Saturday, December 10, 2005

Kong Rules


As we walked out of the theatre, Tristan remarked, "Lord of the Rings wasn't a fluke. Peter Jackson HAS done it again." Jackson's three-hour 2005 version of the sweeping epic adventure of how a giant ape from Skull Island bonds with a New York vaudeville actress is probably right up there for another Academy Award.

Her beautifully expressive face and dancer's lithe body makes the luminous Naomi Watts a major star in her breakout role as Ann Darrow. For most of the movie she looked like she took enough of a beating to put Keanu Reeves to shame (not a scratch in Speed, how about that. Sandra Bullock took more hits). And now and then she has really campy but ethereal and incandescent moments -- especially when her eyes well with unshed tears -- rather like the young Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane in The Shadow (also a 1930s adventure). Jessica Lange was also incredibly beautiful in the 1976 version of King Kong... not that I remember much else beyond her beauty.

Comedian Jack Black is also in fine form in his first major dramatic role as the wily and opportunistic filmmaker Carl Denham. Adrien Brody was ok, although he was mostly window dressing.

Two new actors caught my eye. Thomas Kretschmann played the hard-nosed ship's captain and animal trapper Captain Engelhorn (reminds me of a younger, more serious Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson), with a most attractive European accent. Another discovery is Evan Parke, who plays the first mate Hayes, mentor to an impressionable young deckhand (an excellent, very intelligent performance. As a military-trained black man educated in the school of hard knocks, Hayes expresses his astute take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness.")

As for Andy Serkis, what can I say? He wins my vote for Best CGI actor twice running! He really ought to have won for Gollum, never mind that his face was all CGI'd up, he DID act with BOTH voice and body! I read he flew to strife-torn Rwanda on the sly to study gorilla behavior in the wild before Peter Jackson could stop him. Apart from Kong, Serkis also played Lumpy the one-eyed Scottish cook, the one who was slowly consumed by giant killer leeches in a scene that actually gave me nightmares for a couple of days.

It's amazing how as Kong Andy Serkis successfully managed to anthropomorphize male gorilla behavior, to communicate with Ann. Oddly enough, it felt like I was watching Richard Gere and Debra Winger have a spat in An Officer and A Gentleman, only Kong didn't need a Harley to drive away on:

Kong: Mmppfff! What have YOU to say now that I've rescued you from all those pesky T-Rexes? *shows rump sulkily*
Ann: Errr... Wait!!!
Kong: *picks up Ann and nonchalantly throws her on his shoulder for the ride*

Some people I talked to complained that they really didn't need to see the raptor stampede or the duel with the three T-Rexes or the extended giant insect creepshow, which lengthened the film. I actually rather enjoyed the raptor stampede sequence and squealed several times, especially when a character would get either squashed or bit at. You could hear the audience's excitement; you could tell we were all having fun. (One of the best frissons of excitement I ever got from the movies was from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the scene where Indiana Jones runs like hell away from a rolling boulder. I pit all the exciting movie scenes against that one, and if my nape hairs all stand up that means I'd gladly watch that movie over and over. Witness Gandalf's battle with the Balrog, as well as Eowyn in ROTK telling the Nazgul King, "I am NO man!")

As I viewed Kong's fight scenes with the T-Rexes the following silly refrain kept running through my head: "She's MY Vaudeville Barbie! Mine!! MINE!!!" Hehehe. I also couldn't stop alternately laughing and gasping at Ann's trapeze act with one of the T-Rexes, it had an element of the ridiculous you couldn't miss.

The giant insect scenes were indeed gross and shudder-inducing; I believe I mentioned Lumpy being eaten by a giant leech. Peter Jackson must have dedicated that scene to the inner kid in all of us. If you have never experienced the thrill of playing with creepy-crawlies as a kid, I am truly sorry you could not enjoy that scene in all its horrific glory. And if you didn't get the cinematic pun about the giant crickets... well, in New Zealand they're called WETAs, which is the name of the effects production company Peter Jackson worked with on both King Kong and LOTR (they also worked on the first Narnia movie, which is coming soon in January 2006).

I did wonder about how the crew managed to find each other in less than 24 hours in a rather large unmapped island jungle... and how supposedly cold-blooded saurii could run so fast... and about the pesky giant bats that didn't attack Kong UNTIL Adrien Brody showed up... and about the very convenient root/vine that led all the way down from Kong's perch... But of course I didn't let that spoil my fun.

This King Kong is high camp; if you took it too seriously the joke's on you.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Prime


I hardly ever pass up a chance to watch Meryl Streep. To see her play Uma Thurman's shrink was something too good to resist. What further intrigued me was the May-December Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore situation Uma Thurman finds herself in, complicated by the fact that the guy just happens to be her shrink's son!

I entered the theater thinking Prime was just another chick movie. Yes, it deals with chick issues, but as the movie progressed I realized there was more to this intimate jewel of a movie than I originally thought. Blame the trailer for marketing the more accessible (comic + romantic) aspects of the movie. Parts of it ARE brilliantly comic, thanks in no small part to Meryl's impeccable timing. She slips into the role of Dr. Metzker (supportive shrink-but-neurotic-Jewish-mom) so easily, but avoids making a caricature of her character. Opposite her Uma plays it straight, and seeing her character Rafi evolve is a joy to watch.

At the beginning of the movie we see Rafi trying to recover from her emotionally crushing divorce. She looks wilted and humiliated and in dire need of self-validation. Dr. Metzker encourages Rafi to rebuild her self esteem, to open up, toward giving and receiving love. Later, as Rafi blooms from the attentions of her young lover David (tenderly played by Bryan Greenberg), you see her growing more and more radiant. (Reminds me of another cinematic divorcee who slowly gets her groove back - Diane Lane as Frances Mayes in 2003's Under The Tuscan Sun.)

"We have had sex on almost every surface of my apartment, and I have NEVER been so satisfied!" Hearing a rapturous Uma deliver that line alone had our entire cinema audience cheering.

Conflict begins when Dr. Metzker realizes that the lover is her son David: how does one behave ethically as a therapist when the subject of her client's affections is a family member? How does a therapist prioritize client care over her personal issues? How does a Jewish mother encourage her son to cherish his culture and religion? Given that our movie is set in New York, it's not inconceivable for a therapist to have her own therapist.

Later, when strain threatens Rafi's relationship, Uma Thurman gets to show exactly how a woman of 37 feels, faced with the 14-year gulf in intellectual and emotional maturity between Rafi and David. I truly felt her exultation and her pain, and so did every girl in the audience (which does characterize this as a chick flick). At this point the audience suddenly realized that the comedy on the surface had its darker depths.

The movie is marketed as a comedy, but it had a balanced mixture of comedy and bittersweet romance. All in all it felt more like a slightly gritty European film rather than a glossy Hollywood one. The film's writer made sure the subject was never at any point dumbed down. There was no fairy-tale ending (yes, we know Ashton and Demi got married in real life, that's Hollywood for you), but there was a realistic one that made you think.

Does it bear repeated viewing? I enjoyed watching it. My vote is Yes.

Gems From National Geographic

From National Geographic magazine, November 2005 issue:

Health - Women feel more pain - and feel pain more - than men, notes a new study. The sexes' coping strategies may hint at why. Men in the study focused on physical aspects of discomfort, which apparently helped increase pain thresholds. Women focused on pain's emotional as well as physical aspects. Their pain proved harder to treat and seemed of greater intensity.

Astronomy - A new planet with three suns in its sky has been found 149 light years from Earth. Its type is named Tatooine after the dual-sunned planet in the film "Star Wars".

From the December 2005 issue:

Health - Olive oil contains a natural painkiller, scientists say. An ingredient in olives known as oleocanthal works in much the same way as the drug ibuprofen to suppress pain-causing prostaglandins in the body. The anti-inflammatory properties of oleocanthal may help explain the reduced incidence of certain cancers, stroke, and heart disease in Mediterranean populations that traditionally use large amounts of olive oil in their diets.

Animal Kingdom - Cats can't taste sugary foods. A defective sweet-receptor gene is why, according to a new study. This antipathy toward sweets may have helped shape feline evolution in the wild, leading to a preference for muscle-building protein over carbohydrates. Or, say scientists, the gene may have become defective from lack of use in cats' high protein diet.

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I truly love this magazine. I remember growing up as a kid reading my uncle's old back issues, and it felt like I was travelling a different country each time. My not-so-secret fantasy was to become a National Geographic photojournalist...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Weak At The Knees

The other day I received text messages informing me that a close girl friend of mine had suffered a stroke, was mildly paralyzed and was rushed to the hospital. I wasn't able to go to the hospital that night to see her, but a common friend of ours who did texted me: "She has Guillain-Barre Syndrome."

Of course I looked it up online. This site explains it well, but since it's a distant healing rather than a medical/scientific site, I looked at Wikipedia. Then I dug up a really useful site, the Guillain-Barre Syndrome Support Group, based in the UK. The best thing about this last site is that it contains testimonies of those who have experienced and recovered from GBS. Reading those accounts heartened me. I couldn't bear imagining this friend of mine permanently immobile and depressed.

I visited my friend - let's call her Rachel - yesterday afternoon after lunch. but most of the time I was there her mom and the nurse were busy bathing her so I had to wait outside.

When I first arrived I was able to say hi and ask how she was. "Hi, I have GBS."

This was what I noticed:

1. She was lucid, sitting up straight. She talked slowly and carefully, her voice a bit slurred. She said she couldn't smile because she had to support her chin with one hand while talking, because of the mild paralysis in the muscles of her lower jaw. She was connected to a dextrose drip.

2. Her fingers were nimble enough to receive and make short text replies to me on her cell phone.

I was relieved because I had expected worse circumstances.

On her way back from the restroom her mom asked me to get a male nurse to assist them back to the hospital room because she had to hold the drip. Rachel was able to walk slowly, but I realized her legs couldn't voluntarily support the weight of her body. Her mom and I propped her up on the bed, because the bed base was high. Then she asked to wear socks because her feet felt cold (she couldn't bend down to put them on). She told me she could feel the cold, but if her foot were dipped in water, she couldn't feel the sensation of wetness. She asked me to hold her hand, and it was cold and dry. Apparently she could not generate/regulate her body temperature (something to do with the nerves, I don't know how to explain it), but she could feel the warmth of my hands.

