Friday, November 27, 2009

Poem: Thanks


by W. S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

[Many thanks to Mai Tatoy, who posted this on Facebook in this,
one of our nation's darkest hours.]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Memories of a Forgotten War

The photo above is of a film shown on a curved screen - part of the Lopez Museum's curved spaces which lead viewers toward areas of its current exhibit, Deleted Scenes, that deserve special attention. The exhibit's theme deals with information on the fringes of Filipinos' knowledge and awareness of history, as depicted in arts and literature - the things that are easily forgotten. The bench can only seat up to four persons, but that's how intimate the Lopez Museum is - four of us invited bloggers were soon riveted to the scenes before us.

Memories of a Forgotten War (2001)
is a short film directed and co-produced by Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena and Camilla Benolirao Griggers. It is also a family affair, with writing and design contributions from sisters and fellow artists Gabriela Krista Lluch Dalena and Aba Lluch Dalena. Writing credits are shared by Gabriela Krista Dalena, Camilla Griggers and Lilia Quindoza-Santiago.

The war in this case is the Philippine-American war (1899-1902). People are aware of it only as street names or landmarks, such as Pinaglabanan Bridge ("the bridge fought over"), but are no longer aware of their stories. We remember that the Spanish-American war ended with Spain selling its colony to the US for a mere USD 20 million. People remember only vaguely that there was a time during the First Philippine Republic that Filipinos resisted the control of its new colonial master, and its policy of Manifest Destiny. What we remember is our Liberation from the Japanese Occupation by American forces in World War II, the glamor of Hollywood, and the now hollow claim that we speak the best English in Asia, thanks to them.

This movie takes the national and makes it personal. The film unfolds with the narrator (Griggers, a Filipino-American college professor) retracing her Filipino roots in an attempt to establish her sense of identity. As the American daughter of a Filipino-American mother, she was not merely searching for answers about why she and her mother were not acknowledged by her American grandfather. She asked the questions, "What makes me American?", "What makes me Filipino?", and most importantly, "Why do I need to know this for myself?" It's a common story being asked by the people around the world whose countries are former colonies of imperial powers, that have since become ethnic melting pots.

This search is the framework for a point of view of Philippine history not commonly known, or shared. The marriage between the narrator's grandmother and grandfather has a parallel story to the colonial takeover of the Philippines by the United States. It's not as romantic as you'd like to think. War never is.

I did not know, for instance, that there was a mass murderer named Gen. Jacob Hurd Smith who ordered the Balangiga Massacre in Samar, who made sure his army had a "take no prisoners" approach, killing everyone, even children old enough to carry a weapon. Insurgency was a natural result of Smith's actions and orders.

I did not know, also, that American colonial troops massacred a thousand Muslims in the volcanic crater at Bud Dajo, Jolo, Mindanao.

I wanted to weep, as our narrator's gentle voice became somewhat stern, matter-of-fact and condemning as she described it. But this is what happens in war. People get drunk with power. People die. Does it make me angry? Only for the moment, because this happened over a hundred years ago. Why do we not know these things? I know there was a movie made of the Balangiga massacre, but I did not watch it. Maybe I should. I want to know why the Balangiga bells are still being kept as war booty in the US and not returned to the Philippines. They are part of OUR history. There is an interesting book out, by Rolando Borrinaga, The Balangiga Conflict Revisited.

History is written by the victors (and the powerful). All this unpleasantness of war has led to attempts to rewrite history. Despite overwhelming evidence, some people still claim that the Holocaust never existed. Or that the world is flat. So what is real? What is true? One needs to see other points of view in history, to best appreciate it.

Sari Dalena's film is so apt for the Deleted Scenes exhibit. After watching it, you will be forced to ask yourself: "Who am I?", "What do I know?" and "Why do I want to know?"

Deleted Scenes runs at the Lopez Museum from November 12, 2009 to January 9, 2010. The Lopez Memorial Museum is at G/F Benpres Building, Exchange Road corner Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City. For more information, you may call them at (632) 631-2417, or email them at The Lopez Museum is also on Facebook. Become a fan today!

