Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Philippines from an artist's eye

Caleruega in Batangas, Philippines
Pictures by Jong Valientes

Bu alerted me with an email that my friend Jong had just uploaded pictures of Caleruega. I was walking on 1st Avenue, near 50th when yahoo alerted me by sending me an SMS message to my cellphone (techy, huh?). My pace quickened and in no time, I was in front of my computer and getting sentimental as I went from picture to picture. The church has a special meaning to me. But no, I'm not getting into that detail.

Jong is the catalyst to many of my friends getting into the 'phlog' habit. I've also shared his website with many of my NY-based friends who are constantly asking about places to see in the Philippines. There are a lot, really, but to me personally, its always just been the beach, the fresh mountain vistas of Tagaytay and the old churches that I have most appreciation for and miss the most. So when Jong started uploading pictures online I was profoundly stunned that these were sights I've encountered often, if not daily, but overlooked when I was still Manila-based. It goes in the same adage that you never appreciate anything until it is gone - or something like that.

I have always had great respect, admiration and perhaps a hint of envy for people with a keen eye for photography. I can appreciate but I think I've never had the talent of being able to convey a message or provoke emotion with an image. Fortunately for me, many of my friends have the artist's eye and are absolutely generous enough to share their obra maestras with me.

Please go visit Jong's site when you have time and appreciate what the Philippines is about, not in the postcard sort of way but in how an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve sees his world.

Thanks Jong for easing the pain of homesickness.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

A Sunday in Spring

The one thing I appreciate most about being in Manhattan is being surrounded by Hudson and the East Rivers. On a mild day as today, first Sunday of Spring, I found myself by the riverfront. I don't know why I am constantly drawn to the water. I can sit on a bench on the Battery Park City and just stare at the Hudson, contemplating on nothing at all. A blind stare, my friend calls it.

We then walked to the other side of the island, to the South Street Seaport for lunch. I looked outside the glass window of the bistro and watched a juggler/fire-eater/performer entertain the crowd of mostly children. A man on the other corner of the cobblestone piazza played 'Amazing Grace' on his saxophone.

After lunch we wandered further near the edge of the East River, watching the boats and ferries transverse the waterway between downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. I sat on the wood steps fronting the river and admired the majesty of the Brooklyn Bridge and wondered how much of history it had been witness to being more than a hundred years old. It has seen the first lightbulbs glow in this old city, the race for the sky of modern edifices and the tragic fall of some, it has seen many faces come and go from this place they also call Gotham.

What a paradox New York City is, I realize. That it is an old soul that lives for the future; a city for the old and the young; the dreamer and the broken. A symbol of new beginnings and a magnet to every dreamer from faraway lands. For me and for many, New York is the challenge that with perseverance can be won. Like the song goes, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Even the seagulls rejoice about being here. I love New York.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Enough already!

Manhattan from my vantage point

For the first timer, snow always is breath taking. The first snow flurry as it billows with the breeze is refreshing as well the the first blanket of pristine white on the ground. It is mid-March, a short two days before spring officially begins and we are trudging on snow boots and battling slush. The temperature hovers in the low 30's and the heater at my apartment building makes it feel more like a sauna in the early mornings. I have never enjoyed this season. I'm pining for spring and is ready to put all the coats, sweaters and leggings into storage. "Enough already!", we have all been wailing.

Like I always say, however, nothing I really want I ever get. Ho-hum....

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Challenged by the Code

My daughter always makes great recommendations for readings. I have no idea where or from who she picks up her tips but when she asks me to get her a book I often end up reading and enjoying it.

She had asked me to get her the book "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown in December 2003. I had planned to bring it with me to Manila but with several other books she had asked me to buy, I left it in New York. And yesterday, desperately needing a break from reading the full trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings" I decided to use it as a breaker. I began to read it at about 9:00 AM and ended up not putting it down literally and finishing it at 2:00 AM today.

Dan Brown is a great storyteller. His story is about a Harvard professor Robert Langdon who gets entangled in a murder mystery that involves the Catholic Church and the Opus Dei. Although Brown clearly states that the book's characters are all fictional, he notes that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." His story of a murdered museum curator begins at the Louvre and takes the reader through London and New York in the race for answers to the secret messages the victim had left for his grand-daughter, Sophie, who is a cryptologist. She takes to this adventure with Robert Langdon, a symbologist whose book draft on the Holy Grail might as well had been the catalyst for the tragic event.