I asked if she was able to eat solids. She said she eats by supporting her lower jaw with one hand. "So there's nothing wrong with your tongue?" I asked. None, she said. She had solid food for lunch, despite the drip. The drip was there because earlier she had no appetite. Her blood pressure was up and down, and when she sat up from a prone position she felt dizzy. After she threw up she said she felt the pressure in her esophagus released, so then she actually felt hungry. She drinks water from a glass (doesn't need a straw), but can't stretch out her arm to get it from the table. She says she doesn't like to lie down for long periods without changing position, because the muscles in her back ache. When she lies down she puts a folded blanket between her knees for warmth and circulation. With some effort she can move each leg forward and backward, as long as she's lying down. She likes to be bundled up in a coverlet because her extremities constantly feel cold.

Apparently, this is what happened:

1. Last Wednesday, she woke up feeling numbness in her toes. She still went ahead with her duties. Through the weekend, she felt a tingling sensation climbing up her legs. By Monday, she was still able to drive to work. However, when she got there, her blood pressure shot to 160/100, and she passed out. One of her colleagues took her to the Infirmary, where she was given medicine to lower her blood pressure. But when the doctors noted her mild paralysis, they concluded she must have had a stroke. So her parents rushed her to the hospital for tests.

2. After the battery of tests and the CT scan Rachel was scheduled for an MRI. Early this morning the results of the CT scan came in and they discovered that her brain was undamaged - ergo she NEVER had a stroke at all. And best of all, there was NO brain damage. So when the neurologist interviewed her and she told him of the sequence of events leading to the hospitalization, he diagnosed her as having Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

Rachel was aware of GBS, because she had had one male student who suffered from it last year. One day while standing at the bus stop, he just collapsed, his legs buckling beneath him. He missed two months of classes, and when he came back, he was just barely able to walk. He reported to the class his experiences with GBS, so when the neurologist made his diagnosis, Rachel was able to grasp what was happening to her.

But Rachel's mom still doesn't understand what GBS is, or whether people are able to recover. I told her about the GBS Support Group, and the accounts I'd read. Rachel said, "If I'd really had a stroke, my brain would be permanently damaged. At least the doctor said, with GBS, there's a beginning and an end." According to the GBS site, the condition clears up of its own accord, only you can't predict when. My guess is, with the immunoglobulin treatment and the physiotherapy, Rachel actually has a chance of recovering most of her motor functions any time within six months. Rachel probably wouldn't be able to go on mountain hikes but at least she'd be able to walk short distances unaided, or even be able to drive again with a companion. The possibility that the quality of her life can still improve is what counts.

The duration of the hospital stay, the cost of physiotherapy, and most of all, the cost of the immunoglobulin medicine worries her mom. Rachel asked me if I could ask all our friends to help raise funds for the medicine. I was shocked when her mom mentioned the cost of treatment. It's estimated that a GBS patient needs 5 vials of immunoglobulin a day for 7 days. However, the premier brand of immunoglobulin costs something like PhP 13,000 PER VIAL. If you calculate it, that's the amount you spend on a CAR. So Rachel's mom told me that she asked around for a cheaper alternative that was just as effective. She found one being supplied by a company somewhere in Manila, that was priced at PhP 5,100 per vial. The 35 vials Rachel needs for the treatment will then cost just under PhP 200,000 (less than half the other total, but still a hefty expense). So I said if they could get me the name of the cheaper alternative I could try to source it in the US and ask some relatives to bring them early next year when they come for our family reunion. Or we could ask our high school batchmates in the US to sponsor vials for the treatment. Or we could write to charity organizations abroad for help. Anyhow, I said I'd ask our other friend Francine to help me write some letters. We'll try to set up a bank account for donations as soon as possible.

If, after reading this, you'd like to help in any way, please send us an email or leave a comment below. We'd really appreciate it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Claymation: The Corpse Bride


I recently took my mom to a showing of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, at the Gateway Mall Cinemas in Araneta Center, Cubao. My mom had no idea what claymation was, but I knew the animation style and the storytelling would appeal to her. Earlier we had gone shopping for her birthday treats and for a friend's wedding gift at Rustan's. Naturally, we left the stuff in their package counter to be wrapped and went to enjoy the movie.

She knew Johnny Depp, from Chocolat. She knew Helena Bonham Carter, whom she first saw in Merchant Ivory's A Room With A View ("This actress looks like Joy! Look at that jawline!). But she knew it wasn't about the stars themselves, but their voice acting. In that respect, you would say Corpse Bride was a star-studded production. Other instantly recognizable cream-of-London-theater voices included those of Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant, the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley, and Albert Finney. Once my mom experienced the voice acting fleshed out in plasticine, shot in frame by meticulous frame, she was hooked.

The storyline of Corpse Bride is simple, loosely based on a Russian folk tale and set in the Victorian era. Reluctant working-class but materially prosperous Victor meets well-born but impoverished Victoria for the first time on their wedding night. He has trouble reciting his wedding vows, goes out on a winter night to practice them, and accidentally sticks the ring on a stick... which turns out to be the bony finger of our eponymous girl; to wit, "marrying" her. Emily was an innocent maiden mortally betrayed on the eve of her wedding by a dastardly fiancee. So Victor is sucked into an underworld of jazzy singing articulated skeletons, where he realizes that he is in love with the pure-hearted and very living Victoria. In the world above, Victoria's family thinks Victor has jilted their daughter and rush to marry her off to the sleazy Lord Barkis Bittern. The tale of Victor and Victoria's attempt to reunite in true love, and of the murdered Emily getting justice, is directed in prime Tim Burton style (see The Nightmare Before Christmas), and enhanced by the music of the very talented Danny Elfman.

Needless to say, my heart went out to Emily, the Corpse Bride. I don't know how they do the claymation of eyes welling with slow tears, but I am amazed by the attention given to details like that. My own eyes watered. My mom enjoyed herself utterly.

Definitely worth getting on DVD!

Girls' Night Out

A dog-lover friend of ours invited Almond, Tim and myself to a benefit dinner for the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) last night. The event was at a small watering hole near Almond's house in Quezon City, and had a tribal theme. The ticket price of PhP 300 covered dinner, a drink and a free oracular reading of any kind. Unfortunately dinner turned out to be two pathetic sticks of pork barbecue and a cup of rice, and nothing else. The drink was a choice of either beer or iced tea. The free oracular reading was, to put it kindly, unsatisfactory in the sense that the readers were either inexperienced (one was still consulting a book! which we could have hypothetically bought and consulted ourselves!) or sounded like they were reciting from a pre-prepared script. Neither Tim nor Almond were impressed. Also, neither girl eats red meat, only seafood and vegetables, so they were in a quandary. The organizer was a wiccan who was promoting alternative lifestyle practices, so the two girls were under the impression that there some vegetarian food would be available.

"Serving vegetables would have been cheaper for them!"

"Do Wiccans eat vegetables?"

"But that Wiccan smokes!"

As for me, I wanted to get the most out of my PhP 300, so I grimly ate my two sticks of barbecue and washed down a couple of spoonfuls of rice, which was very dry, with the watery iced tea. I also wanted my evening to be more interesting, so I hied over the henna artists booth and looked over their catalog. The smallest size of henna tattoo was priced at PhP 50. When I asked if they could do certain designs in what I thought was the dainty fifty-peso size, to my dismay I was told that the tattoo stencils were actually bigger than the "clip art" size I wanted. Still, I was determined. Besides, the design would eventually wash away after several days.

I finally found a design that appealed to me, a rampant wyvern with wings outstretched, its tail curling like a seahorse's. A wyvern is a magical beast, the type you find emblazoned on coats of arms and other heraldic artifacts. It's actually a little dragon, but whereas the western-style dragon has wings, two front paws and two back paws, a wyvern's wings ARE its front limbs. Like a bat. Once upon a time, in a previous, physically fitter life I had been pointman for an assault squad of airsoft players in a team called Wyvern. The symbolism, you know, had to relate to something in my personal life and identity. I had it done, all three vertical inches of it, in the center of the small of my back, just above the waistband of my jeans. In fact, it took a while to dry. I sat near where a percussion band played tribal drums with my t-shirt taped up in the back to avoid stains for 45 minutes. I was chagrined that Tim and Almond were getting hungrier and hungrier while I waited for my henna to dry, but there was no help for it. In the meantime they moved around, successfully eluding the chainsmoking wiccan who wanted to sell them some colored magic love salt to dissolve in their bath.

When the henna dried and we piled in the car to go, Tim mentioned that she wanted us to try a restaurant called Spoon owned by newscaster Ces Orena-Drilon. She'd just read about it in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It was near the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City, not too far away. We finally found Spoon, amusingly enough, located right next to a place called Dish, which was actually some sort of nightclub. Alas, it was full and there was a long waiting list. Tim and Almond were delirious with hunger, but we decided to walk around till we found a restaurant that served seafood and vegetables, in a nice, family-type place not too dark or noisy. Parking was hard to come by, and we were damned if we were going to give up the slot we found just to look for a worthy restaurant.

Serendipity led us to Sangkalan, which is a Filipino restaurant and grill in the famous Trellis tradition on 27 Scout Albano St. It was newly renovated, too. It being the Halloween weekend they had booked an acoustic band to play later at night. Even I still felt a little hungry after the two little barbecues. So we ordered a sumptuous feast of sizzling tahong (mussels) in red chilli garlic sauce, chop suey with buco, grilled squid, deep-fried oysters in a salsa of mango, kamias and red onion. Silence reigned as we gulped and chewed. My ice-cold buco sherbet even arrived served in the coconut! The dishes looked wonderful and tasted wonderful. They erased the nasty memories of the mean little barbecues and watery iced tea. All our orders were winners! Even the acoustic band didn't sound too bad. We are definitely going there again. Serendipity indeed!