Lunch at Kiss The Cook Cafe

I don't do reviews because people ask me to. I only review if I find the venue and the dining a convivial experience. Yes, Waya Araos is my friend, but I did check the reviews of other Facebook friends before taking my parents to her restaurant Kiss The Cook Cafe for a Sunday lunch.

Here's my dad, itching to pour the Passionfruit Cooler (carafe contents are good for 3 persons) but waiting patiently for me to take my photo. There's a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint in there, and that touch adds a smile to my face (added a dimension to the flavor, too). Very refreshing!

The chicken in this Thai Chicken Salad with Mango is grilled, skinless, but flavorful! There is something spicy at the end of one's mouthful that I can't identify. Two different colored lettuces and tiny gherkin cucumbers make it look pretty. Those long sprouts look like alfalfa. Quite good, can be a meal for one, or great to share.

This is the Moroccan Fish Fillet, a dish of pan-fried dory. A balanced meal on the plate. Fried crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, salting was just right. I don't know exactly what makes it Moroccan, but it tasted good. Maybe it's the olives and the citrus bits scattered on top. In hotels people usually get the thickish slab of fish fillets, but here you have the pretty slab stacked on the little fried bits towards the tail, and lemme tell you, the crunchy bits are yummy! The rice had green sprinkles that looked like powdered nori on top (for umami of the natural, non-crystalline kind).

This probably looks like the average panini with a side salad. However, the ciabatta bread in this panini is a lovely crusty BIG square cut into triangles. Most panini are served in smaller, narrower shapes. The filling is button mushrooms sauteed with chopped white onions and made tastily aromatic with truffle oil, and thin slices of cheese (unspecified, looks like ordinary but real cheddar). Truffle oil is the ingredient that sets this apart from your usual mushroom and cheese sandwich. Truffle oil makes this a fine dining mushroom melt!

And to finish, we had not one, but TWO panna cottas: Mango with Honey, and Espresso. Both are well-flavored, and sweet, but not too sweet. You get the acid of the mango tamed by the honey, and you taste the full flavor of the espresso.

There were three of us sharing this meal, and it was so good that the waiter was pleased to see our empty plates. My dad was shocked to see that the bill for 3 persons was only Php750! PhP250 per head is good for when you want to want to go out on a date or when you want the girlfriends over for a chat. The place is relatively quiet, with discreet jazz or instrumentals playing in the background. You can actually talk with your companions. The restroom is outside the airconditioned area, where there is a little patio/terrace shaded by a fruiting langka tree, for those who smoke or want to have drinks and laughter.

Would I return? Definitely, because I still have to taste the Five-Spice Spare Ribs. And the pasta with the mushrooms and the truffle oil (yes, I now have a thing for truffle oil).

Recommended attire for meals is smart casual. Prices include 12% VAT but there is no service charge. Am not sure if they accept credit cards yet as they just opened some weeks ago, but they do give senior citizen discounts. There are usually two servers at any given time, and while relatively inexperienced, they serve you correctly and quietly. We gave ours a good tip, for we had dined well, and were feeling happily indestructible after our lunch.

Kiss The Cook Cafe is located at 59 Maginhawa St., UP Village, QC, in front of Holy Family School. For inquiries, please call
tel. 434-3700 or 0926-7003979.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

DELETED SCENES at the Lopez Museum

"My grandmother never told me these stories."
- Angel Velasco Shaw

A few days ago I had the good fortune to be invited by my friend, museum worker Ricky Francisco, to join a group of bloggers on their tour of the Lopez Museum. For those who have heard of it but have no idea where it is, it's at the ground floor of Benpres Building in Ortigas Center, opposite BPI. The Lopez Museum has an excellent research library, as well as a premium collection of Filipino artworks and historical artifacts. Visitors would be surprised to realize how intimate its exhibit space is, and for exhibits like Deleted Scenes this intimacy works.

