Sunday, October 21, 2007

bookylicious (three days of lust out of the library)

NOW I KNOW what a libertine would feel in a harem. It was a bibliomaniac's wet dream come true when the public library of Shawnee County and Topeka (capital city of Kansas) hauled out its slightly-used books--hardcover and paperback--to the sprawling space of the Kansas ExpoCentre for its annual three-day book sale last month. Whoopee, indeed, as the books were unbelievably cheap (from as low as 25 cents to three dollars!).

Though it was an eye-popping affair taking one's pick from such an orgy of authors, the library's staff and volunteers made the whole shebang in so orderly a manner worthy of a monastery by arranging the books on separate tables according to various genres and classifications. And so despite the throng of readers, it was a breeze to navigate from one book section to another. It was a thrill on the last day of the book sale when all items were for the taking--get all you can--for only three dollars per sack! My wife also had a blast picking up books for our two kids and some health/home therapy manuals.

All in all, I spent only $27 for a stash of magazines (Harper's, National Geographic, Audubon, and Scientific American) and an entire bookcase of a hoard listed below:


- Paradise (Toni Morrison)

- The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)

- Elective Affinities (Johann Wolfgang van Goethe)

- The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler)

- Breathing Lessons (Anne Tyler)

- Searching for Caleb (Anne Tyler)

- The Big Sky (A.B. Guthrie)

- A Sport of Nature (Nadine Gordimer)

- The Mission Song (John Le Carre)

- The Russia House (John Le Carre)

- The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Oscar Hijuelos)

- The Story of Lucy Gault (William Trevor)

- Saturday (Ian McEwan)

- The Hours (Michael Cunningham)

- The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom)

Short Stories

- Cathedral (Raymond Carver)


- The Poet's World (Rita Dove)


- The Glorious Impossible: Illustrated with Frescoes by Giotto (Madeliene L' Engle)

- Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life, Love, and Compost (Rabbi Balfour Brickner)


- Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life (J.M. Coetzee)

- In the Company of Writers: A Life in Publishing (Charles Scribner)

- Another Life: A Memoir of Other People (Michael Korda)

- Makers of the Modern World: The Lives of Writers, Artists, Scientists, Philosophers, Composers, and Other Creators Who Formed the Pattern of Our Century (Louis Untermeyer, editor)

- War Letters: Correspondence From the American Civil War, World War I and II, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia and Bosnia (Andrew Carroll, editor)

- Great Biographies: Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin, Martin Luther, Mark Twain, Charles Lindbergh, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, P.T. Barnum, Pearl S. Buck, Adolf Hitler, John Quincy and Louisa Adams (Reader's Digest series)


- Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (Barry Lopez)

- A Stay Against Confucion: Essays on Faith and Fiction (Ron Hansen)

- A Circle of Quiet (Madeliene L'Engle)

- Face To Face: A Reader in the World (Lynne Sharon Schwartz)

- Enough's Enough... And Other Rules of Life (Calvin Trillin)

- At Large (Ellen Goodman)

- The Rising George: America's Master Humorist Takes on Everything from Monomania To Ernest Hemingway (S.J. Perelman)

References (Current Affairs, Religion, Nature, Food, Photography, etc.)

- Fruitcakes & Couch Potatoes and Other Delicious Expressions (Christine Ammer)

- The Faith: A History of Christianity (Brian Moynahan)

- A World of Ideas: Conversations With Thoughtful Men and Women About Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future (Bill Moyers, editor)

- A World of Ideas II: Public Opinions From Private Citizens (Bill Moyers, editor)

- Genesis: A Living Conversation (Bill Moyers, editor)

- Into the Unknown: The Story of Exploration (The National Geographic Society, editor)

- Weird and Wonderful Wildlife (Martin/May/Taylor, editors)


- Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions (Robert Diyanni, editor)

- This Is My Best: America's 85 Greatest Living Authors Choose Their Best Work, and Explain Why They Have Selected It (Whit Burnett, editor)

- Treasury of Great Humor: Wit, Whimsy, and Satire From the Remote Past to the Present (Louis Untermeyer, editor)

- The Heath Introduction To Fiction (4th edition, edited by John Clayton)

- The Harper and Row Reader: Liberal Education Through Reading and Writing (Booth/Gregory, editors)

- Literature: An Introduction To Reading and Writing (4th edition, edited by Roberts/Jacobs)

- Best Newspaper Writing: Winners of the American Society Editors' Competition (Christopher Scanlan, editor)

- The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (with commentaries by William Bennett, editor)

- The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Writing, Thinking (5th edition, edited by Michael Meyer)

- The Conscious Reader (8th edition)

- The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Expository Prose (9th edition, edited by Linda Peterson)

why clowns ought to cry

IT'S A WAIL OF A TIME for the usual sob stories that have become the stuff of headlines, and that's enough to know why a clown's job is herculean more than ever. With the Glorietta blast recently reminding us, albeit rudely, of the forthcoming cemetery-centered holiday come November, it has gotten awkward to sustain one's self in a merry mood. But no matter if laughter nowadays is grimly in short supply, sigh, irrepressible remains the weakness to be jolly with a joke. Which reminds me of a sad attempt by a Cebuano congressman for a rib-tickling effect last week.

Hereunder is a reprint of my recent column in the op-ed page of
Sun.Star Cebu (October 16, 2007 issue) about an explosion in the face of a joker-wannabe:

Grin and grind your teeth

WORTHY enough for angels to blow theirs trumpets, those who can make people laugh. Ah, an honest-to-goodness humorist! Isn’t he more companionable than many a columnist, or someone who speaks like faith were something to bleed out of one’s wrist?