Waiting For Nick Bantock


I can't get over my glee at having scored my two Nick Bantock books (see previous post below)!

For those who haven't yet encountered Nick Bantock's works, he's an artist primarily and an inventive writer next (his writing showcases his artworks and vice versa). I first learned about Bantock a decade ago, from my friend Moni.

Bantock was the first to create a physical art form out of the genre of the epistolary novel. The Griffin and Sabine series of six books (two box sets of three) -- a fantasy, mystery and romance all rolled into one -- unfolds in a series of letters exchanged by two unlikely but intriguing characters. By physical form I mean on each page you will find an illustrated facsimile postcard or letter in an envelope that you can actually remove, unfold and read. If you secretly enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of reading other people's letters, you'll enjoy this series, his most famous work among many.

Amazingly, the first set of three G & S books Joy and I managed to complete by visiting the National Bookstore Main Branch in Araneta Center in mid-'90s. This was in the old days before the completion of the Gateway mall complex and the glossy-but-welcome facelift it gave the formerly seedy and pedestrian Cubao. The books (Griffin and Sabine, Sabine's Notebook, and The Golden Mean) were all on sale (old display copies, I think). We found them -- in wonderful condition -- on different trips by methodically searching the entire 4th floor which is now the area called "Previously Owned Books". (All book lovers, if you don't know it yet: this floor stocks discounted excess lots of trade titles, with bargain prices averaging at PhP 250 to under PhP700 for hardbound books, and PhP 100 to under PhP 500 for regular paperbacks and trade paperbacks.)

On other sales through the years we were able to find Nick Bantock's The Venetian's Wife (hardbound), The Museum at Purgatory (hardbound) and The Forgetting Room (trade paperback size -- ), but these were at assorted bookstore sales. I'm not sure if they are also set in the Griffin-and-Sabine universe, but they do exude that same indefinable mystery. They're so profusely and wonderfully illustrated!

My only sorrow in this happy tale is that someone who once read my Griffin and Sabine in our living room removed the beautiful dust jacket and put it aside (read: now the dust jacket is forever lost, or worse, possibly creased and folded to boot). Can try to find a pristine one on eBay as a last resort, hehehe.

Next on my list to find: Bantock's The Artful Dodger (his autobiographical illustrated book). It's now past midnight and I'm looking at Bantock's works online, drooling. But I'm patient. I mean, I waited in line for six hours just to get Neil Gaiman's autograph. I can wait till the next sale!

I Could Not Resist

Earlier this week a friend alerted me via email to the Powerbooks Warehouse Sale (126 Pioneer St., Mandaluyong). I ended up going to the sale two days in a row (yesterday was the last day). Actually most of it was spent panic buying for discounted office supplies at another room in the same building, but I did manage to score the ff. (everything less 20%):

1) Some beautifully illustrated hardbound children's books (Hans Christian Andersen, Arabian Nights and Grimm's Fairy Tales) for PhP 388 each (from PhP 485).

2) Clive Barker's second book in the Abarat children's book series -- Days of Magic, Nights of War -- for PhP 396 (from PhP 495). My brother-in-law Tristan has the first book in the same edition (trade paperback), I'll just borrow his copy to read.

3) Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine second trilogy -- book 2 (Alexandria) and book 3 (The Morning Star), each at PhP 772 (from PhP 965). A steal for collectible hardbound books still in their shrinkwrap!

Now I will definitely NOT be buying any more books for some time... Good thing I've already done my Christmas shopping (including packaging!). I don't want to suffer all the Yuletide last-minute stress and delirium.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

More Lilo

[insert photo]

Three-week-old Lilo was very hungry when I snapped this photo over Joy's shoulder yesterday. Note the intent stare!

Yes, Uncle Dave, Lilo's full name is Olivia Sofia, which holds her potential for Peace (Olivia) and Wisdom (Sofia). At the moment you could say she is mostly peaceful (when asleep) and baby-wise (with the knowledge that with a cry she can quickly summon her adoring slaves!).

For all friends and family members overseas who hoped to see more than the one picture in my previous post, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Veronica Mars / Medical Investigation

Now that Rockstar: INXS is off the air, I was wondering what would be good enough to keep Wednesday nights my favorite tv night.

Good news, there's Veronica Mars on ETC from 8-9pm. Veronica Mars starts out like most teen angst dramas but is actually a detective story set in the fictional town of Neptune, CA. Veronica is the daughter of the town sheriff, and is best friends with the daughter of the town's wealthiest family. When her best friend Lily Kane dies in her own home, under mysterious circumstances, Veronica's dad Keith investigates and considers Lily's father Jake Kane a suspect in his own daughter's murder. Due to the Kane family's influence, Veronica's dad loses his job. Worse, Veronica's mom leaves their family. To top it all off, Veronica suddenly falls from grace with her high society high school friends. Her dad sets up his own detective agency, where Veronica works in reception part-time. The rest of the time she's a photographer with the school paper, and conducts her own investigation of Lily's death. One of her suspects is Lily's brother, who used to be Veronica's boyfriend... NOW do you see why I'm so hooked? The writing is tops, letting Kristen Bell play Veronica Mars as a sassy and fearless blonde hot on the trail of truth.

And then there's Medical Investigation, on Star World, from 9-10pm. Hotshot government medical investigators do real-time analyses to save lives during outbreaks. You'd think it was like CSI, only with more live bodies. I watched the pilot episode last week, and was trying to decide whether to hate Dr. Stephen Connor (Neal McDonough) or not. He has the ego of CSI: Miami's Det. Horatio Caine (David Caruso) -- (read: I will do everything in my power to save you, and indeed I DO have the power!) -- but you have no choice but to trust him, because no one else will make the difficult decisions. The other leads are ok, but the standout role in the pilot episode was intrepid NIH press officer Eva Rossi (Anna Belknap). She manages to hoodwink and corral a pesky reporter until the outbreak is contained, and THEN gives him the scoop for suffering her string of red herrings. Alas, according to IMDB.com the show was eventually cancelled. I guess it can't compete with the CSI franchise. A couple of seasons is good enough for the meantime.

Of course, my favorite show CSI immediately follows, to round out my Wednesday nights. (Update: Anna Belknap eventually joins the cast of CSI: New York. Talent too good to waste!)

Rockstar: Denouement

When I think about it, it's a good thing Joy didn't give birth until AFTER Rockstar:INXS ended. As I've said before, the show (and episodes of various CSI's) made my midweek tv programming. The fact that INXS chose JD Fortune to be their lead vocalist wasn't much of a surprise; he'd focused his performances and songwriting toward that end, and got what he wanted. I just thought that it also meant INXS couldn't step too far away from Michael Hutchence's ghost. (Some friends of mine commented that it was the same thing with Journey and the singer they hired to replace Steve Perry, Steve Augeri. He sounded enough like Perry to be able to render the old hits. Compare this to Van Halen replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar, and the band went from strength to strength. Van Hagar sounded different from Van Roth but good enough to keep record sales up. I actually liked Van Hagar.)

I'm glad Marty Casey didn't win. That means he and his band Lovehammers can go on to carve THEIR OWN niche in their own name. I downloaded their song "Eyes Can't See" and it was great. The great thing about tv singing contests is the fandom it creates for its contestants, and that finalists can get offered contracts outside of the show. I didn't mind that Bo Bice or Constantine Maroulis didn't win American Idol 4 -- they got their own contracts in the end. So I'm not too worried about Suzie McNeil or MiG Ayesa. MiG might even one day win a Tony for musical theatre.

I must say this, though: at the end of the show, INXS and JD Fortune played a new song called "Easy, Easy" and it made ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT on me. I voiced this in my yahoo group, asking, "Why am I underwhelmed by this? Is it just me?" Apparently I wasn't the only one who felt that way. What impressed me more was the song "Us", but I would prefer a Suzie McNeil solo version (I downloaded the recording session version from the show) as compared to the all-hands-on-deck version by INXS, Dave Navarro and the last five finalists. I guess it's because the band already wrote all the songs as is, needing only JD's vocal as a plug-in. Maybe the NEXT album after this one would actually showcase JD's songwriting skills.

Lilo

Lilo entered our lives last Sept. 22. My niece (and my parents' first grandchild) was delivered by caesarian section, weighing 5.8 lbs and measuring 16 inches long. She was the tiniest baby born that day, but don't let that seeming fragility fool you. Lilo is feisty and adorable, much like her mom, although for the first few days of her life some people claimed Lilo looked more like me (must be the eyes). Lilo was born with a shock of hair, and her daddy's nose. In three months we'll have a better idea who she looks like. When I held her for the first time I marvelled at her precious perfection, and fell in love.

Joy and Tristan brought her home from St. Luke's last Tuesday; in preparation the entire house was vacuumed and sprayed vs. insects. Our dad hurriedly went out and bought a new ceiling fan from Home Depot and had it installed in the living room before they arrived. We had flowers and fruit from all over. We saved the newspapers the day she was born so she'd have her very own time capsule. The entire condo building buzzed with the news, and our phones rang incessantly with congratulations.

When Lilo's hungry and starts crying she turns beet red all the way to her tootsies. She doesn't like people manipulating her arms; it's a struggle to put mittens on her (without the mittens she'd end up scratching her face). She's actually much stronger than you'd think. In fact, she scored an 8/8 on her Apgar test (the one that measures the senses, reactions and reflexes).

Tristan takes Lilo out in her stroller (a gift from Annie) to sunbathe for a few minutes in the early mornings. She luxuriates in her late morning baths. And when she's asleep she makes faces that make us all laugh. With a new baby in the house everyone's learning curve is steep: I can now add sterilizing bottles, preparing milk formula, burping and changing nappies to my auntie skills.

Lilo can now consume two ounces of breast milk/formula plus a half ounce of water every couple of hours. We all take turns feeding her, so that Joy can rest. Let me tell you, the amount of time and attention given an infant is exhausting, but when Lilo looks at you, you forget everything.

I even forgot to post a blog entry for more than a week!

