Friday, July 27, 2007

can the dawn be this bland?

The jeep sped through so fast the trees lining the highway melted into one long greenish blur. The horizon was bleeding purple streaks. Several kilometers down, Manila was still twinkling with specs of white light against a background of black mud. The smog hovering above it made the city seem less carnal. Everything tends to look so calm from this vantage point. Even a lynch mob would look like a quiet throng of termites going about their normal routine when viewed from above. No excitement whatsoever. No passion. No histrionics. No drama.

The skies were slowly blushing pinks and purples as the sun agonizingly tore its way up, ever so slowly. Carbon monoxide perfumed the cool air with mystery and hate. The houses along the highway slip by like insignificant weeks. Weeks that are littered by unrealized dreams and shelved projects that eventually decay in my closet, weakly wagging their tails for attention. I have long stopped keeping track of events because it keeps me boxed. The memories of which keep on sauntering back like they wanted to hang out with me.

I cannot say that I am dejected nor can I claim that I am ecstatic, like this delicious dawn. This feeling doesn't even come close to ennui. Such ambivalence can eat up the soul. It is infinitely better to feel some strong emotion, any emotion, and wallow in it than feel the silence of undecided thoughts. The soothing calmness that comes before a tidal wave can be unnerving. It kills more ferociously than the wave ever could. I do have some minor distractions, pinches of excitement, and slight surprises. But as a whole, the days just breeze by and I float with them, disemboweled, an ordinary tree lining the highway, smugly content in melting away into a greenish blur against a horizon that has just spit out a young, clueless sun.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

scales and arpeggios

I had my first piano lesson last Sunday. And I never thought it would be that stressful. It was not because of the teacher. No, she wasn't Helga the Barbarian with thick-rimmed glasses, stiffly coiffed hair, ill-fitting dentures, and a long-sleeved blouse with ruffles on the cuffs. And she didn't have a stick to whack my fingers with. She was just wearing a tight-fitting shirt and an extremely short pair of shorts. Appropriately so. It was a blazing late afternoon. Dust particles lay suspended in the rays of the sun dilating through her apartment windows. None of these rays reached the bench upon which I was sitting. The upright grand was tucked in a tiny air-conditioned cubicle below the stairs. Inside that box, I labored hard to get those damn arpeggios right. And that was the source of all my stress.

My main problem was incorrect fingering, which she identified right away. She told me to work on legato passages and be sensitive to the emotion in a musical phrase. Every phrase, like in spoken language, starts with an uphill surge which climaxes into a passionate summit and then goes downhill again, which she called the “decay.” Now that's something I could really use.

Years ago, there was a piano teacher who came to our house to teach my nephews. I asked her if she could give me lessons, too. She willingly agreed but she wanted to hear me play first. So I sat and played Beethoven for her. After nervously listening to me, she said she couldn't possibly teach me because I played “too well” for her. She recommended another piano teacher, “the maestro”she called him, who could handle advanced students. Of course I never got to meet this maestro and my nephews never got to learn how to play.

Last Sunday was the first time I actually sat up for a lesson. It was comforting to know that my teacher knows what she's talking about. I had watched her play with an orchestra during her graduation recital. Her execution is clean, her notes distinct. I said to myself that if ever I would formally study the instrument, it would have to be under her. Her eyes lit up as she spoke about the pieces she would give me. She tossed some names: Bach, Mozart, Espino, Mendelssohn, and perhaps Chopin. She was already contemplating on making me play a full Haydn sonata. Just thinking about it overwhelms me. That afternoon, she made me play something from Hanon's Exercises for the Virtouso Pianist. She skipped the first 49 pieces and asked me to go straight to Exercise Number 50. This book only has sixty progressively difficult technical exercises. My poor fingers got confused with the alternating thirds, but I think I managed to pull it off. And then came the annoying scales. It was so confusing I felt like I was playing the piano for the first time. I can't believe I had studied complicated pieces on my own before and I can't even finger the scales right. She was patient enough to guide me through it, sometimes touching my hand, her rough palm grazing against the back of my hand; sometimes humming the melody which I needed to distinctly pluck out of the clutter of the arpeggio lines. If the room weren't heavily air conditioned, my armpits would've sweated a river. She asked me to study Daquin's Le Coucou as my homework. You have to follow the correct fingering, she said, otherwise you won't be able to play it well. We would also have some advanced Czerny exercises and more scales next time.

I excitedly went home that night and practiced until midnight, the prospect of playing a Haydn sonata titillating my ego.


Friday, July 20, 2007

sometimes i become a god

I need alcohol.

When my brain throbs with pain, I know at once that my dendrites are supplicating to the gods for wine. The lambanog (native conconut wine) cocktail a colleague prepared last Friday finished off a long workweek with a bang. By the time the concoction ran out, fireworks were already shooting in my head and my bladder was discharging yellowish excesses by the bucket. I need that. Yet again. Especially now that my head pulsates like an sex organ yearning for fornication without a condom.