All right, here’s a confession: What gets me going to wear my Sunday best is the hope of hearing a priest who can drive the sermon home with the tongue-in-cheek grace of a stand-up comic.

Heaven, I believe, is when we feel the lightness of suspending disbelief.

Hang on, or so Rep. Tony Cuenco tried to pull off such a stunt until he winds up with his tongue now coiling tight around his neck. He went on air for a radio interview, only to somersault and spit out his words with a grin. “I was only cracking a joke,” he averred after admitting he received P200,000 —a “Christmas gift”— from the President. Nope, it was not for him to behave like an acolyte as soon as Congress beats hell’s bells for the President now in the heat of her foes’ allegations of bribery and haunted once more with the horror of impeachment. But, sorry, his avuncular vibe and baritone voice—perfect for beating his breast at the pulpit till holy water comes out of his nostrils—are just too solemn for side-splitting chortle.

How to tell a good joke?

Beats me, but I guess comedians are better hogging the limelight alone. So I think, if you dare to go on air, better to gag the interviewer and crank up canned laughter while you gnash the microphone with your dentures. And please be down to earth so you’re not far off and thus would hurt less when your face falls flat.

It will probably help not to kid one’s self that all it takes to be funny is to swallow and stick one’s tongue out. That’s what makes most politicians such a yawn, no doubt. Then again, the irony is how they become drop-dead laughable when they try utterly hard to be taken seriously. Honesty and its timing is of the essence, too. As when deaf people joke about not being able to hear.

In the end, nothing beats the coup de grace of the unexpected. Like the confession of Andy Kaufman, the self-styled “song-and-dance man” that Jim Carey played in the film Man on the Moon: “I’ve never told a joke in my life.” Doesn’t that beat Beelzebub saying he has never been on fire?

It’s all about absurdity, and anything else would be the sad spectacle of a clown seeking refuge in reckless slapstick, the grimness of the grotesque. And Nietzsche was not out to pick someone’s funnybone, certainly, when he muttered how “man alone suffer so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”

Inventions, however, ought to be original. How wonderfully out of the ordinary, for instance, if a politician would dare swear his armpits out and just admit for a change how badly he wants another pair of hands to clap at his dexterity to accept what power brings under the table. Really, won’t he need to grow more dirty fingers to poke through a crack a joke leaves on his bloody head?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

coming soon: a countdown of must-see movies

WITH THE FALL SEASON COMES the upsurge of big studios piping up their chances for the Oscar Awards next year. Taking the cue from the early buzz as well as the track record of its creators and sheer star wattage, here are 20 films--a forecast of contenders for the critics' nods--I crave to see before the year ends:

LUST, CAUTION. "An uncompromising and incredibly seductive piece of filmmaking," raves an early review of this Best Picture winner at the recently-concluded Venice Film Festival.

After scoring the Best Director trophy at the Academy Awards two years ago, Ang Lee returns with an espionage thriller set in WWII-era Shanghai.

Asian cinema icon Tony Leung (star of Happy Together, Hero, In the Mood for Love, etc. ) stars as a powerful political figure in Shanghai who gets embroiled in a passionate game of emotional intrigue with a young woman.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA. Though screen versions of literary heavyweights often wind up a dud (consider the ill-fated filmizations of Toni Morrison's Beloved, Isabelle Allende's The House of the Spirits, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, etc), who can resist a celluloid rendition of one of the masterpieces of Nobel Prize-winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

Directed by Mike Newell, this sprawling saga of obsession gathers three of Latin America's acting sensations among its stellar cast: Javier Bardem (Before the Night Falls, The Sea Inside, Mondays in the Sun), Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station), and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). Hopefully this time, Newell will weave a magical exception to the rule of literary-cinematic mismatch.

THE KITE RUNNER. Based on novelist Khaled Hosseini's bestselling phenomenon about redemption, this is an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal againts a barbaric backdrop (the final days of Afghanistan's monarchy up to the atrocities of the Taliban reign).

Mark Foster (whose work in Finding Neverland is breathtaking) directs this story of a man who returns to his native Afghanistan to seek redress to a long-standing wrong and rescue the son of a childhood friend.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Yet another literary adaptation (from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!), it has magnum opus written all over it. To begin with, it blazes with the presence of my favorite actor Daniel Day-Lewis under the helm of the great Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love)

A sprawling epic about family, greed, corruption, and the pursuit of the American dream, this film is set in the booming West Coast oil fields at the turn of the 20th century.

I'M NOT THERE. Described as an "utterly bizarre" biographical film celebrating the genius and the legend of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, this promises to be another cinematic gem from Todd Haynes after his critically acclaimed Far From Heaven.

So far the film has snagged a Special Jury Prize from this year's Venice Film Festival where the splendid Cate Blanchett also won the Best Actress for portraying a male role. Yes, Blanchett is one of the six different characters who embody Dylan's spirit (along with Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, among others), depicting different stages of the artist's life.

SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. Brace yourself for genre-bending delight only Tim Burton can whip up: a horror musical straight out of the a Tony Award-winning dazzler showcasing the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim.

Featuring the great Johnny Depp in the title role, the story of Sweeney Todd is of a wrongfully imprisoned barber in Victorian England who sets out to seek revenge on the judge who imprisoned him. The plot is foreshadowed in the first lines of the opening number: "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd./His skin was pale and his eye was odd./He shaved the faces of gentlemen/Who never thereafter were heard of again." Helena Bonham Carter also stars.

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. For her phenomenal performance as Bob Dylan in Todd Hayne's I'm Not There, Cate Blanchett seems poised to compete against herself come award season with an encore of her star-making portrayal in Elizabeth.

She reunites with Shekar Kapur in this period piece about the queen's crusade to defend her empire while dealing with conspiracies against her rule on top of her heart's vulnerability.