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Rockstar: INXS Download List

You gotta love Google, it brings you joy when sometimes chocolate cannot. Thought bubble: Nuninuninu... now where can I download mp3s or video files of the fantastic performances in my favorite reality tv show Rockstar:INXS?

In my earlier Rockstar:INXS post I mentioned rickey.org. Since Rickey already has heavy bandwidth consumption because of American Idol 4 and his favorite dance show, he has only posted download links to Jordis', MiG, Marty and JD's performances. [He also hosts a "comment forum" on Constantine Maroulis' fans, the ConCon Girls.] I've downloaded video files of Marty (my personal fave), one each of MiG and JD, and an mp3 of Jordis' "Man Who Sold The World".

And then, while Googling away... I found THE COMPLETE LIST TO DATE of all the performances since Week One!!! The list redirects you to 2 sites that allow people to upload, store and download large files (sizes per file up to 50mb and beyond). The sites then send email notification to the uploader's intended recipient that the files would be stored for 7 days, after which they will be deleted. I've just discovered a total of FOUR sites that do this for free (and offering expanded services to paying account holders). So useful!

At this point I will have to admit that even though I think JD can be a jerk, he did really perform well last night. I just downloaded his original song "Pretty Vegas".

But really the big news is that Suzie, whom I earlier thought would get eliminated before the top 5, has definitely earned my enthusiastic fandom. I am actually now counting her as my number two favorite. (Will be downloading her original song "Soul Life", which she wrote with the recently eliminated Ty.) Marty is still tops for me, of course. But don't hate me because I've relegated MiG to third place -- just continue to vote for him because he's Pinoy at heart and we all know that his combination of looks, talent and inner grace will always win him any number of good things.

Do enjoy.

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Time Warp at Maxim's Tea House

They were playing some cha-cha tune when we came into the restaurant for an early lunch. We'd gotten lost a few minutes earlier, thinking Maxim's was still in the basement of Shoppesville Greenhills, not realizing Pancake House had moved into their old location. What had been the slightly seedy but popular Maxim's Teahouse had moved to the upper ground floor. It was given a snazzy interior design facelift and a trendy name to match -- MXT.

While commenting on the (so far) positive changes, Tristan remarked, "Whatever happened to Ling Nam? Didn't they try to become a Chinese fastfood?" "It didn't work," Joy replied, "Chow King is the only successful one in its niche. See all those billboards along the highway that make you hungry?" "I remember the teahouses then all had names like North Park, West Villa, East Ocean…," I added. Maxim's has had a branch in Megamall for several years. Luk Yuen and Le Ching are still in their old Greenhills locations. Hap Chang moved from Wilson St. to Megamall. North Park, which opened a branch in Metrowalk Ortigas, is currently our favorite.

As "My Melody of Love" (the one that sounds like a Polish folk song) played in the background, Tristan announces: "Did you know that there's currently a remake of 'Mr. Lonely', and it's a hit now in Europe?" "Isn't Mr. Lonely the station ID song for some radio station advice show?" I reply, as I order a Special Jumbo pao (P48) and a shrimp-and-vegetable one (P24). Joy adds, "All of a sudden golden oldies are in again. Even the Cascades are coming." "Yeah, I heard they're going to perform at the Manila Hotel soon," I nod. Dream dream dream, dream dream dream…

A Tom Jones hit from my early childhood plays next ("Please release me let me go..."). I roll my eyes up, saying: "Remember that song 'Let Me Try Again'? Wasn't that Frank Sinatra?" As I pinch some of the soft white bread off my Special Jumbo pao, Joy suddenly sings the dramatic refrain, "Just forgive me or I'll die, please let me try again…" Man, the things we remember. If publicly quizzed I think it's much cooler to admit that I learned the complete lyrics to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" from my older cousin Mely back in elementary school. That and the Eagles' "Hotel California". Mely liked "I Shot The Sheriff" too. In those days if you were riding in a jeep you'd hear any hit by the Scorpions, or that British long-hair group The Animals singing "House Of The Rising Sun."

Tristan identifies the next song within ten notes: "Those Were The Days!" (as in, "those were the days my friend we thought would never end, we'd sing and dance forever and a day." Yes, the one that sounds like a folkie beerhouse polka.) He failed on the next try, which turned out to be the Beatles' "Till There Was You." I think it's lovely how hearing the Beatles never feels dated.

The shrimp-and-vegetable pao arrives, tinted a beautiful pandan green. It was freshly steamed and flavorful, the vegetable being kuchay (the dark green part of green onion shoots). I enjoyed both my siopaos, but the hakao (shrimp dumplings) Joy and Tristan ordered were a major disappointment. The rest of the food was satisfying, but not special (North Park food being our standard). I suppose you could say the food was better when MXT was still the seedy- but-popular Maxim's Teahouse. Those were the days, my friend.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Catrina the Male Cat

When Catrina was still a kitten my dad had no idea he was actually male. Months later, I told him about the juvenile cat having balls, but it was too late and the name stuck. Anyhow, Catrina knew who the Alpha Male in our family was, so he would sit under the resthouse table very prettily begging for scraps. And no one could resist him. Usually, he would walk aloofly around the farm grounds as though he owned it.

One day we realized he'd disappeared, and someone in the neighboring farm had tried to adopt him, but he wouldn't settle. Eventually he found his way back to us, with a bit of green plastic string tied around his neck. The boys cut the offending string away, replaced his little chain necklace and tag, and fed and bathed him in the manner to which he was accustomed.

Catrina and my pretty farm dog Martina (archive entry My Pretty Mongrel) grew up together. They were so close that Catrina would actually sleep on top of Martina to keep warm. There were times we've caught Martina brushing up our pantlegs like she were a cat, and Catrina acting like he were a dog.

Catrina's actually never grown out of juvenile size. But he's grown sleek and presented me lots of times with photo opportunities. Once in a while I pick him up and give him a cuddle or put him on my lap stroking his fur, but after some time he likes to leap down and walk around in his lordly little way. I've seen male cats grow big and feral, but I'm glad my little Catrina remains dainty and adorable.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Insult Generator

This link is always good for a laugh:

Try Insult Generator.

Love's Labours Lost

A friend emailed me recently about her bruised heart:

Girl is strongly attracted to eccentric hottie who claimed there was definitely something between them, short of declaring to the world that they were an item. When asked, Eccentric Hottie once said to a colleague of Girl: "Yes, we went out on a date." Girl is ecstatic to be so acknowledged. To make a long story short, the commitment phobe in Eccentric Hottie couldn't resist coming out, and a few weeks later, he stops communicating with her. No explanations. It's a few days to her birthday, and she feels miserable, not knowing why things turned out that way. Classic.

My reply: I think from the beginning there was something seriously wrong with the way his head is wired. He's different from the usual run of people, you'll just have to accept that... just let him go. Of course you'll hurt and all, which is the real shitty part, but if you try to stop dwelling on why he is the way he is, you can cease blaming yourself if you think you were the one who did something wrong. If we all thought that the guys we loved and didn't love/appreciate us back tricked us, pharmaceutical companies would rule the world. I know... and right now the pharmaceutical companies are already rich.

I sent the email but forgot to add: And chocolate manufacturers are making a killing. Collateral damage, anyone?

Rockstar: INXS

Because of American Idol and CSI: Las Vegas, I had always been convinced that the middle of the week (Wednesday and Thursday here in Manila) had the best to offer in all of cable primetime programming. I was worried about what would take their time slots once their respective seasons ended, and then Rockstar: INXS came along.

I enjoy rock performances as much as the next person, so I eagerly looked forward to the reality vs. performance segments of the show. Jamming in the mansion was a treat. It's really not hard to predict who would get eliminated along the way. Haven't actually tried voting myself, but perhaps only maybe when the competition is really, really tight.

Jordis, MiG, Marty, JD and Ty, I felt, are all really majorly talented. Suzie, to me, would be a step better than Deanna and Jessica. Suzie reminds me of a young Annie Lennox but with a Sheryl Crow vibe, and I enjoyed her performance of "Never Tear Us Apart", which was my favorite. I mean, if it were posted online I'd download it in a second. She, JD and Ty had a string of mixed quality performances - so I must congratulate the producers of the show for making the competition particularly challenging in terms of song selection. Jordis, MiG and Marty, however, seemed like they could do no wrong. I downloaded Jordis' "Man Who Sold The World" from rickey.org, it was that good.

Now to MiG and Marty, my personal favorites:

MiG consistently delivers a good performance, rocking hard with "We Will Rock You", and dazzling everyone with "Baby I Love Your Way", where he accompanied himself on the piano. His vocal range is flexible (on the tenor side) and he exercises as much control over it as he can. And he doesn't look half bad, buff in a lean way, and gauging by the reaction of the women in the audience, he inspired major hysteria when he last ripped off his shirt onstage. He's got this easy-going personality, and seems really in touch with his feminine side (read: Sensitive Man who set off my friends' gay-dars. I did explain that he's married to a ballerina who was a long-time girlfriend, so that settled that.). He also gets along well creatively with others, as could be seen in the songwriting clinic. INXS and he being Aussie might be a factor. But best of all, he was born PINOY!!! Now what other reason would I need to root for him? He looks like the frontrunner, since it seems unlikely that INXS would have a female vocalist... (just my opinion).

Marty, while not conventionally cute, is very attractive. His voice, which has really good texture, has something to do with it. This texture was shown to advantage in his performances "With Arms Wide Open" and "Mr. Brightside". He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar for the latter song. He doesn't have a theatre background like MiG, but he has had concert performances under his belt fronting other major bands with his own band. Those two performances were so intense I wished I was in the crowd screaming with approval. When I get that kind of feeling I want to rush out to a store and buy a cd straightaway. Now before you tell me he's a Kurt Cobain or Creed clone let me remind you that being part of a band gives leeway for originality in songwriting, and that what you ought to judge in the end is the final, total overall product. But in the end, my connection with Marty's performance was emotional, and that's strong. MiG's last performance made me emotional too, but mostly my admiration for his overall vocal ability is intellectual. Listening to Marty made me feel like a young college girl. Let me ask you, what price would you set on THAT?