I'm not alcoholic. Far from it. Prior to the binge last Friday, I hadn't had anything to drink for a long time. I just love the sensation of getting drunk. Not crawling, bring-out-the-leather-whip-and-handcuffs drunk. Just moderately drunk. I'd like to keep things in moderation. Anything in excess deadens the mind. And mine has died a couple of times before. There's no need for repeated agonies. I'm compassionate like that. I let the worms I saw in my avocado yesterday inch away like free citizens, ready to infest another fruit or some leftover pizza in the garbage bin. I dared not kill them even though they decided to make their presence felt at the most opportune time, after I had already finished half of the damn fruit. It is their nature to burrow their slimy bodies into fruits and cause screams from the squeamish. What right have I to end their existence just because my mind has been conditioned to regard them as hideously revolting? Only gods can be that cruel. And I am no god. Not yet, anyway. I am a mere mortal whose brain longs for the promise of vodka.

Priests are so lucky they get to drink on the job and nobody gives a hoot about it. I haven't seen a Catholic priest in a mass for quite some time. A friend once lamented that she hadn't gone to church for a month. I said I haven't sat through a church service for over eleven years now. She, and the rest of my friends, laughed. They probably thought I was kidding. And I cannot blame them. In this country, to go against the grain is to get ostracized. Freak. Weird. Demonic. Heretic. I've been called several names before. None of them stuck. My complex spirit cannot be pigeonholed, nor can it be dampened by comments floating from the wastelands of parochialism. It can only be drenched by tequila until its filmy clothes cling onto its body like leeches. Imagine my bliss when I went to Europe and found out that everyone else, including those with stinky armpits, thought like I did! And they regularly had wine for dinner. Even the school canteen I usually ate at served Beaujolais, albeit not the best kind. I bet that's how heaven will be like, wine gushing forth from streams while naked people cavort in wild abandon by its banks. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, of which I am an official member, describes heaven as having a huge beer volcano and a stripper factory. No wonder cherubims have paunches and archangels have dreamy eyes. But I don't dig beer that much. I was told wine doesn't give you a paunch. That's why I'm all for it. It merely chips off shame and drowns out logical thoughts until you're ready to take your pen and write sacred texts. But I go way beyond that when I am drunk. I become god incarnate, magnanimous and vengeful, silently surveying the mortals as they busy themselves in their inconsequential lives, mildly disturbed that they don't care being watched at all even as they go through the dull rituals of foreplay, each thinking of cheating on the other until their hearts beat in rhythm with the throbbing of their brains, their dendrites supplicating to me for just a drop of wine, which I willingly dispense like piss toward a yawning urinal. And then I'm left alone, with my own throbbing temples and supplicating dendrites, still in front of my computer wasting valuable time writing this stupid post.

I need alcohol.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

cow dung, human feces, dog shit

I sink deep into the couch, its faux leather notwithstanding. I instantly become drowsy. I only slept two hours this morning, half of which was spent chasing hopping clocks on stilts in a surreal dream. I’m not sure if I still have the strength to masticate the ham sandwich I have just ordered. I don’t eat pork and they don’t have salad. A ham sandwich with bits of wilting lettuce is the best compromise, which, by the way, is something that I seem to be doing more often as I grow old—compromising, not eating ham sandwiches. It’s a siphon that sucks out one’s essence until one becomes ordinarily bland and inane like a soap opera.

I bury my body deeper into the comforts of the black, cheap leather, which faintly smells of dried sweat and fossilized conversations over coffee. You suggest I formally take piano lessons. I’ve long been thinking of that. My brother issued post dated checks for that when I was a kid. I rejected them all, partly because of my arrogance (I studied solfège on my own at the age of 13 and played the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at 15), partly because the damn checks couldn’t even cover half of the tuition. You suggest I contact your friend who is taking her master’s degree in Piano. I might just give it a try, like all the other things I have tried without actually knowing the grimy consequences. I need more of that, stuff that don’t give me a clear vision of what lies ahead. Risks can submerge my head into a well full of liquefied cow dung, human feces, and dog shit. Alluring. Sensuous. Nauseating. And in the process, I come out refreshed. The mind discards rust when challenged with something hideous and banal.

