santiago when he joined in last year’s edition of the Philippine Fashion Design Competition (PFDC). He baffled Manila’s fashionistas and style connoisseurs with his entry called “Pag-asa, the Philippine Dream,” and romped off the grand prize. Santiago bested 23 other national finalists (6 of them from Cebu). That makes him the first Cebuano designer to achieve such feat since the competition started in the late 80s.

Santiago went on to lead 9 other Filipino representatives in the international competition, the Concours International des Jeunes Createurs de Mode (International Young Fashion Designers’ Competition) held in December last year in Paris, France.

“I was surprised by the turn of events. I came back to the Philippines only for a vacation; I got bored and thought of joining the competition,” he says.

Based on the international competition’s theme “Ecology and Environment” and the national finals’ secondary theme of “Rebirth and Renewal: The Philippine Butterfly” (with reference to the terno’s butterfly sleeves), Santiago created an entry done in handloomed jusi that was dyed in choco brown and painstakingly cut into strips (with real lawin quills insertions between fabrics) to resemble eagle’s feathers.

The gown, all done by hand and without the aid of machines, alone consumed about 120 meters of jusi and over 5,000 quills of different sizes and thickness, and was completed in a span of one month.

Santiago started designing professionally at the age of 15, when a local RTW company hired him as a part-time designer. In 1990, the late Nikki Crodua took notice of his talent and brought him in to do custom-made clothes at Crodua’s P. del Rosario atelier. Since then, Santiago’s career in the local rag trade took an ascending route.

However, about 8 years ago, Santiago found himself at the crossroads of his career, where his thirst for growth needed some quenching. After seriously mulling over an offer from an Arab employer, he flew to Dubai, worked at Al Hazar, before he finally moved to Jebran.

“My stint in Jebran has made me discover a lot about myself. It also showed me the limits of what I can do. I relish the feeling that now I am designing clothes without being dictated by a client or the current predominant fashion trends.”

Having set up a workshop in such an unfashionable area in the city only reveals the kind of independent attitude and mindset this designer possesses. Santiago has learned to work to maintain the sphere of his creativity, more often drawing and redrawing the boundaries of his creativity and unique style sense.

Although his silhouettes are deceptively simple and lean towards the classic, his sleight-of-hand is luminous with the way he conceives and orchestrates the details to create a look that is nothing short of theatrical. Theatrics, minus the uncalled-for frivolity.

His designs, rife with poetry or poetic nuances, are never austere, echoing Christian Lacroix’s adage, “Too much is never enough” – if only to express and evoke, with so much skill and passion, his design visions. Something he has learned to master in his stint abroad.

“Because the clothes I am doing now are for Jebran’s shows, I work within a specific concept. I normally start with one idea. And as I go along, the idea just keeps on expanding and expanding.”

He continues, “The word fashion show calls for a designer to really show something. Not necessarily to set a trend but to make a statement. As for me, the whole look of a show must be composed like an art form. An haute couture show elevates fashion to an art form, the way the masters like Lacroix and Galliano do theirs.”

But, we ask, what is haute couture? Santiago squints, and mutters, “When I was in Paris, I spoke to one of the teachers at Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. I asked her what is an haute couture designer. She answered, a designer is someone who designs; an haute couture designer is something else, who she calls la createur, who creates something. Thus, haute couture is more about creating, creation…and the art of doing it.”

Re-creation of Space in Modernist’s Aesthetics

A visit to Alex Medalle’s home in Villa San Lorenzo in Guadalupe, Cebu city, one can easily be overwhelmed by his design precocity, his vision that extends beyond his time. His house, built in 1995, is a classic case study of what he calls architectonic, which he simply defines as an assemblage of elements (which is what Lego is all about). He intimates that the house is an experimental take on the design ideals and philosophy he espoused as a young, contumacious architect.

It’s the first house that he designed and built after working in a big firm in Hong Kong, where he did mostly very commercial projects like modern high-rise buildings. “The design [of the house] is kind of on the wild side,” confesses this homegrown design talent (he finished architecture at the University of San Carlos). However, it set the stage for the evolution of his design dexterity; his current works are actually more mature and advanced variations of such experiment.

Notwithstanding, the original design succeeds in his primary motive of taking design to a higher plane that it achieves a poetic articulation and re-creation of space and structures.