Geoffrey Rush also reprises his role while Samantha Morton joins the cast as the scheming Queen Mary of Scotts.

AMERICAN GANGSTER. Expect a masterpiece as the fusion of two of the finest actors in the industry whips a cinematic coup under the deft directorial hand of Scott Ridley.

This mob movie set amidst the tumult of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era is a biopic of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington)
, a self-driven fugitive of the segregated South who became a drug kingpin in Harlem. He built his empire by smuggling cheap, high quality heroin in the coffins of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Probing the parallels between Lucas and the cop who ultimately nailed him down, Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), this film tackles how these two disparate men stick to their own personal code of ethics amidst a culture of corruption.

ATONEMENT. Out of the haunting novel by Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan, this psychologically incisive adaptation explores the life-changing consequences of a lie.

A domestic crisis explodes in the wake of an imaginative 13-year-old girl's accusation of a sexual crime, altering the fates of two lovers and other people in an upper-middle-class country home at the onset of World War II.

Finetuning an epic theme on guilt, fear, hope, and redemption, Joe Wright (the director of Pride and Prejudice) orchestrates an ensemble lead by Keira Knightly and James MacAvoy.

EASTERN PROMISES. “A mesmerizing power punch,” declares a rave review from The Rolling Stone of this David Cronenberg thriller.

Voted as the Best Film at the recently-concluded Toronto Film Festival, it stars Viggo Mortensen as a charismatic and ambitious driver for one of London's Russian mob whose cool existence gets jarred after he got enmeshed with a midwife (Naomi Watts) in the wake of young teenager's death after giving birth. Anna resolves to try to trace the baby's lineage and relatives after she discovered the girl's personal diary whose revelations cast shadows in the two protagonists' lives.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. For this film, Julian Schnabel (director of the gorgeous After Night Falls) won the Best Director award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. More than enough reason, indeed, to watch out for this mind-over-matter tale about the indomitability of imagination.

It zooms in on the real-life plight of Jean-Dominique Bauby (editor of Elle France) who suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body at the age of 43. With only his left eye spared from the paralysis, he used his remaining faculty to write his memoir using a machine that records his blinks.

Based on Bauby's book, Schnabel has the epic task of mapping the interior world of a man in the purgatory of a psychological torment: being trapped inside his body while staking out pieces of heaven out of imagined stories from spectacular vistas visited only inside his head.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. A musical fantasia woven out of songs by the Beatles, the gritty world of the hippy counter-culture turns whimsical in the hands of director Julie Taymor (Frida, Titus, and the Broadway hit musical The Lion King).

Weaving a love story in the middle of the anti-war protest, mind exploration and rock 'n roll, Taymor's film moves from the dockyards of Liverpool to the creative psychedelia of Greenwich Village, from the riot-torn streets of Detroit to the killing fields of Vietnam. Tumultuous forces tear apart the young lovers Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) until they overcome the odds along with a bunch of friends and musicians all swept up in the maelstorm of a memorable era.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) cast their cinematic nets wide and deep into the oceanic complexity of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem lend gravitas to this morality tale of hustling and drug-running in small town America.

When a film like this strips down the conventions of American crime drama and broadens its scope to encompass Biblical themes and the stuff of today's headlines, expect a powderkeg matched only by the Coen brothers' creative cool.

RENDITION. Indie sensation Gavin Hood (director of Tsotsi, winner of the Best Foreign Film in the 2005 Academy Awards) gets a royal mainstream treatment with an ivory-tower casting: Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, and Jake Gyllenhal, and Alan Arkin.

Rendition is the CIA's antiseptic term for its practice of sending captured terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation and torture.

Innocence and evil intertwine in this thriller set in the vortex of international terrorism and surveillance. Reality check, indeed, can be no less a spine-tingler in the ways of the reel.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Who's impervious to the honest-to-goodness spell of fantasy? After Tolkien and Peter Jackson loomed gigantic with their tales about hobbits, the film adaptation of first story of Philip Pullman’s award-winning trilogy (His Dark Materials) is set to find again the true north of epic entertainment.

Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig lend their larger-than-life presence in an alternative world full of witches where people’s souls manifest themselves as animals and talking bears fight wars. At the film's epicenter is Lyra (played by newcomer Dakota Blue Richards), a 12-year-old girl who starts out trying to rescue a friend who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as the Gobblers - and winds up on a lgendary journey to save the world. Chris Weitz directs.

INTO THE WILD. Here's one story Thoreau would have gone the distance for: An idealistic young man literally goes out on a limb in search of a place where untamed authencity exists far from the madding crowd: an American way of life ruled by hypocrisy and materialism.

Sean Penn also dares a tightrope act in his debut endeavor as screenwright and director to dramatize the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer about the true story of Christopher McCandless, an over-achieving college student and athlete Christopher McCandless. Turning his back to civilization, he abandoned his family and possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity, and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a medley of characters who helped him find meaning in his life until his death.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. From the hand who aced the Academy Award for writing and directing Best Picture materials (Million Dollar Baby and Crash), here's one poised for a high-five.

Paul Haggis explores the minefield of love and loyalty for family and country against the backdrop of intolerance and the Iraq war. It tells the story of a war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones) and his wife (Susan Sarandon) as they search for their son, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing. A police detective (Charlize Theron) helps in the investigation that rears more smoke of inhumanity from the inferno far from the warfront.

RESERVATION ROAD. It's a bumpy ride down the crossroads of grief and guilt as this film paves the way for exploring moral choices no less hellish than the devil and the deep blue sea.

Out of John Burnham Schwartz's novel, Terry George (director of Hotel Rwanda) probes the purgatory of loss and revenge as the fate of two fathers collide in the wake of a fatal car accident.

Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo, two of the most gifted actors in American cinema today, unleash thespic fireworks with Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino.

LIONS FOR LAMBS. Talk about helluva casting, and this one looks like Rushmore carved out of Beverly Hills: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.

Redford, who scooped an Oscar for his directorial debut in Ordinary People, returns to call the shot in this "powerful and gripping story that digs behind the news, the politics and a nation divided to explore the human consequences of a complicated war."

JUNO. Mythic is its meteoric appearance at this year's Toronto Film Festival. Better believe the rapt review from the critic Roger Ebert regarding this "fresh, quirky, unusually intelligent comedy" about a 16-year-old girl who deals with the madness of an unwanted pregnancy with an offbeat aplomb.

"Magical screenplay," Ebert raves of the first-time script by a former stripper who calls herself Diablo Cody.

From the Toronto fest where it ranked second to Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, Ebert reports with rapture: "I don’t know when I’ve heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm as the one after Jason Reitman’s Juno, which I predict will become quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time, and win a best actress nomination for its 20- year old star, Ellen Page

health and the muscle of mirth

Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

surge of the slowpoke: take three

PROCRASTINATION IS A COUNTRY where I'm a constant inhabitant. That explains the laggardly pace of this blog lately, I concede. Allow me to cram and make up for the delay by posting the last three of my opinions columns in the op-ed pages of Sun.Star Cebu for last month. As they say, better late than...

No Hurry, No Worry

NO way, speed is not for snails.

Neither do they smash each other’s shell to smithereens down the road and turn turtle.

Of happiness and contentment, the secret may be for the snail to tell. But, come on, who’s not in a hurry to spare time enough to lend an ear?

Not the Mandaue City police official who might as well have heard thunder after his car collided with that of a TV news crew. Neither they who got more than deadline to beat, according to the allegation of the browbeaten officer.

Suffice it to say that the whole affair was too tawdry to stimulate the offbeat characters in David Cronenberg’s “Crash” who, by the way, are sexually excited with injury in the wake of highway wrecks — an awful metaphor for the mishap of human connection in the age of technology.

Last we heard, both parties were reportedly driving drunk. Did they deem it liberating to leave sobriety at full throttle, in the thrill of living in a whirl? So that there’ll be no more time left, perhaps, to fret about the drudge of catching up with criminals who are often faster at cutting corners with the law; which, by the way, always leave the TV news crew and the rest of the media breathless in the blur between the quick and the dead.

In a culture that covets what’s instant —from noodles and coffee to reality show on fame and luck in the way of lotto — there’s nothing faster than the flyblown irony of the essentials — justice, truth, progress, peace — moving with a worm’s poise.

But fast is not how bliss could be found, we know. In the same manner that satisfaction can hardly be reached in the dismal distance between premature ejaculation and orgasm.

In sex as in eating and the rest of human exertions, nothing’s more desired than deceleration.

That’s the favorite word of Carl Honoré, the best-selling author of In Praise of Slowness as he spreads the gospel against the tyranny of time in modern life. With its cocktail of reportage, statistic, anecdotes of personal testimony, history and intellectual inquiry, the book clarifies “how the world got so fast and why slowing down can pay dividends in every walk of life.”

Consider the advantage of deceleration as the book unravels what happens in “a Tantric sex workshop in London to a meditation room for executives in Tokyo, from a Chi Kung squash class in Edinburgh to a SuperSlow exercise studio in New York City, from a TV-free household in Toronto to Italy.”

Beyond the exigencies of a deadline, there’s a lifeline. So argues Honoré: “These days, many of us live in fast forward — and pay a heavy price for it. Our work, health and relationships suffer. Over-stimulated, over-scheduled and overwrought, we struggle to relax, to enjoy things properly, to spend time with family and friends.”

Lest he be misconstrued as a Luddite out to mock the convenience of all things modern, he avers: “You don’t have to shun technology, live in the wilderness or do everything at a snail’s pace.”

Just breathe for a change. Yes, after spitting and cursing. You, too, can burn slow.
(September 25, 2007)

On Our Feet

LET the others dream of flying. Long after the invention of rubber shoes, leave it to me to levitate horizontally with the repose of walking, to have a whistle of a time even if it means startling the birds away.

It’s good for the body, they say. Never mind if the obstinate inhabitants under the skin of my beer belly strains to disagree. It bodes well, too, for the business of footwear and all related products for preventing the spirit of a dead rat to emanate from the purgatory between our toes.

If I follow those who spread the gospel of a good hike, it’s also because it seems devoid of the breathless distress of joggers. Can’t hum or whistle, see, while they appear desperate not to bite the dust, or fall behind their inner slobs.

Against the motions of the overweight trotting around Central Park, consider the condescending soliloquy of Woody Allen’s character in Hannah and Her Sisters as he goes on walking, waxing morbid about our common ground. Death, he ruminates, will overtake us all, health buffs or not, just the same in the end.

Thus a sage once snorted: Why hurry if life is short?

Maybe we walk to steer clear from the awful possibility that we’re better off crawling or groveling in the growl of everything gone awry with the world.

See how the streets pave the march of placard-waving militants. Or the Zen-like rhythm of those rambling out of dire straits, like the jobless man kicking a can down the road.

Walking affords one ample space to keep apace with the voices in one’s head, as Allen’s character in Central Park proves. That may explain why the deranged would rather loiter out of asylum walls.

Here in America, where hikers’ trails under the shadows of trees would soon be carpeted with leaves falling colorful in autumn, nothing’s stranger than stray thoughts gravitating towards home.
Where, last I looked at the news, there was nothing more relentless than rain. Where dead rivers often roar back in fury to sweep houses away, swamp the streets, and sometimes suck a toddler down a manhole. Which, by the way, ought to stay yawning wide if this were all it would take to swallow cell-phone snatchers off their tracks.