Now onto JD bashing:

Moni emailed me about his dislike for JD. Let me state for a fact that I consider JD highly talented, but perhaps he can develop himself as a solo act if he can land a recording contract. He needs a lot of training to condition his voice so that he can sing a greater range of songs, or he can write songs to fit his voice, but where's the growth there? I can't stand JD either, I emailed back, he acts too needy of the job and says things that make him sound evil and desperate. Actually, "evil" is Rickey's word. And the bitter darkness of it shows on his face.

In the beginning, JD looked kinda cute but that wore thin pretty quickly. I mean, his attitude might provide interesting tension and drama to the show, but in the end, what INXS needs is a lead singer with consistent performance quality, with magnetism, and the ability to get along and work with the other members of the band. If for instance JD won, it would be a shame if he ends up eventually needing replacement because of "personal differences". I mean, he doesn't need to diss the rest in public when it's plainly clear that there are other talented people in the competition, it just makes him stand out and not necessarily in a good way. He is SOOO PLASTIC!!! Making those remarks and then having to live with them in the same mansion!!! Again, let me remind you, this man is talented. Talented, but conflicted. Might be good fodder for a solo album somewhere there. I did think the song he wrote solo after breaking away from Marty's group was even better than the song written by Ty's group, which won. It was more in INXS' groove (now if it sounds like some of their old hits, is that a crime if there is potential to release it as a single? But we also have to think of INXS' growth and credibility...).

I want to shake my head when I think of that scene near the pool where MiG admits to JD that he said in an interview that JD was the most difficult to live with. Then JD says that banal and cringeworthy line, "When we're being human, just remember that we are all human beings." Or something like that. (Now doesn't that sound bite raise your bile?)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Exploring Malangaan

Last Sunday we went to Bulacan to visit a friend, and after a picnic lunch, explored a local cave by a stream, near an abandoned marble quarry. See the complete photo essay. Or click directly on the photo to reach flickr.com and view the photos out of order.

Three Dreams

Been having a spate of dreams lately.

First. I dreamed that a noisy group of friends visits me at home. We decide to go out to watch a movie, and pile into the elevator. Suddenly the elevator crashes one floor down. Everyone gets up, a bit bruised and shaken, with one girl getting hysterical. My first urge is to slap her, but instead I do the practical thing and push the emergency button.

Second. I dreamed that Amy and I went to market. On our way home we decide to ride shotgun on a big motorcycle, like the ones they have as public transport in Camiguin. Because there are two of us riding behind the driver, the motorcycle ride is relatively slow. However, when we try to traverse a hump, Amy and I get bumped off and fall to the ground. Laughing, we end up walking home with our marketing.

Third. I am walking home to our old house in UP. I pass through the AS First Pavilion corridor, where there seems to be a lot of people milling about. Apparently there is a cinematic screen test going on in one of the rooms. A man approaches me and asks me to try out for a Joan Collins-ish "Dynasty"-type character. To my surprise, I later win the role.

So much for the subconscious, eh?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

List of Last Things 2

Last Movie Watched - The Fantastic Four. Highly enjoyable, if you don't expect too much from it. As a comics-based movie with an ensemble cast, it's not a bad origin tale. It does well enough as a springboard for an entire franchise. Granted, Spiderman had a better human interest story, but Ben Grimm's development from muscleman to The Thing is compelling enough drama. As for Reed Richards, I guess what really makes him a superhero is his native high intelligence and not his elasticity as Mr. Fantastic. If you didn't realize this early enough, you'd think he was the wimpiest in the group. There are some scenes that made me laugh out loud: Johnny Storm bursting into flames while skiing, and ending up naked, melting enough snow to make a hot tub for him and his "hot" nurse; and Sue Storm having to strip down in public (twice!) and run away, invisible. The story and the action are equally engaging and fast-paced. It's definitely worth its ticket price, as long as you aren't seated next to annoying kids and people who haven't turned off their cell phones.

Last DVD's Watched - Asterix and Obelix Take On Caesar, and Six-Stringed Samurai.

My friends Dondi and Esmi invited me to their place for a sandwich-bar dinner while watching DVD's newly added to Dondi's collection. Asterix and Obelix Take on Caesar (1999) features Gerard Depardieu as Obelix, with Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) as the villain Lucius Detritus and Laetitia Casta as Obelix's love Panacea. Most of us had read the comic books by Goscinny and Uderzo as children, so we were pleased to discover that the movie had an English dub translation by Terry Jones. The film is funny, although not as funny as, say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (still my standard for rib-tickling humor). The dog that plays Dogmatix is adorable. As for Laetitia Casta (who is currently Marianne, or the Face of France), she is easy on the eyes, for as long as you pay no attention to her distracting teeth.

If you enjoy Kurosawa samurai movies, plus Mad Max, Kill Bill, El Mariachi, music and all, you'll enjoy Six-Stringed Samurai (1998). This campy low-budget film features Buddy, our bespectacled hero with a katana sheathed behind his 1957 guitar. He ventures across a wasteland to get to his gig in Lost Vegas, pursued by Death and his minions, and along the way picks up a little boy who later becomes his sidekick. It's like a long music video with a surreal script full of allusions to the death of rock and roll. If you're the kind of person who gets peeved because you can't find a plot in this movie, skip it. But if you watched Kill Bill over and over just for The Bride vs. Crazy 88 samurai sword-frenzy with rockabilly music in the background, this would be more your thing. I enjoyed it, but I guess not enough to buy me a copy.

Last MP3 Downloaded - Gavin DeGraw's "Chariot". Great song, the kind you want to listen to on a rainy day when you're stuck indoors.

Last Book Read - Haruki Murakami's "Norwegian Wood" (English translation by Jay Rubin). Murakami's protagonist Watanabe hears his first love Naoko's favorite Beatles song and goes twenty years back down memory's highway to hip 1960s Tokyo. Along the way a girl named Midori comes into his life and makes him choose between the past and the future. Rather good read.

Last Restaurant Visited - Cafe Mediterranean Podium, last Sunday. Had a Kofta Kebab with buttered rice. Kofta are little meatballs made of ground lamb and beef (I think) mixed with chopped onions and herbs, slid on a kebab and grilled. Kofta are good with their yoghurt-based sauce. They also serve really good Kofta Burger, if you're bored with the usual patty-on-a-bun. Their food is on the healthy side, grilled rather than fried, with South Beach Diet versions of most popular dishes. They also have a very good Lamb Stew and Lamb Kebabs. Service is quick and everything is reasonably priced.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Beso-Beso With Neil Gaiman

Brandishing his Omas 1950s flexi-nib fountainpen, he signed in burgundy ink on the frontispiece of my “Brief Lives” graphic novel (Sandman Volume 7): “Mona, Sweet Dreams -- Neil Gaiman.” A salesgirl took our photo (I made sure I brought my digital camera), but I won't be posting it here; it's for my secret delectation. I’m so glad I didn’t do anything stupid like burst into tears or freeze. In a tiny voice I managed to say, “Thanks for signing, Neil.” He smiled and said, “You’re welcome, Mona.” Then I bent down a bit to make beso beso, and to my surprise it wasn’t an air-kiss -- he kissed my right cheek. (All the girls were doing it, so I figured I’d get in on the kissing action, hehehe.) As I straightened up again, clutching my book in a sort of daze, I realized how exceedingly tired he was. Poor guy. He looked like he hadn’t slept for weeks and sported massive eye luggage. But he was determined to accommodate as many fans as possible.

YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! I walked out the bookstore with a spring in my step and with a stupid grin on my face.

(In your mind picture me jumping up and down on Oprah’s yellow sofa a la the delirious Tom Cruise, and you can imagine how ridiculous it looks. Of course, I didn't really do that. But I tell you, it felt so great to be so amply rewarded for waiting in line at Fully Booked Gateway for nearly six hours last Monday, on the last day of Neil’s signing tour in Manila.)

Neil is such a simpatico person; incredibly kind, patient and generous to all his fans. I suppose he was pleasantly surprised to realize his fan base in the Philippines was bigger than his publishers had originally thought. I guess he didn’t expect that thousands of fans would want to meet him (I heard some fans even travelled to Manila from as far away as Davao and Cebu). Last night I read his blog and he said he “never felt more loved by so many people”, that Pinoys were more enthusiastic than the Brazilians in expressing their cheer, and that he was thinking of returning again to Manila, perhaps in a couple of years or so.

I was number 480 in a line of just over 600 fans who heroically lined up. When I arrived at Gateway, the line began outside Fully Booked on the third floor and snaked down two flights of stairs to outside the Aurora Boulevard exit to the front of the nearest 7-11. I tell you, the sight of that line would have discouraged a less determined person. I just felt that getting Neil’s autograph would be worth it. For the first two hours the line stayed put and I had nothing to do but stare at the changing cloud patterns in the sliver of blue sky between the mall and the MRT. My friend Juned advised via text: “Imagine you’re back in UP enlisting for classes.”

Originally, rules stated that one had to buy a book from Fully Booked in order to get a signing pass. Later on they changed the rules, allowing people to bring any Gaiman book they owned for signing. Those who bought a book and got a signing pass were then entitled to have two books signed. This was a good idea, since most fans, like myself, had already bought books prior to the signing promo. Changing the rules meant that more people would participate, and that any marketing data they would gather from the signing promo would be more representative of Neil’s fan base.

Waiting in line can get interesting, though. Two college girls behind me were looking at Neil’s picture on the back cover of my graphic novel. Later, as we approached Neil’s table, they looked at him and back at the photo and whispered to each other: “He’s that lolo-looking guy? But he’s OLD!!!” I wanted to laugh; and then I felt my age. When Vertigo first published Sandman I was just out of college. I was young enough to have borrowed and read the comics when they first came out but couldn’t afford to buy them at the time. These two girls each had a paperback copy of “Stardust” which (apart from the paperback of “Coraline”) was among the more affordable Gaiman books in the market (roughly PhP 350). Two lawyers lined up just ahead of me were clutching hardbound graphic novels that cost nearly PhP 2000 each (One was the Sandman Dustcovers book and the other was Marvel’s latest release, “1602”.) I couldn’t help but overhear that one of them even bought a VHS tape box set of “Neverwhere” from the BBC when he was last in London. Normally I’d be secretly peeved if it sounded as if he was gloating about his purchase, but he sounded so happy to have bought it even if it was in PAL-SECAM format and not compatible with his player, I couldn’t begrudge him his glee.