True to form, his pure solid lines and curves traverse moving spaces, not so much to define them but recreate them. At the same time, this dynamism takes the viewer’s eye from one point to another and leads the body in a seamless, efficient passage in and out of spaces, that it becomes more than just a three-dimensional experience.

His design elements in effect double as embellishments, as they are made more emphatic by delicate delineation of details as well-contrived but controverted fundamental structures. Imagine: sweeping walls against sweeping walls broken only by sudden but discreet flash of color, or texture, to render a certain element added dimension or definition; components contoured, twisted, askew, sculpted into platonic geometric forms, or allowed to run through other components to complete the continuum.

In this process, not one part of the whole is concealed to oblivion because everything is an accessory; however, the parts manifest themselves in subtle forms that they become sub-plots of one unified design narrative. For example, he employs a recurring layering of planes and lines to express edges, junctions, intersections, or the meeting of elements or surfaces. In his dining room, a wall painted in light blue juts off another wall washed in white. Off the ceiling at the landing overlooking the living area, a curved plane of concrete is suspended delicately as though an arm to embrace everything that breathes beneath it.

In his work, one senses the intuitive mind of the artist in the way he perceives space. At the outset, Medalle’s designs no longer question which should follow what in the form-and-function debate involved in the creative process. But this he has to say, quite curtly, though: “The plan is a generator of form.”

He continues to explain, “You have to start with the basics. Once the plan is laid out, you begin to work on the elements and details and use them to define or redefine space. From there your poetic license comes out. You begin to add color and texture. You start to twist the walls, and so on.”

As an architect, Medalle possesses a more mature sensitivity in terms of context. To an extent, he believes anything man-made must achieve harmony with nature, or at least to the immediate environment, which he makes more visible in his designs.

“I respect the dynamics of nature. Like I use white walls to allow daylight to splash colors on them. I rely more on light to define textures and pure geometry. Windows and doors can be placed or created in a way that they allow natural light and ventilation to come in. It’s a matter of harnessing the elements of nature in the living condition.”

An ideal Cebuano house for him should be characterized by a procession of these elements – sky, mountain, water and man – given the milieu and Cebu’s natural landscape. “If these elements are absent in a given environment, you have to create them and make them happen.”

He laments though that when it comes to houses, Cebuanos are inclined to show off Western ideals or influences. “When people have money, what they can readily relate to is opulence and rely heavily on ornamentation. Ornament is fleeting that is why I don’t adhere to the use of it.” He believes it is more worthwhile to design for the future and to invest more in foresight.

Nothing is wrong with things Western though, he quickly adds, but we need to look at things, again, in context. Although Filipino architecture remains ill-defined and is a subject of endless debate, he thinks it does exist in a sense of place and sense of space. It rests not so much on tangible structures or materials used – but on the whole spiritual experience of the design or concept.

Fashion Takes Different Routes: from Romanticism to Retro

Before a mixed audience of regular mall crowd and fashionistas, three young style mavens took different routes to the front and center of the runway in a two-day fashion extravaganza that highlighted the Epson=Photo event (organized by Witscraft Productions) held the other weekend in SM City Cebu.

Instead of doing trending for the coming seasons, Cary Santiago, Peewee Senining and Brian Aloquin gave their own personal touch to each of their collections to define more their individual style and vision.

Santiago, as the shows’ opener, took the opportunity to revisit a romantic period in history and reinvented fin-de-siècle shapes and details to give it a more contemporary look.

The operative word here was romance. And Santiago’s exceptional imagination took Cebuano couture to higher grounds with his exquisite, oftentimes, lavish details that bring out the romantic side of his designs. The designer was in the details, while he maintained the close-to-the-body silhouette almost throughout the collection.

One segment of his collection sends his models down the runway with extended, lacquered hair, as they don floor-length columns in lambent orange, maize, and pink all covered in lush foliage cutouts. His mastery in the construction department was evident in his skeletal corsets that were so carefully crafted, and fashioned out of noodled fabrics with wire insertions.

But the real showstoppers were his satin numbers – from short luxurious loungewear to drop-dead glam gowns. Santiago, at the height of his powers, amazed his audience with clothes that revealed no side seams as he topped his tulle underpinnings with bias-cut trims, lacy cutouts and fringed satin. This operatic aesthetic is even carried over to his men’s black-metal suits that were replete with details, like silk fringes and laser cutouts.