My teeth, braces and all, hurt at every bite of the sandwich. I should’ve settled for just a glass of iced tea, but even that cannot irrigate my arid throat. How come we’ve never visited this coffee shop before, I ask. You mention that you have just found out about it. This place is so shabby yet comfy, I comment. The paint peels off from the walls lined with tacky mirrors like it were some disproportionate motel room. The overhead speakers blare cheap music from a popular FM station with a crass DJ. The ordinariness of it all magnetizes me. I know I have hated the ordinary all my life, because I thought I wasn’t ordinary until I saw that I had the same appendages as everyone else and my spinal column does not support wings. Everyone is entitled to delusions of grandeur at least once in their lives. And vegetarians should also eat ham sandwiches when coffeeshops have run out of salads. I like this place, you say. You say something else but my mind drifts slowly into a filmy world of floating carcasses. I hear nothing but the last few discordant chords of the piped-in music.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

the night my balls shot out of my mouth

If I hadn't stayed up all night to watch four episodes of Rome and three of Heroes, we wouldn't be speeding along the highway like crazy, my father getting irritated as I egged him on to drive faster so I'd get to the office without another tardiness record. His normal driving speed is slightly faster than a hearse at a funeral procession. This was way above his personal speed limit.

I did want to sleep early last night. But the damn DVD player kept on playing and I couldn't stop it. I was helpless. Worthless piece of crap. Sleep, at that time, wouldn't have been restful anyway as my mind was swelling with thoughts of superhero exploits, wily political maneuverings of would-be Roman emperors, and bloody campaigns of ambitious generals. My sleep would be haunted by blood anyway. I might as well let the damn player do its thing and continue watching. I didn't want another nightmare like the one I had last Saturday morning, in which, I found myself in a crumbling church at midday. The priest was standing by the altar, motionless. A handful of people were also standing in between the pews, when, suddenly, the light of the sun was blotted out, completely plunging the ancient place into darkness. I instinctively ducked to take cover, I'm not sure from what exactly. When the light came back, I instructed the sacristan to check on the nails of the rickety, wooden stairs of the choir loft. The devil was there, I said. It had loosened one of the nails while the light was out, to weaken the foundations of this church (it doesn't make sense, I know, but dreams won't be dreams if they weren't absurd).

So the sacristan made his way toward the choir loft. But before he could even go near the wooden structure, a huge, black arm rose out of the pews and held him by the face. Its hand was so big it almost covered half his face. Seeing that he had been blocked thus, I hesitatingly advanced, my balls jiggling up my mouth, to check the stairs myself. To my great horror (by this time, my balls shot out of my mouth to hide somewhere else), I saw a fifteen-foot woman ducking in between two pews. Her long Sadako-inspired hair was covering her face and her massive arms were resting on the pews. For a complete minute, my heart stopped beating, undecided as to what exactly I should do, stay there and await my doom or run from this oversize woman who was having a bad hair day.
I woke up right after that. I stared at the ceiling, scared and breathless, wondering where the hell my balls went. As if on cue, my mobile phone rang. I almost smashed the freaking thing with my fist. God, I was so scared my intestines almost squeezed out of my rectum like that of a cat's after having been run over by a fire truck.

It was Michelle trying to wake me up for our lunch at Velasquez Park in Makati City. Lu, who is on summer break from her studies in Paris, would be there, and so would the rest of the gang. I scratched my balls to see if they were still in place, took off my clothes, and hit the shower, hoping I won't see a 20-foot transvestite wielding a knife there.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

allow me to undress you

I won first place in the French poetry writing contest of the Alliance Française de Manille last summer. It was in celebration of the Printemps des Poetes (Spring of Poets), an annual international event held in French-speaking countries around world. I don't know exactly why they brought the event here when we're clearly not a francophone country. The only French thing that is popular among the masses here is the French fries. And it's not even French. It's merely an American abomination.

In a simple but elegant event at the lobby of Alliance Française in Makati, I read my poem in front of foreign dignitaries in their designer coats and ties, artists in their faded jeans and shirts, and writers/university professors in their boring plaid shirts and slacks. And of course, my supportive friends were there, too: Michelle, Dax, Dionne, Joven, Jera, Bianco, Oliver, and Riva (thanks so much for coming, I hope you enjoyed the wine). Two long buffet tables held food prepared by the embassies of France, Egypt, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Cambodia. Wine was overflowing at the bar and the air was thick with snatches of conversation in various languages.

Among those who read their poems were Gérard Chesnel, the French Ambassador to the Philippines; Virgilio S. Almario, National Artist for Literature; Gilles Vigneault, Secretary for Immigration at the Canadian Embassy; Geminio H. Abad, professor emeritus and fictionist at the University of the Philippines; Cesare A.X. Syjuco, multi-awarded multimedia artist; Alfred 'Krip' Yuson, writer and Palanca hall of fame awardee; Virginia R. Morena, playwright; Jaroslav Ludva, Czech Ambassador; Vim Nadera, UP professor and renowned performance poet; and Adrian Cristobal, a distinguished writer.

The program was opened by a kundiman (lyric Filipino love song sung in the classical style) duet by two opera singers. The woman, dressed in a splendid sequined Filipino gown, slowly descended from a long staircase while singing Minamahal Kita (I love you) in a milky soprano voice. The tenor waited onstage, singing his lines in response to the maiden's yearning. Such drama and pageantry can only be pulled off by the French.