The crowd kept their good humor, though. Several times as the line moved, we saw a good-looking young guy counting people in the line. He turned out to be named Jaime, and was apparently the manager of Fully Booked Gateway. I joked to the two girls behind me: “Sa kanya na lang kaya tayo magpa-sign? Cute pa naman siya.” The two promptly developed a crush on him, entertaining themselves taking pictures of him with their camera phones. As for the two lawyers ahead of me, they joked that Bro. Eddie Villanueva could only get 2000 people to attend his people power rally, while everybody else would have preferred to wait in line for Neil Gaiman.

I guess for a lot of people meeting Neil Gaiman was a positive, life-defining moment. The last time I felt like this was when I had waited in line to get tickets for seats I wanted at the first Sting concert in Manila ten years ago. Of course my collection is far from complete, and Neil has two books still to be released, “Melinda” and “Anansi Boys.” And who knows? Maybe one day soon they’ll screen “Mirrormask” here. Or release it on DVD. Like many fans, I’ll be waiting.

In the meantime, I have introduced my mom to the pleasures of reading Neil Gaiman. (Really!)

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Batman Begins / Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Of the Tim Burton Batman flicks, my favorite is "Batman Returns", mainly for Michelle Pfeiffer's inspired turn as Catwoman. And I liked the onscreen chemistry between her and Michael Keaton. Tim Burton's vision of Batman is naturally independent from the source comics material -- I'm sure between you and me we've watched enough Tim Burton to identify his surreal style (check out "Edward Scissorhands", "Nightmare Before Christmas", etc.) -- so it's useless to argue with purists about how closely he adheres to the Batman mythos. There is simply too much heated discussion going on about Batman's rubber nipples for people to just plain enjoy what's on the screen. I guess the problem is really about people's expectations.

With Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" what we are really seeing is the genesis of the DC comic universe's Batman. This is NOT a prequel of the Burton franchise. This is more Dark Knight than Superfriends Batman. Once we're beyond that piece of information, we can go ahead and enjoy the rest of the movie. And here we've got a definitive Batman movie, with a strong storyline showing the moral growth of a conflicted hero. The film is character-driven, very well-edited, with a good ensemble cast. And it has lots of action WITHOUT depending too much on CGI (see "Revenge of the Sith", which suffered from a surfeit of it), and good hand-to-hand battle WITHOUT depending on Matrix-style wire-fu.

I believe Christian Bale ("Equilibrium", "American Psycho") was perfectly cast; he's hot and hunky and is a very good actor who doesn't let his stardom overshadow his acting (I mean, George Clooney was more Clooneyman than Batman). I liked Michael Caine as Alfred, although I laughed when a friend told me he couldn't stop thinking of Michael Caine as Austin Power's dad. Morgan Freeman didn't even need to act here, he was plain enjoying his Q-like role, what with the armor, Batmobile, weapons and all. The Batmobile was magnificent! I don't blame Detective Gordon (Gary Oldman) for admiring it. For once we have Gary Oldman playing a good guy. Katie Holmes looks too young to be an assistant DA though, but gave an otherwise ok performance. [If you wanted to discuss nipple distraction in Batman movies, then look closely at all of Katie's sweaters. I find it strange that in such cold weather, an assistant DA would wear thin sweaters over an unlined bra.] Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe were interesting villains, but Cillian Murphy is the delicious surprise here: for a villain, he is simultaneously so COOL and creepy. Dig the iconic shades! I tried to think of the last movie I saw him in, and realized he was in that virus horror movie "Twenty-Eight Days".

I would definitely buy "Batman Begins" on DVD. Worth watching over and over.

As for the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", I would say a Pinoy wouldn't understand it much without having read the book/series beforehand. The humor is very British; as I understand from the credits, Douglas Adams was still alive when the screenplay was written. Alas, the humor doesn't translate to the big screen very much. It is also not a kid's movie, as the story's deliberate absurdity goes over their heads. For instance, the best part of the movie (for me) was where Zooey Deschanel (Trillian) says something like, " Go ahead, aim the point-of-view gun at me. It won't work; I'm already a woman." That is still way too deep for kids. Still, the star-studded ensemble (John Malkovich, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, etc.) tried their best.

Too bad. I love British humor in films, it just depends on who's writing it. My favorites are the Monty Python films (particularly "Holy Grail" "Life of Brian" and "Erik the Viking"). Still, there's also a lot of really good British humor in the contemporary "The Full Monty", "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Notting Hill" and "About A Boy."

The "Hitchhiker's Guide" was interesting but doesn't really cut it for me.

Aratiles Memories

A while ago I received the email “Maalaala Mo Kaya”, and decided to see how much I remember of the things we used to do when we were kids during the early, early days of Generation X Pilipinas. I can’t answer all the questions in one post, but let’s start with a couple.

Nung ikaw ay bata pa, kumakain ka ba ng aratiles? (When you were a kid, did you use to eat aratiles?)

Aratiles? Of course. Running around UP Campus my sister and I kept mental maps of where every aratiles tree worth shaking and climbing just for the rosy-colored, marble-shaped fruit. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen or tasted a single aratiles fruit for ages.

Nasubukan mo na bang magpitpit ng gumamela para gawing soapy bubbles na hihipanmo sa binilog na tangkay ng walis tingting? (Did you ever try squeezing gumamela flowers to make soapy bubbles which you blew through coconut leaf ribs twisted into a circle?)

We used to peel off red gumamela petals down to their center, which was sticky and helped keep the bubbles we blew solid. The crushed gumamela petals when mixed in the bubbly water exuded lovely rainbow oils. For blowing bubbles though, it was better to go pluck a branch of papaya. We cut off the leaf and the other end for neatness, so that when you looked through one end of the stalk towards the other end you’d see lots of holes running through it. Then we’d swish it in the soapy laundry water and blow – and make several bubbles instead of just one! We didn’t throw away the papaya leaf though: we’d crush it and rub it on our skinned knees so that we wouldn’t develop scars. The enzyme was pretty effective; my legs are smooth and you can barely make out the scars of childhood. And speaking of skinned knees and other minor wounds, we were taught to chew young guava leaves and rub the resulting poultice on top of the wounds. The antiseptic qualities of the guava made our scrapes heal fast. It helped that young guava leaves actually tasted good. Fortunately our mom taught us which plants were poisonous and which ones weren’t.

In our wild backyard we found alugbati growing low on the ground, their leaves beautifully veined in red. It had these little red-black berries the size of my little fingernail, which contained a dark red pigment that we used to use as kiddie lipstick. In grade school I remember reading a book which said Jose Rizal used alugbati berries in his watercolors. I don’t remember the berries having any particular taste; all I know is we used it on our lips and threw the rest away.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

List of Last Things

Last Book Read - The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. The story of two sisters, one of whom becomes a novelist and leaves clues about her anarchist lover. Highly recommended.

Last Fine Dining Restaurant Visited - The Museum Cafe at the Ayala Museum, Ayala Center, Makati. It was my dad's birthday last Sunday (Independence Day). We had a good South African white wine with various Asian fusion style dishes. Everyone else's orders were good, although the short ribs in tamarind sauce I ordered were over-marinated and and became too salty. They have an interesting salad that includes fresh leaves of alugbati (very good). The dessert, a caramelized banana tart topped with pastillas de leche ice cream, was divine. Price-wise, it costs much less to dine there for the style and quality, as compared to dining at a hotel restaurant. Recommended attire: smart casual.

Last Fastfood Visited - (I'm only including this for the novelty.) Pizza Hut Bistro, on the second floor of Gateway, in Araneta Center (Cubao). This place fills up quickly. The salads are quite good, ranging in price from P115 to P140, and a grilled chicken sandwich order (two fist-sized sandwiches topped with melted cheese) was to be had for P99!

Last MP3 Downloaded - When I See You Smile, by Bic Runga. This Kiwi singer gave us the hit Sway. Check out her albums Drive and Beautiful Collision. Highly recommended if you enjoy an angelic voice accompanied by acoustic guitar. Comparable to artists Sarah McLachlan, Dido,and Jewel.

Last Movie Watched - Frank Miller's Sin City (last Tuesday, at the Powerplant in Rockwell). Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, with guest director Quentin Tarantino, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel. Actually, I've only read the volume about Marv and Goldie, but it's enough to acquaint yourself with the style of the movie - very noir, with coloration. That part they did rather well. There are three volumes of the graphic novel that were incorporated into the movie. I enjoyed the movie; I think I'll get it on dvd. The only thing that bothered me was the excessive prosthetic makeup on Mickey Rourke (to make him look as craggy as Marv), which made him look like a plastic action figure in comparison to the other leads Bruce Willis (good role here) and Clive Owen (in a two-dimensional role for such a good actor, unfortunately). In a milieu where the leads are reluctant heroes, the remaining men corrupt officials/criminals and all the women are prostitutes, it's impossible not to notice the women. Jessica Alba REALLY dances well. And Rosario Dawson has an interestingly feral quality about her, such that you'll wish she played Catwoman instead of Halle Berry.

Last Dream I Had - I dreamed that someone gave me a pale tabby kitten as a gift. One day I left for work, and returned home to find the kitten colored with bright orange stripes. I went around on a rampage looking for characters who might've spiked the cat food with neon dye. (As I read this I'm laughing at myself!)

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Interview Game

Here it is, long overdue. I guess it took Juned some time to come up with questions he could ask me. I found the Interview Game in Juned's blog, and he in turn found it in Dean Alfar's blog.

Juned asked me:

1. You are Cinderella. And you already have danced with the Prince for three nights and left your shoe at the stroke of midnight. The Prince then decides to search for his one true love. Several ladies try on the shoe but all fail. Now it's your turn. Then suddenly your stepsisters come in and try one the shoe. Your first sister tries it on and fails. Your second sister tries it and it's a perfect fit! No blood no problem a perfect fit. How do you feel and what will you do?