Senining, on one hand, was seeing red, with his activewear pieces that were inspired by the element of fire. But nothing elemental were the designs, as he dished out clothes that could take one from the gym to the street to the disco (although discos are downright passé already), reminiscent of the aerobics-crazed 80s.

The designer used sports satin, sports jersey and knits, which he made into short, tiered rah-rah skirts, sweat pants, in dominant reds, oranges and yellows. Some asymmetrical tops and corsets (although most of them were ill-fitting and poorly constructed) were done in faux leather, while distressed chiffon strips made their way onto shell tops and skirts.

This collection was stereotypically Senining, but to the point of falling into mere self-parody. Compared to his past works that spelled freshness some 5 or 7 years ago, this one paled in comparison and looked utterly fatigued. The designer needs to outgrow and overcome this mold, take a leap forward and pay some more attention the next time to construction and design rather than rely on shock value that just didn’t work at all in this show.

In contrast, Brian Aloquin’s collection, for the most part, worked in some ways, maybe because they looked familiar but somehow with modernist interpretations. By taking this route, his existentially hip 60s clothes have a common ground to take root in.

With references to Jackie O’s iconic style and Saint-Laurent’s tent dresses, the designer made the conscious effort to introduce unusual embellishments that spelled the difference. Thus, his female models sashayed the runway in flirtatious vintage A-line dresses in satin, pique and poplin, all decked with numerical cotton appliqués, oversized psychedelic paillettes, multi-colored pom-pom balls, while the male models donned cotton bomber jackets and sporty jersey shirts in bright primaries.

Although Aloquin fell flat in his strapless bias cut dresses that threatened to fall off the bustline, the designer took another step forward by melding the edgy with a newfound approachability in his style.

Monching Ceballos directed the two-day fashion spectacle, while the local art group, Lumad Nomad, provided the accessories that were made out of Epson-printed photos.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.

The hills darken. The oxen

Sleep in their blue yoke,

The fields having been

Picked clean, the sheaves

Bound evenly and piled at the roadside

Among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness

Of harvest or pestilence

And the wife leaning out the window

With her hand extended, as in payment,

And the seeds

Distinct, gold, calling

Come here

Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

the dog days are here

Until very recently, I never realized how repetitive my life has become to the point I seemed to have taken a reprieve from the long years of angstsy but exuberant existence marked by wildness and chaos. Snug in my quiet domesticity now doesn’t mean though I am saying uncle to life; I am very much engaged in various pursuits, both the mundane and the meaningful, with all these inarticulate yearnings for something more.

But life has been going on, willy-nilly, like a clock, found its certain pace and rhythm, its timed discipline, moving along, turning round and round, following day in and day out the same sane path.

What a mouthful indeed to describe boredom. For a while I welcomed it, wallowed in it, withdrew to its comfort zone, the realm rife with everything familiar, plain and commonplace. I had to snap out of this, a friend raffishly suggested once, without meaning to, in one rare and brief moment of clarity.

In a desperate attempt at doing something different – perhaps, until it becomes totally embedded in my routine – my partner, Enrico, and I decided to adopt and raise a puppy born to Pomeranian and Japanese Spitz parents. The puppy, which has been with us for 3 weeks now, just turned 2 months last Saturday.

That same evening we took the puppy home it immediately peed on the receiving room rug. I almost freaked out, but I had to keep my cool as I thought a violent reaction from me could actually scare the hell out of the poor helpless puppy.

My friends said the puppy was “cute” and adorable. Oh yes, with its lush-haired beige coat (with some brownish streaks), some generous curls on its back, around the neck area and the thighs, and its large oval dark, slanted amiable eyes which actually look like black buttons.

Then we tried to come up with a name for it. Cary, my next-door neighbor, suggested we name it Regine or Reigne, knowing my being a long-time fan of the Songbird. No way, I cut it dismissively, adding that that name belongs to the gods not the dogs. Romero volunteered Winter was very apt. Too colonial, I thought, never realizing I was already going through the ordeal of name-calling.

But Enrico wanted something different while I was thinking of something very bisdak, so we agreed on calling the puppy Kulot. La Orla said it still alluded to Regine’s marked singing style, the curling notes.