That’s when homesickness becomes a watered-down version of happiness.

That sounds off-kilter, off course, and utterly cloying like Charlie Chaplin, declaring, “I love walking in rain, because nobody can see me crying.”

Last I heard, the Cebu City Council seemed like a bunch of rain-soaked chicks, squeaking while stumped about the city’s congested roads. Now here comes City Hall needing more money to construct mini-dikes in rivers often flaunting its habit of overflowing. Oh, as if their concerns are not up their necks, the City Council is also asking all barangay officials “to apprehend under-aged youth seen loitering in the streets beyond the 10 p.m. curfew to deter the prostitution of minors.”

That, of course, is no less ill-fated than our boys and girls falling in manholes or drowning in the flood.

Calamity funds are afoot, they promise. The city will stay above water, they say.

Wish they can walk their talk. (September 18, 2007)

In The Mood For Blood

SO it happened that criminals up for execution were privileged to have their fill of their request for a last meal. There’s even this joke about a death-row fellow who dreamed, before the executioner could say grace, of getting a big bowl of strawberries.

“Sorry, but strawberries are out of season,” the warden mumbled. “Ah, no problem,” the prisoner replied as if he got the luxury of time to relax until harvest. “I’ll wait.”

But gallows humor like that does hit home. Go ask those gnashing their teeth, grieving for the victims of “vigilante killings” in Cebu or thumbing down the daredevil stunts by serial murderers gung-ho against alleged criminals.

Confronted with such callous scorn of what he calls “the gift of life,” Cardinal Vidal reportedly muttered “with a laugh” regarding the recent slaying near the Archbishop’s Palace of an alleged robber who just got out on a bail: “It was very near my house pa naman. Is it coming my way?”

It would have been breezy for the bloodthirsty squad —believed to be responsible for summary executions in Cebu City that have claimed about 180 lives since December 2004 — to knock on the door of the good cardinal in case their knees would crumple down under the weight of a conscience. If that could happen, would the cardinal be sure they’re not kidding him?

Why can’t the police do anything about it, he whined in wonder. Now that’s enough to stir a stand-up comedian into rattling off a litany of rib-tickling reasons. Foremost of which, concur the cynics, could be that law enforcement has two faces enough for a clown’s masks handy for crying and chuckling his tonsils out at the same time.

Also funny how this cradle of Christianity, in a city where piety is often worn on its devotees’ foreheads, gangland gore loosens its hair down. All because the silence of public apathy resounds like a choric undertone of “amen” for the shadowy squad playing angels of an avenging god.

Most of the victims had been convicted or served time in jail, stressed the cardinal who believed they could have availed themselves of deliverance and the grace of second chance. Or, maybe the vigilantes are not vocal enough about humming along to the tune of “Let Me Try Again.”

Flaunting their sharp-shooting acumen, perhaps they’d be handy to win the war for American troops in Iraq. Or, considering their surgical precision at tracking down public enemies, why not push them to earn brownie points for Cebu by deploying them abroad and tracing the remnants of 9/11 terrorists or Osama Bin Laden?

A good career move, God knows, is long overdue for publicity-prone executioners who might be itching behind their bonnets for the chance to show their faces.
(September 11, 2009)

a penis mightier than the sword

Here comes a perfect match for the ballsy banana cutter! :)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

why we need a kick in the head

PROGRESS DOESN'T ALWAYS pave the way for a smooth-sailing life. Road congestion continues to be the bane fo urban living.

Regarding this problem, here's a reprint of my opinion column in the op-ed page of Sun.Star Cebu (4th of September, 2007):

All the way

TOUGH luck, but it’s not totally berserk to bring the “tartanilla” back.

For many motorists in Metro Cebu, getting kicked by a horse might be no more tragic than being trapped in the midst of traffic. With the former, at least, one would hurtle away from one spot to another really quick. Broken bones, too, couldn’t be more dismal than the headache and heartburn triggered by mayhem on the road.

As it is, finding a way out of the woeful state of our major streets soon looks as farfetched as discovering a unicorn.

Putting the cart before the steed, it seems, has long been the way of Cebu’s movers and shakers gone helter-skelter in pursuit of progress. No wonder Paul Villarete, the Cebu City planning and development officer, must have felt like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were just a snort away.

“Almost as many cars run in Metro Cebu as in Manila, but Cebuano authorities are not improving the major roads,” Villarete rued in a recent forum on Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST). Only an escape artist like Houdini could have wiggled free from the cramped streets in Cebu City against these odds: at least 8,329 units of public utility jeepneys (PUJs); 5,788 units of taxis, and 952 units of buses and mini-buses.

Through all this, of course, the air doesn’t go straight to anybody’s lungs like mountain mist and ocean breeze.

Thumb your nose down, too, at Desiderata; there’s just no way you can go placidly amid uncollected garbage, flash floods during rain, the procession during fiesta, and the stream of mourners on the heels of a hearse. (Was the death due perhaps to road rage, cancer by recurrent inhalation of traffic fumes, or the burst of a blood vessel arising from existential anxieties only a traffic jam can cause?)

As if it’s not enough that there’s a shortage of new infrastructure improvements in the city in the face of its burgeoning motorists, making matters worse is the dearth of discipline: the uncurbed issuance of franchise for public utility vehicles, the surplus of motorcycles as public transport, as well as drivers and pedestrians who are up and about like they got nine lives.

Horse sense and time are of the essence, true. And while Villarete’s proposal for a “a high-occupancy bus” or mass transport system is long overdue, better count on the bureaucracy to get going in the back of the snail and the turtle.