Brown then spins his story of a secret society which had for more than 2,000 years protected the mystery of Jesus' and Mary Magdalene's relationship, and how she had children by him. He narrates how the Nicean Council of the 3rd Century was the context for Emperor Constantine's power grab and the relationship of Magdalene as Jesus' wife ended there. A long winded conspiracy theory is never really confirmed but provokes the now captivated reader to further research on topics such as the Gnostic Gospels (Nag Hammadi documents discovered in 1945), the Holy Grail and the works of Leonardo Da Vinci who was believed to belong to the same society as the dead curator, the Priory of the Scion. A romance between the hero of the story Landon and the quest for the Holy Grail ends where it began, at the Louvre without a clear answer to many questions that now baffle the reader. I end the book to find myself challenging once again my faith.

I am Catholic and have gone through numerous overhauls on my faith that I consider myself more liberal than what my education from the convent schools might have shaped me to be. I am not against abortion if the health of the mother or the child is at risk or if the pregnancy is caused by rape. I think in these cases pregnancy should be a choice of the mother and not the church. I am against abortion, however as a contraceptive. Neither do I think that the church has a better opinion of a marriage than the spouses who suffer with their family in an unhappy union. And that the choice of who are to marry should be made by those entering into the contract and not by those blessing it.

I have a friend to who has once reminded me that I should never mistake going to church for religion. I suppose he had meant that one's faith is not measured by how they practiced their rites. And in retrospect, I believe him. I respect what the church stands for but my faith and my God is detached from the politics, corruption and abuse that has scarred this religious institution since antiquity.

I pray and go hear mass and give thanks for the blessings, the good days, and hope that if it will not save my soul it will at least alleviate my worries that I am not the only one in control of this mad life. It is, comforting to know that someone good and more powerful has things in rein and to surrender my fears and my hopes to that infinite special being is definitely very liberating.

Today after watching a movie with my friends, I got another book for my daughter, “The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail". I promised myself I’m not reading it. I now on page 25 of Niccolo Ammaniti’s "I’m Not Scared”.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Going back to School

I'm going back to school in a few weeks. Well, nothing grand but something I am looking forward to just as well. Am totally excited about it, actually. (Jumping up and down, doing somersaults kind of excited) I have decided to enrol for Spanish classes and yesterday despite the odds being against me (I missed the deadline for signing up for it, I haven't renewed my ID to qualify for the requirement that my employment term be longer than the school term), I got in. School starts April 19th.

SPANISH??? My friend sneered at me last night after I phoned her, "You can't even speak grammatically correct Tagalog, Victoria!!!". I heave a sigh, "Only because no one I had regular conversations with encouraged me to improve on my Tagalog," including her. "And Spanish? Why Spanish? Why not French?", my optimistically supportive friend asks. Well, I just think it would be easier to learn since I did speak Chavacano daw before I went to school in Manila. Chavacano is a unique dialect/language based on ancient creole Spanish spoken more by the older generations of Cavitenos. I learned it because my nanny, Senora Day was fluent. I can still understand it like I can the Iliganon dialect. After working for almost 8 years with a company that often brought me to the southern city of Iligan in the Philippines, I have grown accustomed to being spoken in Iliganon and then replying either in English or Tagalog. And Spanish is closest to the Filipino language and most of its dialects. I'm hoping to learn and that my initial enthusiasm doesn't die down.

Real school, however, is something I have contemplated about for a while now. Being in Manhattan makes returning to the academic community a very realistic endeavor since there are so many schools within a subway ride away from home. I'd like to return to school and do further studies in either Marketing Communications or Corporate Communications. There are several colleges in Manhattan that offer the course but my self-doubt regarding long-term commitments to such projects raise fear that I could instead be just wasting my time and money. Or maybe I just need someone to cheer me on.

For now, a a two-month and a half course in Spanish suits me perfectly. It's not something I'm paying for (yup, it's free at work!), it's scheduled everyday at 8:30 to 9:30 in the morning (good time for me) and being a short course, I'm hoping not to get tired of it before I finish it. So, I'll keep you posted on this one.

Monday, March 08, 2004


This had been a retro-weekend. Aside from the usual chat with Francis in the morning and the ever reliable GabbieWebCam, the usual chores (laundry - ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!), TNT showed some of my favorite oldies including Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and then just now at 5:30PM, Grease.

While on chat Francis and I talked about the Willie Wonka movie and how much we loved it as children. We used to imagine being rewarded for being good by winning our own chocolate factory with giant gummie bears (me), chocolate river (Francis) and sugar candycanes (Gigi?). I realize this movie is the root of all my psychotic/neurotic symptoms in adulthood (mwahahahaha!) because I kept searching for the rewards that came with being good. And then guess what? In real life, no one cares if you're good!!! (Hoping Nicole skips this entry).