Nothing prepared me to become a guardian (should I say, parent?), as I’ve never had a pet dog (or any animal for that matter). So, I had to go the whole nine yards of learning the tricks of the trade and a few dog parenting and training tips and techniques. I want to be as responsible and reliable as a guardian as I can be.

So, the succeeding days were grueling (and I can see the coming months not any less than that). House training a dog is tough and it’s something you commit to. I have to walk the puppy outside in the morning before going to work, and in the evening right after office. I learned in my research that we shouldn’t deviate from the routine by more than 30 minutes or so, since dogs of this kind (toy breeds, especially) are not very good about changes to systems; it will take about 8 months before its internal organs are developed enough for reliability.

Apart from the additional entries to the monthly budget, I have to put up with the tasks of refilling its feeding bowls with milk and puppy food once emptied, spoonfeeding it with its daily multivitamins, and cleaning up the whole mess in case of accidents.

The impact of having Kulot around on our lives is far greater than I expected. My time has to be adjusted to its time so much that it’s practically become the timepiece of my life. Once I had to turn down an invitation to a friend’s birthday party simply because the time was in conflict with my evening rituals with the puppy.

Now, my partner and I don’t have the whole small place we have to ourselves as Kulot has claimed most parts of it. We even have to get rid of some stuff like rugs in the living and dressing areas, take some indoor plants out and keep them out of the puppy’s reach (gaad! even if it meant breaking some design or aesthetic rules), and buy an additional electric fan for the puppy’s own use (it can’t sleep without the fan whirring infront of it).

My dog days are finally here and I mean it literally and figuratively. The mere sound of it doesn’t bode well; my domestic life will never be the same again.

meeting the writers

When I first read a poem by multiple Palanca awardee Merlie Alunan in a local weekend magazine in the mid-90s, I felt the lust to meet the writer in person. It was also exactly the feeling I had when I read Edith Tiempo’s “Beyond, Extensions” and the first poem I read by Ma. Luisa Igloria entitled “To the Parting of the Red Sea” in the Free Press.

This was the time I started to discover the joy of writing, when my literary ambitions were conceived. I began reading and collecting books of poetry and novels both by foreign and Filipino writers. But I was more interested then in the works of Filipino writers, perhaps, my own way of getting acquainted with the local literary community and the kind of work it had been churning out.

As I got more engaged in my writing I also became an obsessive reader. Reading not only gives me the sheer pleasure of doing it but the impetus and the inspiration I need to write, as writing, for me, most often follows reading. Reading whets one’s appetite to write and nonetheless, is an authentic pang.

When a writer’s work starts to speak to my soul, the more drawn I become to the writer in the sense that the work channels me into the writer’s wiles, mind and world. “The reader knows the writer better that he knows himself,” John Updike wrote. For the anonymous devoted reader, he continued, is the writer’s lover, “who has accepted into themselves his most intimate and earnest thrusts.”

It was first and foremost my being a reader, a fan, a writer’s anonymous lover rather than as a writer when I joined writing workshops. I met Mom Merlie (as I fondly call her now) in person when I attended the UP National Writers’ Workshop for English poetry in 1996 in Tacloban city. She served as the workshop director in the Visayas. It was also in that same workshop that I first met Neil Garcia, one adored poet and editor of the groundbreaking book series, “Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing.”

Both of them actually introduced me to modern poetry after assessing that the tone and sound of my earliest poems had a Victorian feel, if not archaic. Neil gave me his own copy of “Crossing the Snowbridge,” a poetry volume by Fatima Lim-Wilson, with his autograph and a note dedicated to me that says “Ronald, whose heart is in the right place.”

Nothing was more flattering and elating than receiving such dedications from the writers you’ve been following and whose works and passion have become sources of inspiration. When Mom Edith (Tiempo) wrote me, “To Ronald, who I’m sure will make Cebu look good in this workshop,” on my own copy of her book, Beyond, Extensions, at the 1997 Dumaguete National Writers’ Workshop, I nearly swooned – and blushed – even if I didn’t exactly understand what she meant by it.

Meeting Mom Edith for the very first time in her CAP office in Dumaguete was like meeting a goddess in the flesh, I thought. It was surreal, I swear; Updike would rather say that the “forces within the writer-reader personal encounter foment unreality.” Mom Edith exuded some kind of a supernatural energy or a field force that draws and enrapts anyone around, much like her poems. Her words became flesh in her person. (About a couple of years after, she was named National Artist for literature).