And because such a proposal can be green-lighted only with the prerequisite of political will, could the vote-fueled leadership steel its stomach to buck the backlash from displaced PUJ drivers come election time?

Elsewhere in the world—particularly in Stockholm, London, and Singapore — the race is on to steer clear from clogged thoroughfares with eco-friendly innovations. By tapping the resources of corporations like International

Business Machines (IBM), these megacities have come up with the “biggest green initiative coming down the road these days,” according to New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tomas Friedman.

“Congestion pricing—charging people for the right to drive into a downtown area—is already proving to be the most effective short-term way to clean up polluted city air, promote energy efficiency and create more livable urban centers, while also providing mayors with unexpected new revenue,” writes Friedman.

Progress, in the long run, is about giving the will and imagination a full rein. So as not to be left behind, it’s up for Metro Cebu’s leaders to hold no horses with an open mind.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

madeleine and her majesty

DEATH HAS REASONS to gloat and romp around with the royalty of his harvest so far this year: filmmakers Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonioni, tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and most recently, author Madeleine L’Engle (She was 88.)

With her hoard of poetry, plays, childhood fables (particularly the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, etc.) and religious meditations as well as science fiction, L'Engle has "transcended both genre and generation." So much so that the sheer range of her oeuvre has been cited in the Dictionary of Literary Biography for its “peculiar splendor.”

I've been a fan of her writing since I devoured her book, Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (which I bought at the Doulos ship when it docked in Cebu in the late 90s.) If there's one book that lifted my feet an inch higher from the ground since then, this is it. No other work of non-fiction, besides those of Diane Ackerman and Pico Iyer, has unleashed a rapacity to partake of its wisdom and grace with a pilgrim's need to mark it--with underlines and dog-ears-- for a revisit time and again.

Here are a few nuggets from L'Engle:

When asked where faith stops and art begins: There is no separating the two, she reasons, "it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory."

Encouraging her readers to shift gears and slow down through the helter-skelter compulsions of survival, she argues for the imperatives of inspiration to turn the "chaos of life" into the "cosmos of art" by staying attuned to one's creative spirit: "Unless we are creators, we are not fully alive."

"Complicated creatures we are, aware of only the smallest fragment of ourselves; seeking good and yet far too often unable to tell the difference between right and wrong; misunderstanding each other and so blundering into the tragedies of warring nations, horrendous discrepancies between rich and poor, and the idiocy of a divided Christendom."

When one interviewer told her that God doesn’t send more trouble than a person can stand, L’Engle replied that she sometimes asks God, “Why are you overestimating my capacity to this extent?”

“Why does anybody tell a story?” she once asked, even though she knew the answer.
“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007

gone is the giant


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

overcoming the ocean


awry in uniform

GUESS WHO'S ALWAYS getting bad press apart from the craven crop of politicians? Policemen, that's who. As much as one yearns for more exceptions to the rule of misdemeanors and maladroit conduct, there's just no stopping the rain of rotten tomatoes.

Here's a reprint of my recent opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (28 August 2007 issue):

Of vice and men

Crows may turn white, but wouldn’t it be a mere flight of fancy to see the future of police in a new light? It may be a thing with feathers, but hope looks like it needs to be huffed and puffed up with hallucinogen to lull us into seeing doves instead of vultures and bats.

What’s the true color of our cops?

If you were on a psychedelic high, you’d probably see a swoop of low-flying creatures with the habits of chameleons. You’d hover into the Vice Control Section (VCS), for instance, and you’d end up winking at the way some of its operatives adapt so adroitly into the instincts of its enemies. Yes, until its itch and stench sticks like second skin, and you’d wonder no more how three policemen— “extortionists,” cried a businessman— reportedly evolved into birds of the same feather.

Fly me to the moon, you’d shrug, instead of the sun-lit frontline in the campaign against illegal gambling, prostitution, and prohibited drugs.

Asked if there are other VCS officers into the same rotten fray, the Police Regional Office (PRO) director in Central Visayas isn’t miming the monkey who neither sees nor hears evil. “We have reports of people involved in the organization, not only in the Vice Control Section,” he concedes.
Reality check, and it’s all right if you don’t mind being green-eyed with envy at the blind and the deaf.

And then we heard the VCS was immediately disbanded. True, morality may be a fledgling concept among a few cops floundering neck-deep in the sewer. But as a police’s brainchild against badness, doesn’t the disbandment seem like throwing the baby along with the bathwater even if it now appears no more cuddly than “anak ni Janice,” the

Last we looked, the underworld is still breezy with vile smoke all over the region. No doubt the VCS has still so much task at hand. And despite the fact that its fingers have grown hair and talons, a scissor and a clipper every now and them could have done the trick instead of a demolition crew gone gung-ho with a cleaver.

For a while there, it was as if the top honchos of law enforcement were no less as vulnerable as the benighted villagers in Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Go on with entrapment and squeeze out the scalawags at the VCS with smoldering pincers, good, but it would have been the better part of valor to save the unit. After all, it hasn’t outlived its functions yet. Or as Cebu City Councilor Sylvan Jakosalem averred: “All international police agencies have their vice squads, which are very specific in their duty in running after violators of either local ordinances or national laws pertaining to vices.”

Letting the VCS be and making the entrapment as incessant and steadfast as possible might yet be a feather in the cap of police hierarchy. Not unless the bigwigs were scared at the prospect of more controversies flying smack at their faces, the VCS—being such a lure to the lawless with uniforms—would have been like a focus point for spotting more shenanigans until all the undesirables would be discovered and come undone. Yes, like those stuck after preying on a flytrap.