In between songs, dances, and gulps of red wine, we read our poems. I have actually written this poem for Anouk, a blogger who interviewed me in this blog a long time ago. She asked me to write a four-line verse in French to woo her. Since the theme of the competition was Lettera Amorosa (Love Letters), I decided to submit it. I just added more lines. It luckily won. Because of my limited knowledge of the language, I tried to keep the poem simple so it sounded kind of amateurish. But what the heck, here it is. A rough English translation follows:

Permets-moi de te deshabiller

Je n’écris pas comme un écrivain très doué,
cueillant des mots lumineux au vent
et les échelonnant pour créer des poèmes
qui vivront après ma mort

Je ne pense pas comme un philosophe
dont âme vole avec les oiseaux perdus
et plonge dans la profondeur de l'océan,
en chassant la vérité qui n'éxiste plus

Je ne sais que je vis dans mon monde,
seule et isolé,
créant mes vérités, dechirant ma foi, bricolant mon idéologie

Mon cerveau raconte n’importe quoi.
Mes mots ne blessent que le vent mourant
Mais je peux te déshabiller et lire ton âme.

Allow me to me undress you

I don't write like a gifted poet,
plucking luminous words from the air
and stringing them to create poems
that will live long after my death

I don't think like a philosopher
whose soul flies with lost birds
and plunges into the depths of the ocean,
chasing a truth that no longer exists.

I only know how to live in my world,
alone and isolated,
creating my truths, destroying my faith, and making up my own ideology
My mind speaks nonsense
My words scathe nothing but the dying wind
But I can undress you and read your soul.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


It's nice to wake up to the chirping of birds outside my window, whose casements are only flung wide open on weekends. On weekdays, my room is like a prison cell in a dungeon. Thick, foam-lined insulator panels board up my glass windows, which are further darkened by heavy drapes. Only needle-thin rays of the sun filter through the small openings left uncovered by the panels. I have been doing this since I learned that total darkness helps my body produce serotonin while I sleep. Since I sleep during the day, I trick my body into believing that it is still night time, thus the insulators and curtains.

That morning was a totally different affair. I slept with the window wide open the night before. It felt refreshing and liberating to wake up with a cool breeze blowing from the trees instead of the oppressive coldness of the airconditioning.

But I didn't actually sleep well. I kept on thinking of the antique candlestick I wanted to buy at the mall. I saw it last week, got smitten by it, but didn't buy it because I didn't have cash and the store did not accept credit cards, after having been duped by a woman who bought several items using a fake card.

It was made in the 1930s, the saleslady had said. She didn't sound too convincing but judging from the rust, the dirt, the material, the craftsmanship, and the style of the piece, I would say it was made way before the 1930s. Now I'm not into antiques and I know nothing about telling the age of a piece through its apparent dirt, let alone understand the intricacies of deliberately aging metal to make it look old, but I had a strange feeling this was old. Really old. It smelled like it.

It stands thirteen inches tall. Made of heavy metal (I don't know exactly what type), it boasts of an exquisite design which smacks of the regal symmetry of classicism. It has a concave base ornamented by four acanthus leaves whose upturned tips reach down to form four legs. This base supports a corinthian bud opening out to a ribbed pillar which tapers up toward another corinthian-inspired, urn-like structure ending with a basin that holds the candle.

I have this fascination for candle holders, especially the classic, antique, standard-fare-on-your-grandma's-altar type. I don't know why. I just love having them around. I told my colleague once that I was probably a medieval, Catholic monk in my past life. I love spooky Catholic iconography and I adore old candelabra. The first one I had bought was a simple affair. It was silver-plated but its style is quite modern. It has three arms of varying levels, which grow from a plain circular base. It still stands on top of my piano, now all black, the silver plating having faded long ago.

I had also bought another silver-plated, five-branch candelabra months ago and it has stood on our dinner table since, commanding undivided attention from those who see it. We usually light all its candles whenever we eat something with vinegar. Its five tapers effectively ward off huge flies (resident insects of tropical countries) which are naturally attracted to that sour condiment. We only have to put up with the heat. It's like having a burning bush at lunch.

The new candlestick now stands on the other side of my piano, looking impressive and imposing. It looks so heavy and massive that my mother thought it might scratch off the piano's gleaming surface. If somebody had tried to mug me the day I bought it, I could've easily whacked his head with it and he would've died on the spot. That's how heavy this thing is.

I kept on imagining that this piece had some history, that it was part of a crumbling colonial mansion which had seen gruesome murders. Before I went up to sleep that night, I looked back, half expecting the specter of a woman in her nightgown standing before the candle holder, trying to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Unfortunately, not every candlestick comes with that added attraction.