I always have this proclivity to deify writers, more particularly, poets. Listening to Ma. Luisa Igloria talked in our (Dumaguete) workshop sessions was like being rapt to a performance in its finer, grander but fleeting form. I also had the privilege of being part of her auditory audience even after the workshop sessions. The more I listened to her and watch her mannerisms, her movements, and the way she dressed, the more, I guess, I became equipped with fresh, vivid and more personal impressions of her works. When I went back to her books, rereading her poems after that close encounter was altogether a new experience.

“light and sense” on a daily basis

For like seven years, my web experience has been meaningful not only because of its greatest virtue that is at the outset the free and democratic access to information. At the first publication I worked for a writer-colleague and dear friend, Myke, introduced me to an online site devoted to providing Internet users like me with that daily dose of poetry. It was the same year that Poetry Daily (www.poems.com) was launched, with its anthology of contemporary poetry published every single day on the Web. (I have always kept the site my default homepage -- the page that pops out every time I open my web browser -- on my Internet Explorer.)

In his introduction to Poetry, Billy Collins said, “The urge to ‘tie a poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it’ lessens when poetry arises freshly each day.” It’s the primary goal of the site to “help [us] make poetry a vital part of [our] daily lives,” thus “to reclaim its ancient position in society”. Not necessarily to supplant the work of poetry publishers, the site editors would say, but to lead readers to publications (books, lit journals and magazines, and even chapbooks) from where each select poem that appears everyday on the site were culled.

And for seven years I’ve been using the Internet, poems on Poetry Daily are what I actually read over breakfast in lieu of the morning news. It has become a habit so hard to shake off like having a caffeine fix before I start doing the day’s tasks. Both (poetry and coffee) provide “[e]ach day a union of light and sense” (“Needlework”, Elaine Terranova). And a sense of light, if I may add.

Last year, the pioneering minds (Don Selby, Diane Boller and Chryss Yost) that gave birth to the site decided to come up with an offline special collection of about 366 poems that have appeared on the site within its first five years. A friend of mine who’s now based in the U.S. sent me a copy of the volume (all 470 pages of it) just about 2 months after its release. Although it won’t ever replace the computer printouts I have compiled over the years and stacked in plastic binders, this volume has become my “other bible” that I cannot ever imagine losing sight of it on my bookshelf or part with it even for a single day. (But, I promised Myke, who wanted to borrow it for a weekend, to give him a photocopied version of it as a birthday-cum-Christmas gift). Too bad, though, not a copy of it is available in the local bookstores.

This offline version, edited by the Selby-Boller-Yost triumvirate with former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, packs a wallop, as expected, giving us a good picture of the diversity and vitality that characterizes contemporary poetry. It compiles a wide range of works by emerging voices in English poetry like A. E. Stallings (How the Demons Were Assimilated & Became Productive Citizens), as well as by established names in the literary scene like Sharon Olds (The Try-Outs), Adrienne Rich (Rusted Legacy), W.S. Merwin (Before A Departure In Spring). It also carries English Translations of poems by Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska (A Few Words on the Soul), the late Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai (An Ideal Woman). It is good to note, however, that there’s an entry called The Opposite of Nostalgia by US-based Filipino poet Eric Gamalinda. I wonder why not one of the poems by Ma. Luisa Igloria that had appeared on Poetry Daily ever made it to this monumental volume.

In contemporary poetry, especially in English, this book is like “a garden in wild wilderness,” where a path opens “to the edge of recorded time, that stops at a place/where the language is lost” (This Poem, Barbara Jordan). And reading the poems is like “reciting a prayer/in the ordinary dark” because poetry in the prosaic language of a media-driven global world has turned into “an art more shadow than statue” (Poetry Is the Art of Not Succeeding, Joe Palerno).

This is what Poetry Daily took on as a challenge from the very beginning: To discover new poetry and make it “literally accessible; not by draining the art from poetry so as to make it somehow ‘easier,’ but simply by making the art available” to the literate reading public, making it a part of everybody’s everyday life.

As Wislawa Szymborska (1996 Nobel Prize winner) wrote in her poem A Few Words on the Soul, “We need it/but apparently/it needs us/for some reason too.”