Deleted Scenes
(which runs from Nov. 12, 2009 to Jan. 9, 2010) is the Lopez Museum's participation in Zero In, an alliance of Metro Manila museums that share a common exhibit theme running simultaneously. The current theme, "Periphery", deals with information on the fringes of one's consciousness, everything on the edges of what is common knowledge that is often disregarded. In her notes curator Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez says, "This exhibition quite simply began with a question: what do I not know? Or what do I stumble upon just on the perchance that I have the time (and certainly the interest) to spare to look up what has been intentionally left out from what will get to me?... Deleted Scenes modestly explores such omissions both in pictorial and literary accounts of national history as well as in purported narratives hinged on representation that a museum such as the Lopez hesitatingly but inordinately lays out." Co-curator, artist Claro Ramirez, designed the spaces to best reflect this concept.

Featured artists include Lyle Buencamino, Dada Docot, Sari Dalena and Al Manrique. However, also on display are works currently in the museum collection, such as those by Danilo Dalena and BenCab. But mostly what were displayed had never before been exhibited, as intellectual significance and logistical concerns usually determine what goes into the final cut. In our guided tour, Ricky Francisco explained that for years only museum workers had ever viewed the late Social Realist Al Manrique's sketchbooks which contained his powerfully raw art because exhibiting them would have created political repression, both for the artist and the museum. They languished in storage until exhibiting them had become relevant and eye-opening.

Charcoal pencil sketch of striking workers.
Untitled, by
Al Manrique.

It was a unique experience to be allowed to handle and photograph the sketchbooks. This is part of the intimacy that the Lopez Museum allows the visitors to experience, as viewing the work promotes a visceral reaction. Beside the two sketchbooks (one had editorial cartoons/sketches in pen and ink) was a box of latex medical gloves, so visitors could turn the pages without damaging the artwork. We were also instructed not to use flash photography for the same reason.

Ricky Francisco
explains the book installation, as Digital Filipino's Janette Toral takes a closer look.
With us were bloggers Azrael Coladilla and Arvin Ello.

These books had always been part of the Lopez Museum Library, but because the subject matters were foreign and quite diverse, they had never previously fit into any conceivable theme, until now. One interesting set contained the documented proceedings of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials!

The exhibit not only covers visual art, but leads one from paintings to cinema. This bridging triptych, "No Fighting In The Museum", "Removing Subject Matter From Painting" and "Scene from Garrison 13" depicting 3 cut scenes from various LVN productions, is by Lyle Buencamino. One commonly asked question for works of this type is, "If you painted it from a photo, does that count as art?" If an artist selected the scene that had the impact and portrayed the details in his chosen style, I'd say yes. If Buencamino hadn't chosen these scenes to paint, would we have seen them? I think not.

"Soldiers (Heroes of the Past)" by BenCab. A familiar painting, but the subject matter anchors together some forgotten or little-known details in Philippine history.

Ricky points out a very interesting book, a kind of Rosetta Stone translation of various Philippine scripts / syllabaries. Did you know, for instance, that the alibata or baybayin script as we know it today is only ONE of the many
modes of Indo-Sanskrit-derived Philippine handwriting? As we can see, the Lopez Museum not only has artworks, but valuable research aids available to visitors, whether students or professionals.

One last image I'd like you to consider is this piece of imperialistic propaganda, "Uncle Sam: I Didn't Know I Liked Melon So Well" (Judge, July 16, 1898). It depicts the very sort of thing Mark Twain was debating against (yes, Mark Twain was a great friend to the Philippines):

I'm going back - to view Dada Docot's documentary, and to write about it. I did say the Lopez Museum is an intimate viewing space, but there is so much in this exhibit that is worth looking at more closely.

