Category Archives: Arts

Week 40: Appreciate art

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To end last weekend, The Hub, The One with the Toilet Humor, The Manipulator, and I spent a couple of hours at an art fair, aptly dubbedArt Fair Philippines 2014. It was The Hub’s and my attempt to get the kids to grow up with an appreciation of culture running through their veins.

It was ingenious how the organizers did it–they converted the top two floors of a parking lot in Makati’s business district into an air-conditioned gallery. Twenty-eight art galleries–many from the Philippines but also some from other parts of Southeast Asia–participated in this four-day fair, bringing in loads of contemporary art pieces created by Filipino artists.

In the elevator going up, I had a little talk with the kids: “We don’t touch any of the art. Anything that’s not the floor or a moving person, we don’t touch, okay?”

My rule fell on deaf ears, however. The first thing The Manipulator did when we got to the entrance was to poke one of the canvas bags that was part of a wall installation. In the process of doing this, he and The One with the Toilet Humor discovered that there were rocks inside the bags. I caught The One with the Toilet Humor, who has a fascination with rocks, sneaking out one of the rocks to add to her collection. (But otherwise, they’re really good kids. Except they have the attention span of a fingernail.)

The second thing that caught their attention was a group of brightly-painted ping-pong tables by artist Louie Cordero. Some people were playing table tennis on the tables, which were cordoned off, for some reason. When The One with the Toilet Humor and The Manipulator realized they were too short to play ping-pong, they moved on to the next exhibit.

Looking at the art in some of the spaces, I zoomed back to my first job. It was at an art gallery. I remember walking through the gallery during slow afternoons, looking at the pieces, wondering desperately if I was stupid or if the paintings really did nothing for anyone. I would stare at a modern sculpture for 20 minutes, trying to figure out what it meant. More often than not, I’d walk away without a clue.

I found myself doing the same thing at the art fair. There was this striking piece–it was a black wooden armchair with the seat and the back taken out. In their place were plastic utensils in bright red, stuck together. What did it all mean? I had no idea.

Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor

Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor


This pink bird was part of a menagerie that included a stuffed human with a horse’s head, and what looked like Death in a green robe with visible orange mending. This space was one of the most colorful, which made it one of the kids’ favorite spots. But I had to ask again, what did it all mean? Why were they created?

Sculpture by Daniel dela Cruz. Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor.

Sculpture by Daniel dela Cruz. Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor.


I found my favorite spot in a quiet corner. It featured intricate sculptures of scenes from Alice in Wonderland, by sculptor Daniel dela Cruz. The pieces were so meticulously crafted that you could almost hear the white rabbit say, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late for a very important date!”

A few steps away were the fluid glass sculptures of famed glass sculptor Ramon Orlina. In emerald green and aqua blue, Orlina’s pieces didn’t grab you. Instead, they caressed your hands and held them so that you could feel waves of cold saltwater dancing around your fingers.

Another turn, and there was a neat pile of books, spines facing the wall, holding up one end of a shelf. On it were framed pages–the last pages of about 50 classic books. It didn’t matter what they said, as long as they ended with the same two words: The End. This installation was so weird but, somehow, also strangely comforting to me.

The piece de resistance for The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor was, unfortunately, an installation that included real orange macarons. (“Come back at closing time and they’ll give away the macarons,” someone whispered to me.) The kids didn’t think this octopus-like thing was included in my Golden Rule of Not Touching because it was made partly of food.

I was standing a few feet away, distracted by some other art piece, when I spied The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor slowly trying to squeeze two macarons away from the rest of the octopus tentacles. At that moment, I felt like I was in a dream, moving in slow-mo, arms extended, face contorted, screaming, “Noooooooooo,” but knowing that I would be too late.

But I did manage to stop them from shaming our family eternally in the eyes of the art community.

And just like that, it was time to go.

I asked the kids, “How did the art make you feel?”

“It made me feel bored,” The One with the Toilet Humor said.

“It made me feel hungry and sleepy,” The Manipulator said.

I realized I was doing it wrong back then at my art gallery. Art doesn’t have to mean something absolute to everyone. All it has to do is make you feel something–even boredom and hunger. And it would have earned that spot on the wall, that space on the pedestal.

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Week 16: Go to the Theater

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The musical Rent had its first preview in New York in 1996. The night before, its creator, Jonathan Larson, dropped dead of an aneurysm. He was 35. Which makes Rent‘s battlecry – “No day but today” – quite appropriate. Rent is about a group of friends trying to survive empty wallets, a bitterly cold New York, AIDS, drug addiction, and soul-less conformity.