Her fitting the shoe does not stop me from trying it on. If it fits both of us, then I shall simply show the other shoe of the pair, thereby proving who I am. If my sister says I stole the other shoe from her then I will just simply show the dress I wore, and all the other accessories. I didn’t spend three nights dancing with my Prince for nothing.

2. If you were to present yourself as a food dish to five different people what would you be? Will it be the same for all?

I would be a Quattro Stagione (Four Seasons) pizza and serve it to the five different people. I like to be consistent. Since the pizza has four different flavored sections, each person would essentially be able to enjoy a pizza and yet be able to appreciate the different facets of my personality. And then when they talk to each other about the pizza, I'd know they'd be talking about ME.

3. If your High School life was to be a book what type of book would it be and which would be your character?

I loved science fiction and fantasy since high school, so I suppose I’d be Princess Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s “The Black Cauldron” (Newbery Award-winner in the “Chronicles of Prydain” series). Eilonwy’s not too big on the trappings of princess-dom, and is an intelligent and feisty character to boot. Not one of your wilting lilies.

4. It's the middle of the night and the phone rings you answer it. Who do you expect is calling? Who is the actual caller?

It’s probably my best friend, needing to talk. Who is the actual caller? Still my best friend, needing to talk. OR my mom coming home late from a dinner party and asking me to open the front door because she's forgotten her key when she changed bags.

5. Book or e-book what would you rather read?

I would rather read the actual book, paperback or hardcover. I love the feel of paper pages, and the fact that you can put the book down any time you want to and return to it later, without requiring an outside energy source. But if I own an e-book and enjoyed the story, I'd still look out for the paperback or hardcover version. There is something about relaxing in bed or in the corner of a comfy sofa reading a real book that really appeals to me. And did I mention I am near-sighted?

HERE ARE THE OFFICIAL RULES OF THE INTERVIEW GAME:

1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person’s will be different.
3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

If you don’t have a blog, I can still ask you 5 unique questions and you can post via email.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Perfumed Timelines

I was browsing in CNN.com today and came across this article about a UK designer working with scientists to produce “smart” clothing that can deliver scent to the wearer as the need arises. Jenny Tillotson thinks that one day fashionistas will be able to get their aromatherapy fix or pheromones direct from her prototype outfit, whose fabric is lined with tiny veins of perfume that activate upon changes in the wearer’s body temperature. They might want to wear it to attract lovers at a party, for instance – just think of the market for this! According to the article, through this technology, asthma sufferers will one day be able to get their Ventolin directly from their clothing. It’s odd, but the article also mentions that there might also one day develop a future military application for scented apparel (to throw off bloodhounds in pursuit?).

Tillotson’s favorite scent is that of a newborn baby, which she says lasts for only three weeks. When my sister gives birth in October I think I’ll take a deep whiff of the baby. One of my childhood friends loves the smell of a puppy’s milk breath; something about it brings out her maternal instincts. Two real good scents in my book would be coffee and baking bread; I’ve heard real estate agents in the US either make coffee or bake bread in houses they’re trying to sell, to project the sensation of “home”.

“Smell is the most primitive sense and can remind us of all sorts of early memories,” says Tillotson.

Let’s take a little look back at my history in scents: Joy by Jean Patou came in a tiny black bottle with a red lacquer stopper and reminds me of my mom when I was growing up (her present scent is Lancome's Tresor). My dad smelled of Old Spice aftershave back then (his present scent is Armani). [Side story: In college I asked a male friend, “You smell good, what is it?” He said, “Old Spice”. I remarked innocently, “I love that smell! Reminds me of my dad!” Alas, he blushed and never wore that scent again, as he wanted to smell more “dangerous” and therefore more attractive to girls.]

In high school girls either smelled of Johnson’s baby cologne, or of "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" shampoo or were wearing Sweet Honesty, an Avon product. The original Paco Rabanne scent reminds me of my college English professor in UP, who gave me a grade of 1.0. My first boyfriend smelled of baby powder (yum!). My second boyfriend, who had a leather jacket a la Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” and drove a restored 1967 Ford Mustang, wore Grey Flannel. He was more vain than I and always had scented hankies. He was the one who introduced me to the fragrance shampoo Finesse (which I still occasionally use). Then came an assortment of Spanish citrus-based colognes which every girl wore, namely Denenes, Baby Gal and Nenuco. Shortly after this there boomed a market for local body sprays, but I don’t remember the name of the brand. Then I received Ralph Lauren’s Lauren as a birthday gift, the one in the jewel-red square bottle with a gold stopper. I stayed with that for a year or so.

Next, the college party girls started wearing Christian Dior’s Poison (which to me smelled of “rich old woman” and wasn’t appropriate for girls our age). Then Drakkar came into fashion. In small doses it smelled great, but could smell toxic when you’re trapped in an elevator with a guy who's slapped it on in lieu of a shower. My third boyfriend wore a cedar-based aftershave from St. Michael (which I gave to him). Then someone gave me a tiny bottle of Givenchy’s Amarige, which I loved, and promptly lost on a trip to Baguio. After graduation I worked in garments retail management and went through a couple of little metal spray bottles of Gap Heaven and Dream. A few boyfriends later: Mr. Nicole Miller for Men smelled absolutely yummy, Mr. Hugo Boss Dark Blue inspired lust, but in the end it was Mr. Ralph Lauren Romance I loved most. I did ask for the nearly empty bottle of Nicole Miller and stowed it in my suitcase so my clothes would smell good. Although those relationships didn’t last, at least I remember the boyfriends smelled good, and I therefore can’t think badly of them (yes, I am too nice).

By the time I finished grad school I had gone through Tommy Girl and Clinique Happy (both gifts, I never bought my own scent even up to that point), so at the Duty Free Shop in Sydney I bought myself a small bottle of Estee Lauder’s Pleasures and one of Davidoff’s Cool Water Woman. Back in Manila there were days when I would walk through Rustan’s perfume section after work and get one of those Japanese paper cones sprayed with scent and put it in my bra so that my body warmth would spread the fragrance. I’d come in looking bedraggled and later walk around feeling like a million bucks.

At present I still wear Pleasures, it’s such a classic. I confess, at times when I feel low I sniff it in the bathroom like glue, after which I emerge feeling all right. I alternate that with The Body Shop’s Cotton White eau de toilette (another gift), which has a lovely clean freshness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Awaiting Rain

(for Preston Mark Stone who, in our Usenet days, kept encouraging me to keep writing)

Clouds stingy with rain gather over the restless city.
The monsoon is nearly upon us,
But not quite. The weather is a terrible
Tease, the odd drumbeats of thunder signifying
Nothing, yet. For an interminable while,
We are hostages to this pregnant gunmetal sky.

More than grasses have died,
Where there was no shade or where
There has spread an unintended fire.
Dry throats plague all travelers;
The roads need their dust tamped down.
The northern winds are late in coming, but
They can banish the still air that imprisons us
And this parched country. We quiver
With impatience, waiting
For the wash of water.

How reluctantly rain falls,
Flashing us now and then
With a lightning sneer,
As if we owed a debt to heaven
Impossible to repay.

We need the rising smell of
Moistened earth to call out the cicadas,
Whose song is the sound
Of the monsoon announcing that
A cool twilight has finally come.

25 May 2005

Copyright Pomona Caccam. All rights reserved.

T S T A

My closest friends and I have been together most of our lives. Half of them are in Manila, and the other half are overseas. We keep in touch via yahoogroup, where correspondence can be on any topic from the quality of Darna starlet Angel Locsin's skin to NBA games to world politics to virgin coconut oil. In fact we're averaging about 1000 posts a month! Another friend of mine (from college) is including us as subjects in her masteral thesis on "Computer-Aided Interpersonal Communication".

Lately the guys were dredging up the names of women in their past, just for fun of course (their wives have access to the yahoo group as well). At a certain point in the email exchange, someone invoked, "TSTA!"

TSTA - Thou Shalt Tell All

When TSTA is invoked, one has to tell the other person the truth. When one chooses not to, the other person can invoke, "TSTATA!"

TSTATA - Thou Shalt Tell All To All

This time the person is required to tell everyone the topic at hand. When he/she demurs, everyone is free to invoke, "TSTATAAT!"

TSTATAAT - Thou Shalt Tell All To All At All Times

This puts the person on the hot seat, and he/she has to tell everyone everything.

There never has been any malice attached to TSTA, mostly mischief and curiosity. This is a measure of how close we are as friends, all embarrassing truths render us equal to each other. The counterpoint to this is that we should not judge each other, because we all have our idiosyncracies, and who is to say we are better than the next guy? Of course now we are more mature we hardly invoke TSTA, we usually wait for the person to volunteer the information. It's not that we don't have any privacy from each other, it's more like we're family enough to accept each other for what we are.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Execution Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was in an office building with a group of people. Suddenly there was an explosion outside, so we all ran to the balcony window to see what was happening. There were armed men in the courtyard, in military camouflage. They ran up the stairs to the room we were in, and announced that we were all political hostages. They made demands over a cell phone and announced they would be killing one hostage soon.

They picked me. I was frightened and my mouth felt dry. They took me to the balcony and made me kneel down, and then they shot me in the back of the head. Before they shot me I was thinking, "I hope this isn't going to hurt."

Oddly enough, I felt the cold entry of the bullet, and nothing else. It felt like my consciousness shattered into millions of pieces, parts of me becoming shining fritillaries being showered across the universe, and then coming back together again. I was still me, but only in spirit. Then I looked at everyone in the room I had just left. They were all pale with fear. My consciousness went over to each one, trying to see if I could communicate with them after death.

I found my ex-boyfriend A. in the room and waved my hand in front of his face. He frowned and shifted his eyes from left to right. It was like he could almost see me. I tried talking to him telepathically, and it felt like my broken up thoughts were entering his brain much like white noise. Then I saw a tear roll down his face, and I thought, "I knew you'd miss me."