Then again, that would prove that many in the police couldn’t soar no higher than flies feasting on rubbish, carcass, feces.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

wonder under water

From "Journey of Man," an aquatic acrobatic performed by the renowned Cirque du Soleil

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

my own private filmfest

TO SEE IS TO CELEBRATE. Here's the top 10 from my recent binge of DVD viewing:

JULES AND JIM. About loving and living like death is a joke, one can’t experience a more effervescent film than this one-of-a-kind menage-a-trois that’s also valentine to friendship and reading. Directed by Francois Truffaut, this ode-worthy adaptation from Henri-Pierre Roché’s novel is way up there in my all-time top 40 list of personal favorites (aside from another Truffaut wonder, “The 400 Blows”).

The film explores the 30-year friendship—from the bohemian pre-World War I Paris to its doomed aftermath--between a French writer and an Austrian biologist as well as the ensuing love triangle with Catherine (in a sensually enigmatic performance by Jeanne Moreau). A feather in the cap of the French New Wave, this film is celebratory as it captures the devil-may-care days of youth—with a bacchanalia of details—matched with the panache of its zooms, flash cuts, freeze frames, etc.--that deftly reflect the changes in the relationship up to the postwar years.

INTOLERANCE. “Quite the most marvelous thing which has been put on the screen,” pipes in a celluloid scholar.

Living up to D.W. Griffith’s epithet as the silent era's "king of the world," this is the epitome, indeed, of an epic. Staggering is the scope of its vision and its narrative ambition as Griffith interweaves a quartet of parallel stories set in different historical periods: the modern 1916 when a workers' strike was brewing up, Jerusalem circa Christ's crucifixion, 1572 when Paris stewed with Catholic persecution against the Protestant Huguenots, and ancient Babylon. It’s nothing short of miraculous how the four stories accelerate into a common ground in its climactic race against time to save an innocent young man from the gallows. Literally heavenly, too, is the visual epilogue—a swarm of angels floating over a battlefield—a hallucination of a wished-for world without fear, ignorance, hatred, intolerance.

No wonder, the prize-winning and most controversial film critic Pauline Kael raved about it outright as the “greatest movie ever made.”

TOKYO STORY. How does a bomb buried in one’s heart feel? Find out with this restraint but emotionally explosive cache of insight by Yasujiro Ozu. Into the booby-trapped terrain of parent-children relationship—with its architectonics of tenderness and ache—Ozu dwells and delivers his stylistic signature: shots of nature undercutting and overlapping the story, the “tatami” mat angle, the stillness of his shots, and his characters speaking directly into the camera (compelling the viewer into intimacy).

Simplicity is beauty. True enough, this film hooks the heartstring tight into the plight of an aging couple on the road from their rural village to visit their two married kids in the city. What follows wrenches the guts without the fluffs and frills of sentimentality through the quintessentially Japanese yet universal theme of generation gap. So much so that a character’s comment (“One cannot serve his parents from beyond the grave") resonates with the crack of a rock under the weight of a teardrop. One of my top all-time favorites, definitely.

STORY OF WOMEN. Morality is a matter best left for God’s infinite grace, but its complexity is what director Claude Chabrol mirrors with utter complexity and unflinching humanity—warts and all—in this cinematic coup.

Based on the last woman to be executed in France, a housewife guillotined for performing abortions and housing prostitutes in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, the film dares to see a side of war rarely depicted: the lives in the margins of battle, no less caught in the crossfire between good and evil.

Exquisite as always is Isabelle Huppert, declared Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for the layered and quilt-worthy quality of her characterization: at once sly and naïve, vulture-like and vulnerable.

COMEDY OF POWER. Probably one of the most fecund of filmic collaboration in world cinema (aside from Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, Mario O’Hara and Nora Aunor), Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert score once more in this political thriller.

Inspired by a real-life scandal involving a French business empire and several top-level politicians, this film is tongue-in-cheek with its timely and provocative account of corporate and political rot. Huppert packs a knockout performance as a feisty magistrate, called "the piranha" in the judiciary system for her almost ravenous appetite for white-collar criminals in high places even as her domestic life languishes in the shallows.

Zooming into a world darkened by the monstrosity of power with its spawn of threat and intimidation, Chabrol is also light-handed at squeezing out humor as privilege paves the way for shadowy characters to lose face and fumble into disgrace.

THE CIRCLE. Smuggled out of Iran for the Venice Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion Award for Best Film, this daredevil work by Jafar Panahi roars with rage against a claustrophobic political culture.

Despite the pall of repression and injustice that hangs over the chador of a chain of women burdened by their gender, Panahi casts a spell of compassion as he showcases the rage and resilience of each character, scraping for goodness and dignity while scurrying through streets like rats to evade arrest.

From the opening scene at a delivery room and final moment in the dungeon, Panahi’s camera bears witness to the wonder of each woman’s spunk in spite of their common nightmare.

MAMMA ROMA. Stirring a critical stew against post-war Italian society and peppering it with dollops of neorealism, Pier Paolo Pasolini demonstrates how cinematic art can pack artillery for his anti-Fascist ideology.

Outrage becomes this film with the fiery Anna Magnani in the lead role as a former whore struggling to steer away from her past for the sake of her estranged teenage son.
But a better life with her child and her petit bourgeois idealism haplessly goes against the grain of Pasolini's worldview, whittling her dreams to the dimension of a tragic opera.

Like most of Pasolini's films, Mamma Roma was grist for controversy, but it was nothing compared to the outcry over La Ricotta, a 35-minute short featuring Orson Welles included in this DVD. Seized and condemned "for insulting the religion of the state," La Ricotta is a subtle but droll thumb-down at the Catholic Church with its story of a director (Welles) filming the crucifixion of Christ in which the actor playing Jesus stuffs himself with ricotta cheese and dies from indigestion on the cross!