I learned about Rent only on the afternoon over a decade ago when my former boss tossed two tickets on my desk.

“Alam mo ‘yung Rent?” he asked me.

“Hindi.”

“Ayan, tickets.”

We were never effusive with words. After all, we published a men’s magazine.

For lack of something better to do, I grabbed a friend and we climbed up the Music Museum’s balcony the next night. And I was blown away. I’ve always loved theater and that night, I was reminded all over again why I did. The energy onstage was contagious; the songs kept their beat in my head hours after the music ended; Bobby Garcia’s direction was fresh and vibrant; and the actors – JM Rodriguez, Calvin Millado, Bituin Escalante, Lynn Sherman, Michael de Mesa – delivered such intuitive and touching performances I wanted to give them a 30-minute ovation.

But beyond all that, what got to me was Rent‘s message. “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss,” it said. And “Measure your life in love.”

I understand how universal messages like these affect especially those who feel they’re out to conquer the world. I was idealistic up to my hair roots and I had a promising career in print (which, at that point, consisted of ordering food for photo shoots and asking girls who posed for our magazine if they wouldn’t mind if I taped their boobs to create a cleavage for the camera). I was all set to do “No day but today.”

Unfortunately within the next few years, I took the message a bit too much to heart and consequently – and ironically – did things that left little room for love and lots of room for regret.

I found my footing eventually, though, and by then, I’d memorized all the Rent songs. Little by little, the emotional valleys and peaks levelled out to make a rather dull highway. Later on, The Hub came along. And The Hooligan. And The T-Rex. The highway, once again, developed unpredictable bumps and turns. All thoughts of Rent and its shout-outs to Carpe Diem got buried under a school rivalry (The Hub thinks his school is the one to beat, and all I can say is 2010 UAAP champions), diapers, and play school.

Some weeks ago (yes, this blog is so ridiculously up-to-date), I took a break from domestic life and, with a couple of friends, caught the last weekend staging of Rent; this time produced by 9 Works Theatrical. I wanted to see how I would feel watching the same musical that, over a decade ago, sent me on a roller coaster ride.

It must have been an off-day for them. At some points, it sounded like screeching instead of singing. And, worse, one of the solos was sung so obviously off-key.

Perhaps because of that, I left the theater not feeling as high as I did years ago. I’d expected to at least have a renewed energy to listen to the Rent soundtrack. No exceptional high, no extraordinary energy. I’d been wondering why for weeks; which is the reason why this post, like most in this blog, came late.

And now I got it. It’s because I’d finally learned to correctly live a no-day-but-today life – measured in love, with regrets forgotten. There’s no reason to feel extraordinary anymore after listening to Rent because, unknown to me until just now, I’ve imbibed its message. I’ve actually finally understood what Jonathan Larson was trying to say.

Week 11: Watch a Tagalog Flick

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This wasn’t my first time to watch one, though. I love indie Tagalog movies – this upsurge of raw talent that bravely and triumphantly goes beyond what is popular and forces people to think makes me giddy for the future of Filipino film.

On the other side of the fence, there are the Tagalog rom-coms. These, along with chismis glossies, are my guilty pleasures. Take me to a Tagalog movie with a song title for its title and I revert to a giggly 16-year-old. It does embarrass me, this high school behavior. And I do try to suppress it – that’s why I watch these flicks alone. Besides, The Hub doesn’t usually go for movies entitled I.T.A.L.Y. (I Trust And Love You). He likes Jason Stratham flicks – not that there’s any difference in the intellectual content.

So anyway, imagine my pleased surprise one night in Bacolod, where The Hooligan, The T-Rex, and I spent a week for some R and R (and a bit of work for me). My cousin and her boyfriend announced they were going to watch the Kimerald (Brangelinazation of Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson, get it?) movie Til My Heartaches End. I thought, it’s such a corny title, it must be good! So, with another cousin, I wormed our way into my other cousin’s date.

Til My Heartaches End had all the elements of a Pinoy rom-com: the love team, the best friend as a comic relief (which Matet played with comic flair – the only convincing character in the movie, in my humble opinion), the mother figure (Boots Anson Roa was a let-down, her face frozen with one “concerned” expression, and with lines so obviously recited from memory), the usual plot (boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl fight, boy and girl break up, boy and girl meet again accidentally five years later, boy and girl hold eye contact for five minutes while “meaningful” music plays in the background, boy and girl embrace (or kiss, depending on the director’s nerve).