Troubles in the Thirties

At my age, I’ve taken on a newfangled role in my life that should be the invisible addition to my multi-slashed resumé. As a self-proclaimed confidant to a number of my friends (mostly women in their early 30s) who are troubled with either love or the lack of it has made me, inadvertently, the reluctant love expert (most of the time, I just pretend to sound and look like one). And before you even begin to make the connections, the name of this column has nothing – again, with more emphasis, nothing – to do with, ugh, affairs of love…solely.

Thanks to text messaging technology and our ready access to the Internet, my friends and I have remained in constant contact with each other, always to trade updates on what’s going on in our separate lives and our common and diverse worlds. Two of them I get to chat with via Chikka on a daily basis. Accidentally, they’re both 30 and still single and finding themselves in what seems like similar situations that confront women their age. Theirs are stories we’re all familiar with.

Girlfriend One surprised me one time when she broke to me the news that she was “in love” and at once, heartbroken. That is years after her much lamented break-up with her first boyfriend and her public declaration that she has accepted the fact that it wouldn’t take marriage or at least another person (a man, of course) to make her happy and live a contented life.

The culprit: a guy who she’s been regularly going out with, and unfortunately, is about to get married with another girl. And what makes the situation more discomforting for her, the guy is clueless as to what she’s going through – or what is going through her – even in their most intimate moments.

But a woman so in control and so self-composed to a fault, she had to “stop the car” before she even started hitting the road, as she would say it. I told her she could just have let things take their natural course, expressed and relished the feeling while it died its own natural death, if it had to in the first place. Sometimes it takes so much guilt for us to love so much.

The whole process becomes a self discovery, among other things, of how much the self is willing to give and take.

Now, her conviction of self worth is clearer. She has come to a dramatic conclusion – which apparently stems from a change of consciousness rather than a consequence of circumstance – that aloneness can be more comfortable than the risks of love.

She seems hardly perturbed by the pressure that most women in our society feel to take the conventional route of marriage and family. And this whole sense of freedom is sometimes taking her by surprise. New women, like her, have assumed new roles other than to couple and procreate, notwithstanding their great need and capacity for love.

But my friend was quick to add that homosexuality or bisexuality was never an alternative. (To be continued.)

gayuma's back on track

This same column (gayuma, life section, cebu daily news) used to run in a local broadsheet publication about 7 years ago, in exactly the same year I started writing professionally (the very term “professional writer” has a sinful sound to it, I know). Since the paper folded up, never did it cross my mind the thought that another local daily would waste its precious space on giving a new home to these often self-gratuitous exercises of reproducing into print one’s own impressions, ruminations, and supposed constructions of personal truths and perceived worlds.

But, like words assembling themselves to make, or at least represent, some sense, this column has to carry out what it has started and reclaim the world to which it must awake. And the writer, however the work pretends to be, must continue to write to live and vice-versa. I mean to say not exactly in material terms.

Much has changed since then. I have come too far and too fast. The peripatetic life of a writer takes him to far-flung realms of existence much like the word he writes. Or, edits?

So, between then and now, I have taken on mundane and superfluous daytime jobs while going about life’s daily distractions. It’s what John Updike describes as the priceless life that we lived before becoming a writer, a writer who plays the role as “a conduit who so positions himself that the world at his back flows through to the readers on the other side of the page.”

I have even learned to take pleasure – now into my 30s and living independently – in performing mindless domestic tasks such as doing my own laundry, ironing my own clothes, washing the dishes, or scrubbing the bathroom floor.

I should say I have not been as prolific as a writer as I used to be. Poems came up far and between, with quite a number of them still unfinished, laggardly waiting for that elusive epiphanous idea. The only way to assuage my guilt is to welcome the long gaps and consider them part of the entire creative process.

Yes, too much of living can be drowning and too pleasurable that it would take great effort or excuse for a writer to go back to his dark lonely cave where he labors not for the price tag dangling in sight, or such evanescent fancies as annual awards (which may look good for the back cover blurbs, a writer-friend would agree) or fame to feed his ego.

What matters is what keeps the writer to his desk: the sheer self-indulgent joy of creating and discovering new worlds as words leap out of the blank page and take shape; those little surprises when images transfigure themselves into new ideas; the reprehensible satisfaction drawn from the re-creation of experiences, real or imagined.

Breathing a new life to this column does the same thing to me, whatever its purpose or worth, wherever it must go.