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS. From acclaimed director Peter Mullan comes an incendiary testimony to one of the great tragedies of our time: an unflinching account of life inside the Magdalene Laundry, one of the asylums for "wayward women" run by the Catholic Church in Ireland under the mercy, or the lack thereof, of sadistic nuns. Stripped of their dignity and condemned to indefinite sentences of manual labor in order to cleanse themselves of the "sins," the women have become outcasts of society and spurned by their families.

In the face of hell, Mullan’s camera—basking in the perspective of three young inmates—also lays bare and celebrates their indomitable will and defiance that pave the way for the closure of a repressive establishment. Righting a wrong is never a cliché in Mullan’s hand as this gripping film went on to garner the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

L’AVVENTURA. Hailed by many as Michelangelo Antonioni’s masterpiece, L’Avventura is veritably a voyage of discovery, not only for its characters but also for its viewers bracing for a film’s function as a moral mirror and a visual poem.

A milestone in motion-picture grammar, film scholars call it. What appears to be a search for a missing person in a rocky island is actually an exploration of spiritual alienation and an understated diatribe against the decadence of idle upper class and their superficial notions on love and happiness.

Symbolic resonance is what Antonioni luxuriates in this tale of a girl who mysteriously disappears on a yachting trip. While her lover and her best friend search for her, they begin an affair. Eschewing smooth plotting, Antonioni revels instead in the power of symbols and uncanny character development. Something that grows like second skin with each repeat viewing.

CAMILLE CLAUDEL. Obsession with art and its intimacy with insanity. Thus this riveting film renders the life of Camille Claudel, the prodigy-muse-lover of sculptor Auguste Rodin who later became her competitor en route to her fall from grace.

Isabelle Adjani is incandescent in the title role opposite the great Gerard Depardieu in this historically accurate depiction of one of the most important union in the history of modern art.
The film begins with Camille braving the winter and digging clay with bare fingers from a frozen ditch. In the end, with her being hauled to an asylum, the viewer is left asking regarding the cause of Claudel's madness. Was it genes, or her reaction against society's mores, or the product of Rodin's persecution? Or, as one exasperated family member reckons, was it "the madness of mud"?

(Next in my viewing list: L'Atalante, Twilight Samurai, A Streetcard Named Desire, The Remains of the Day, Hannah and Her Sisters, Coup de Tourchon, Face, Army of Shadows, After Life, and Lilies of the Field.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

on their feet

WHO SAYS INCARCERATION is a drudge? Not the dancing prisoners of Cebu who recently went out in the open with their terpsichorean skills and caught the world's eyes.

Beyond the crowd-pleasing choreography, my opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (August 14, 2007 issue) zooms in:

Rhythm and reason

Postcard-perfect beaches, sweet mangoes, online dating and porn sites, guitars, and singers. These may have placed Cebu in the international map, but certainly nothing more sensational and unprecedented as the upbeat video of its dancing prisoners.

Such a welcome, if not well-choreographed, respite from recurrent headlines about the arrhythmic showdown between Cebu’s governor and the city mayor. It may not shake the viewers of YouTube and the media across the borders, but a Gwen-Tom tango might yet clinched for Cebu the international renown as an island of happy feet.

Or else, locked in their long-drawn-out hostility as if they were each other’s zombie, they’d become prisoners forever of their mutual disgrace.

Digression aside, one can shake off the straitjacket of downbeat expectations. Or so proved the eurhythmic inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) now reportedly rehearsing to the tune of “Electric Dreams” for another crack at global spotlight.

A good turn, of course, deserves another. And so what more uplifting flight of fancy than the CPDRC jailbirds adding one more feather in their caps—pardon the pun—as a contingent for next year’s Sinulog mardi gras. Though this scenario looks like a security nightmare, wouldn’t that be a hoot for tourism to drum up international interest once again?

Beyond the hoopla, however, the recent popularity of the prisoners is a good time as any to look at their dance as a twinkle-toed prelude to deliverance. The very notion of rehabilitation, after all, presupposes the propitious idea of the incarcerated finally breaking out to a new and brighter day after facing the music of their transgressions or their outcast state. It’s about turning over a new leaf, yes.

No less spectacular than the stunts of Cirque du Soleil, certainly, would be the grace of a convict or the accused up on his feet for a whistle-worthy personal transformation.

Prison, despite its deprivations and utter desolation, can also pave the way for a wider inner world. Regarding the epiphany of empowerment, the book “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela” abounds with passages in which the political prisoners formed a “university” inside the Robben Island prison, where Mandela and his friends shared and primed themselves up with books by Tolstoy, etc. Read how they dance around embitterment as they found decency even in their cold-hearted jailers.

Then again, outside the walls of prison also looms a dead end. Where finding a new path and bending the back of an old and dark past can be as painstaking as limbo rock. Or, the dance of death. That’s what the ill-starred spirit of one ex-convict found out after he was gunned down by two masked men Sunday night in Barangay Tisa. (Police, according to the report, are still determining if the incident was the handiwork of vigilantes.)

How ready are we as a community to give reformed sinners a second chance?

If only making a new life were as tidy as learning a new dance step. “Without an effective support group and rehabilitation program in the community,” explains non-government organization (NGO) official, “offenders still run the risk of getting involved in crimes again.”

Civilization could be judged by the way it treated its prisoners, stated Winston Churchill. But it’s a sorry judgment on us when our society, with the orchestration of its prejudice and discrimination—out of the lack of imagination and faith—can only compel those seeking a new footing into our fold to dance, awkwardly and hapless ever after, alone.