I'm also writing another blog entry on Sari Dalena's film, "Memories of a Forgotten War" next. (Which war, you ask? Why, the Philippine-American War. There was a tragic time at the turn of the old century, when the Filipinos resisted a change in colonial rulers, and suffered greatly. Given our lifestyles today, this is something that many no longer remember, nor choose to remember.)

The Lopez Museum gives us that rare gift, of opening our eyes not only to what is before us, but also to what is around us that is easily taken for granted.

Deleted Scenes runs at the Lopez Museum from November 12, 2009 to January 9, 2010. The Lopez Memorial Museum is at G/F Benpres Building, Exchange Road corner Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City. For more information, you may call them at (632) 631-2417, or email them at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Auntie & Lilo

Your daily dose of cuteness! Here's a raw video of me and my niece a couple of years ago , taken from the webcam on my Mac.

Auntie & Lilo from Mona Caccam on Vimeo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Blessing of the Old Woman, The Tulip and The Dog

The Blessing of the Old Woman, The Tulip and The Dog is an interesting poem by Alicia Suskin Ostriker which can be found here, on Poetry Daily. Click on the photo to go to the poem's link directly. I love its simplicity.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Omnivore Galore

Today a few foodie-related things took place, which cheered me up no end.

My sister's stovetop espresso maker, a single-serve pot, resurfaced after 12 years! She bought the espresso maker, an Italian brand, when she was still single. After she got married it was lost in storage, until we had some major spring cleaning (due to typhoon relief and general de-cluttering). I finally learned how to make espresso - with warnings to keep my eye on the pot, as the process took all of three quick minutes.

Let me tell you, the smell was fantastic. I warmed up some low-fat milk in a Pyrex measuring cup and with the resulting espresso I made my very own latte! And I got a really lovely full- bodied flavor from the espresso, better than if I had used my usual coffee press method! I drink coffee more for pleasure than for the caffeine high, so this morning ritual is perfect for me (now that I wake up early).

My sister returned from Santi's delicatessen before lunch with a huge bag of sundried tomatoes. I can foresee a lot of yummy pasta in our near future!

Later this afternoon, our maid returned from maternity leave. She came from my mom's home town in Negros bearing three products we requested from my uncle: San Enrique rock salt (a really lovely salt for cooking), guinamos (lightly salted fresh tiny shrimp used as a condiment and seasoning for many foods) and batuan (a green fruit the size of a pingpong ball, sour enough to flavor our sinigang).

And this concludes my happy foodie day :) I hope your day has been tasty as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Things To Be Thankful For

After a spate of national disasters and personal and professional difficulties, it's about time to be thankful for things (in no particular order):

1) Supportive family members - even though they drive you crazy at times you can't deny having them solidly behind all of our endeavors is a support system that can't be beat.

2) Friends who know when to listen, when to commiserate, when to say nothing, when to whup your ass when you're feeling so sorry for yourself you can't make a move in any direction, and best of all those who know how to make you laugh!!!

3) Having a cute and perky little niece running around the house making me smile because she's the Queen of our Universe.

4) Fountain pens, inks, stationery and snail mail pals. And my FPN-P group who are afflicted with the same madness!

5) TDM who thinks my creative efforts re books and poetry are worth pursuing. Who takes his geekiness and mine and puts them together in a working gadget. One of my inspirations. And for being a rock when I'm feeling like an emotional tsunami.

6) Online means of keeping up with my REAL friends (my classmates, the ones whom I grew up with, who share my interests and hobbies, those who actually reply instead of just forwarding emails, the ones who care about when I've been sick or missing, who pray for me or who just enjoy my real and virtual company, etc. etc. etc.)

7) Books! Blank or full of poetry or fiction. Thanks for keeping my attention engaged and for helping put me to sleep at the prescribed time.

8) Coffee. Tea. Bacon.

9) Music - right now I'm listening to Andrew Strong's soul album, "Out of Time"

10) The fact that my wrist is healed and I can knit again! Whee!!!!

Ten is good for today. There'll be more soon :D Have YOU thought about what to be thankful for? Take the time, adds years to your life.