Willie Wonka is a mentally twisted person, analyzing him now. A bit obsessive with the way he keeps everything in the factory to go with his candy theme; also a bit masochistic, watching the bratty children fall into the traps of greediness and either inflating like a balloon while turning purple or being swallowed by the chocolate river or thrown into the chute for bad eggs; and the oompha loomphas (green elves with huge pomade laden hair) he keeps in the factory to run its operations - whoa! I see Michael Jackson.

It is the old children's story of the obedient and good winning over the evil. And what a better way to end it but with Willy reminding Charlie, the poor good winning-est boy to not forget the story of the man who got all he wanted. Charlie, eyes how happily contemplating the idea of bringing his whole impoverish family into the family to give them heartburn from eating too much chocolate, now asks: "what?". And Willie Wonka, smiles, but thank goodness doesn't break into another oompha loompha song replies: "He lives happily ever after...".

These were the old movies, reminding me of old times. Times when we went out to play with neighbor's kids and did not return to the house until sundown and parents did not worry. Simpler days when happiness was about playing in the yard in the summer with garden sprinklers and or on our tree house. My childhood was about riding my bike to the Sangley Point air base nearby and racing on the airstrip, playing piko, taguan (hide and seek), hagaran (tag) and patintero.

On more old movies I wish they'd bring back more of these that in all its sappiness will have some kind of moral lesson (I can imagine my daughter giving me the eye roll). Other movies I'd love to see again (not necessarily carrying with it a moral lesson): Alakazam The Great (the very first anime, I swear and precedent to Dragonball Z), Bedknobs and Broomsticks and the old TV cartoons of Superfriends, Wonder Woman (my role model - teeheehee!), Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby Doo. Nostalgic weekend indeed.

Monday, March 01, 2004


Jana Gabrielle is her name, born 8 days after my birthday in 2002. Much awaited and very much loved, she is the first born of Francis and Lai. She and I met for the first time the day after I arrived in Manila in December 2003 when I came home for the holidays. She was pleasant with me, the stranger, and I tried not to be intimidating. I was so excited to see her I wanted to take her in my arms and just start my role as the doting aunt. Patience, however was what my daughter Nicole recommended. And so patiently I waited until she became comfortable with me. And that was after the 4th hour.

After that she wooed me with her smile, her intelligence and her antics. She is such a charming child and the only one I know who smiles first thing soon as she wakes from a nap. Her giggles and shrieks will make you forget your troubles. She is sunshine when she is happy. And she can also give you hell when she's feeling sleepy or grouchy, often when she cannot get things done her way. Spoiled? I'd like to think she just knows with what she can get away with.

I like most how her face lights up when she hears her father's car pull up in the driveway. And it is mysterious how she can sense his arrival when the car doesn't make any noise at all. She'd look up, however from what she is doing and give you this look with a grin lighting up her face as though to let you know her daddy has arrived and she's always right. It's like they are so connected she can feel his presence. And when he comes into the room she is all excitement, stomping her feet and running up to him like they've not seen each other for years. I call it another mutual-admiration fan club.

I remember most how she always smells baby fresh, thanks to mom Lai. And how she likes playing with the moist towelettes, putting them against her nose. How she'd always fall asleep on her mom's or dad's chest, like Nicole when she was young. I think they feel the comfort of a warm body and the sound of the heartbeat is comforting.

She has a great healthy appetite but nothing is most adorable for her except the fuji apples her grandma has peeled for her and kept cool in the ref. Probably because she was teething so it felt good on her gums. After a while she'd not really be swallowing them anymore. Just chewing on them and then spitting them all over the floor for her parents to clean up after her.

And I was witness to how only her grandpa can appease her when she's having a difficult time capturing the sleep she is much yearning for. I tried to make her sleep when her parents took time off to fly over the Pinatubo Volcano while we were on vacation. No amount of expertise I've been able to use on my daughter or the kids of my friends had worked with her and with all frustration she had began to scream in tears. So my dad walks into the room, gets her and takes her for a walk and in less than 5 minutes she is sound asleep. Amazing...

On my final night in Manila I cried after kissing her goodbye. She kissed me back, unknowing we'd not be seeing each other again for a while since I was leaving for the airport in less than 6 hours. I cried because this much awaited addition to our family was the closest I have had to another child of my own. I cried because it feels bad to know she'd have more antics I'd be missing. I cried because she reminds me of what I am missing being away from my family. That time doesn't stop when I return to New York and there is no way of capturing each moment for another time. These are the sacrifices of living away from family.