Monday, May 16, 2005

Weather With You


It was with some shock that I read online about Crowded House drummer Paul Hester's suicide by hanging in a Melbourne Park last March. I had a similar shock reading about INXS frontman Michael Hutchence's suicide several years ago. It's sad when talent leaves the world that way, abruptly.

I've been a Crowdie since "Don't Dream It's Over" hit the US Billboard Charts at No. 2 in 1986. Recently I completed my Crowded House mp3's (both studio and live tracks), and came up with a playlist of my favorite 21 tracks from across four of their albums (Crowded House, Temple of Low Men, Woodface and Together Alone). Their music has been alternately described as pop, folk-rock and blues. I love the energetic and soulful guitar on most of these tracks, and I always find myself unconsciously singing backup to Neil Finn's amazing vocals. Been playing it over and over; if you ask me, it's the kind of music I'd bring with me to a desert island:

1. Don't Dream It's Over
2. Something So Strong
3. Mean To Me
4. I Walk Away
5. Now We're Getting Somewhere
6. Tombstone
7. World Where You Live
8. I Feel Possessed
9. When You Come
10. Into Temptation
11. Distant Sun
12. Private Universe
13. It's Only Natural
14. Fall At Your Feet
15. Whispers & Moans
16. Four Seasons In One Day
17. Fame Is
18. As Sure As I Am
19. How Will You Go
20. She Goes On
21. Weather With You

Naturally, I've also been collecting Neil Finn's solo work ("Try Whistling This" and "One Nil"). I love his voice, the same way I love Paul McCartney's and Paul Young's voices. I'm not the first one to note the Beatles vibe; one reviewer on Amazon.com says, "Neil Finn has a McCartneyesque gift for melody and a Lennonesque gift for lyrics." Imagine, for example, The Beatles' "Blackbird", segueing to Crowded House's "Into Temptation".

Crowded House's strongest album, in my opinion, is "Woodface". My favorite lyrics come from "Mean To Me":

So I talked to you for an hour
In the bar of a small town motel
And you asked me what I was thinking
I was thinking of a padded cell
With a black and white TV
To stop us from getting lonely

Crowded House remains underrated and tagged unfairly (outside of Australia and New Zealand) as an '80s band. I beg to differ; the songs in my playlist always sound fresh and undated, except possibly for "Don't Dream It's Over" (as a result of its relatively heavier airplay, because it's such a classic). They also performed really well live. I believe they could've been managed and promoted better in the US, but then that's moot. They broke up way back in 1996, holding a mammoth farewell concert in Australia, and releasing their greatest hits album "Recurring Dream". Fortunately Neil Finn has gone from strength to strength in his solo career.

My favorite songs? The heartbreaking "Better Be Home Soon", the romantic "She Goes On", the atmospheric "Private Universe" and of course the anthem "Weather With You".

Friday, May 13, 2005

Personal Geographic

Joy that was, the time
When I was blind, and blinded
Times over to all that warning senses
And the known world's boundaries
Had ever taught, that plain sight
Never could, completely.
And so I embarked to diligently map
The rough terrain of your
Uncharted country.

I had fallen and drowned, and was
Wrapped in the winding sheet of
Love which was a kind of death
From all life's tiresome etiquette,
Yet was reborn for a time
To walk in beauty and in music,
In the book for whose pages
We continually hungered.

I can never travel there again,
Where once we walked invisible
Among the real lives of others, though
Time and its easy way of
Erasing the paths of previous explorations
Reluctantly allows me every
Ghost of you.

It is another life to which I have
Awakened. The protocols of duty,
Their continuance, now consume me,
What was left of the fires
Even we could not extinguish.

After taking stock of all
My memory's possessions,
I grant the braille of your lips to be
The most indelible, having read them
Repeatedly, then, with all
My exposed and secret skins.

23 January 1995

Copyright Pomona Caccam. All rights reserved.

And Here My Troubles Began


In the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading a series of different graphic novels, from Tristan's personal collection. This included the classic definitive Batman comic "The Dark Knight Returns", "Sin City" (soon to be a motion picture starring Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and the very dishy Clive Owen), the drama-filled "Watchmen" (about a group of costumed crimefighters contemplating their obsolescence, quite a period piece), and the whimsical yet literary "Moonshadow" (dreamy watercolors and witty, thought-provoking dialogue). I love comics and graphic novels, but I'm not a collector or such a rabid fan that I know all the names of the writers and artists and be able to compare them like fine wines. I simply like what I like, and what stirred my heart was reading Art Spiegelman's "Maus".

The "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" series is made up of two volumes, "My Father Bleeds History" and "And Here My Troubles Began". The latter volume won a special Pulitzer Prize, and with good reason. There's a story within a story: Art Spiegelman struggles to tell the story of how his father Vladek and his mother Anja survived Auschwitz, while coming to terms with his ragged relationship with the obsessive-compulsive Vladek in Rego Park, New York. All the Jews are portrayed as mice, and the Nazis as cats, and other nationalities as other animals. Think of the food chain. The frightening aptness of these representations, in black and white, only heighten the drama of the story. The dialogue is also worth mentioning. I guess I've watched too many tv dramas/comedies portraying cantankerous yet affectionate, aged Jewish fathers, but while reading "Maus" I can distinctly visualize Walter Matthau, talking like Einstein.

Spiegelman's artwork is so honest and raw, you can see where the ink is so agitatedly applied to the page. I found myself strongly affected by two particular scenes: the one where Vladek organizes a belt and shoes for a friend in Auschwitz, and the one where Art and Vladek argue about matches in the Catskills. In these scenes we see Vladek the survivor, and the older Vladek who never quite gets out of survival mode.

Witness the virtuoso play of irritation, stubbornness, impatience, and somehow, affection in the following exchange. In a perverse sort of way, it's funny and painful at the same time:

Vladek: -- ARTIE! WHAT DO YOU DO?!!

Art: Huh? I'm just lighting my cigarette…

Vladek: Better you shouldn't smoke: For YOU it's terrible, and for ME, with my shortness of breath, it's also no good to be NEAR… But if ANYWAY you're smoking, please don't use from me my WOODEN matches. I don't have left so many, and already to make COFFEE you used one. Only to light the OVEN I use them. These wood matches I have to BUY! The paper matches I can have FREE from the lobby of the Pines Hotel.

Art: JEEZ! I'll buy you a whole BOX of wooden matches!

Vladek: It isn't necessary. At home our oven is automatic, and here I'm staying only 15 more days. And I have still 50 matches left. How many matches can I use?…

Art: What a MISER! I can't take any more. I'm going out for air!

Vladek (to Francoise): Always Artie is NERVOUS -- so like his mother -- she also was nervous.

Art (outside on the patio): Bah.

To those looking for a different kind of read, I highly recommend both volumes of "Maus". Reading both volumes is a MUST, otherwise the experience is incomplete. "Maus" is a very human, intimate and yet heroic work that treats the history of tragedy and the triumph of survival in a very different way, becoming powerful literature beyond "plain comics", that bears reading again and again.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Project Gutenberg

You gotta love Project Gutenberg. It archives out-of-copyright works, in text or html or zip format. This means Public Domain works, which may or may not be out of print. The Project's goal was to "give away ONE TRILLION e-text files by December 31, 2001." They're way, way ahead of that now. You can search by author.

Anyhow, I was able to collect the whole Andrew Lang-edited Coloured Fairy Books (Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Pink, Brown, Lilac, Orange)! As well as the Celtic, Dutch, English, Irish, Indian, Japanese and Welsh Fairy Tales books! And the complete L. Frank Baum "Oz" series books! These works may be available for sale at Amazon.com or at your friendly neighborhood bookstore, but thanks to Project Gutenberg, I can enjoy them now, for free. My sister is giving birth in October, there'll be fairy tales enough when the kid is born.

I'm so thrilled, because when I was growing up, I was reading The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy, the Comtesse de Segur, Howard Pyle, Hans Christian Andersen, Wanda Gag, Maurice Sendak... in short, the classics. We were fortunate that our elementary school library was rather well-stocked in those days.

Once, at work, ten years ago, my officemates and I were discussing the just-released Disney movie "The Little Mermaid". The original story was much, much better, I told them. They had never read it; I spent a fifteen-minute coffee break in the retelling. So much of it had been Disney-fied that the drama and the pathos, and the Christian morality behind the story was lost.

"What the little mermaid really wanted," I said, "was a soul. Mermaids lived for hundreds of years, but at the end of their lives, they turned into foam on the water. Humans had souls, even though their lives were much shorter. In order to gain a soul, the little mermaid had to become human, to walk on two legs, to meet a man and fall in love, to marry and live a human lifespan. Once, during a storm, she managed to save a Prince's life. She fell in love with him and hoped to gain her soul. She went to the Sea Witch for a potion that would turn her tail into legs. In exchange she had to give the Sea Witch the most precious thing she possessed -- her voice. So the Sea Witch tore out her tongue, and she could neither speak nor sing.

"The Prince discovered her one day, naked, near his castle. Alas, she couldn't talk and tell him about her love. The only way she could win his attention at court was to dance for him. He had no idea that every time she danced she had to suffer the pain of knives cutting into her feet. The Prince loved her for her grace, but he wasn't in love with her. He was actually in love with a princess that had found him washed up on the beach after the storm. He thought she was the one that had saved his life. And so he arranged to marry that princess.

"The night before the wedding, the little mermaid's sisters appeared near the shore, calling to her. All their long beautiful hair had been hacked off, to pay the Sea Witch in exchange for a dagger. The little mermaid was to kill the Prince with this dagger before dawn, so she could wipe her legs with his blood and turn back into a mermaid. The little mermaid loved the Prince so much, she couldn't kill him. So as the sun's rays began to hit her, she could feel herself turn into foam. But at that moment God took pity on her, and turned her into a Spirit of the Air so she could earn her soul, and thereby everlasting life." When I finished telling the tale, some of them wanted to look for a Hans Christian Andersen book immediately. I told them to look for one whose "Little Mermaid" text begins with a description of the sea being "a blue like that of cornflowers."

(transferred from the original Personal Geographic blog. I elected to lose the comments.)