But this movie wanted to be different from all the others. Its director and editor made it so that the story unfolds in flashbacks. Quite confusing in the first 10 minutes. (But not as lost as I was when I watched Pulp Fiction 30 minutes into the movie.) I do commend the effort, though. Especially since from just the title and the movie poster, you could be 99 percent sure of how the flick would turn out. Sure, its lead stars could use some acting workshops. But in the end, I got what I wanted – some good old Sweet Dreams-type shallow romance that never pretended to be an Oscar-winning masterpiece. (And because I was in beloved Bacolod where sweets are sold in every corner, I got to watch the movie while eating piaya.)

Week 8: Play in Public

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The piano, I mean.

I had my first formal piano lesson when I was six; began tinkering with the ivory keys when I was two, I think. When I was growing up, hungry to impress the adults in my family, I almost convinced myself that I wanted to be a concert pianist. It was a goal that, obviously, got sidetracked by other things; but it was one that I sluggishly worked on until I was about to finish high school. I remember beginning many Saturday afternoons (when it was time to go to my piano teacher’s house for a lesson) hiding in my closet. I hoped with all my might that behind my dresses was a portal into a parallel universe where pianos and teachers didn’t exist.

There wasn’t. And the piano managed to stay in my life. Recitals were the worst. My first piano teacher – who put bottle caps on the back of my hands to train me to keep my wrists up – also taught at a big school. So whenever their recital season came up, I would always find my name on the program. There I would be backstage, itching in the stockings that my mother insisted I use, wondering how I got there. Most of the time, I managed to actually plunk out a piece. I even got applause (I think the loudest always came from my grandfather who, at each recital, sat in the wings, recording my playing in his dinosaur-era cassette recorder), and got into some “Best of the Best” recitals when I was older. But at recitals, there were always others who were in a league of their own. I remember being blown away by a blind boy who played Fur Elise perfectly. Now he had a goal.

Rebellion and the slow realization that becoming a concert pianist wasn’t really my thing took over in college and the piano lessons stopped. But I kept playing. Without the pressure of formal piano lessons, I found that I actually liked playing. Many times, I would play in the dark, when everyone else was asleep. I’d play until my heart sang with my fingers; until everything, but my piano and I, ceased to exist.

Many moves later and my piano is back in the province, where our intertwined lives started. Since it relocated, I’ve been on the lookout for a piano to play on. (I became a regular lunch guest at a Spanish restaurant that had a piano, back when I was slaving over my first job.)

Last week, meeting some friends for lunch, we chanced upon a baby grand piano on a platform, obviously to attract buyers. I ignored it – it was 10 years since I last played. I was rusty and didn’t want anyone to hear my fingers stumble over the keys. But then, later on, I went back. It felt different – the piano was perfectly tuned but it felt too new. Nevertheless, I did some scales and then a real piece. I got lost in it – a smattering of polite applause jetted me back to the present.

I thought I’d never stop.

Tattoos and Butterflies

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My henna tattoo covers most of the inside of my right forearm. I’m not sure exactly what the design is supposed to depict. OJ, my tattoo artist who hails from exotic Malate, put lots of swirls and dots, which he explained were supposed to be tribal designs. I like the tattoo of The Hooligan a lot better. She got a butterfly on the back of her right hand. She used it to attract the real butterflies in the butterfly “farm” on the other end of the Marinduque Expo at the Boac (pronounced “Bwak”) riverside. That’s where we got our tattoos.

The Expo was up for the entire Holy Week. About 50 tents stood on a bare field with plastic ropes crisscrossing five feet from the ground to secure the tents. I love these provincial expos because they present so many unique products of the Philippines. Such a boon to local economy. The Expo sold everything from the ubiquitous Moriones t-shirts and arrow root cookies (“uraro” in the vernacular) to everything that could be made around a butterfly theme (Marinduque, see, is the Philippines’ leading exporter of butterflies). The atmosphere was not exactly conducive to Holy Week soul searching – apart from the inevitable “Nobody, Nobody But You” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling”, David Pomeranz and Air Supply dominated the air waves.

There were three henna tattoo tents up. We went to the one where the artists looked like goons. While The Hooligan and I got inked, The Hub regaled the artists with anecdotes about FHM’s 10th anniversary party. He showed them shots he took of the ladies onstage at the party and pretty soon, all the tattoo artists in our tent were our friends.

Afterwards, The Hooligan spent time at the butterfly farm where she proceeded to terrorize the insects. At first, she was skittish about touching them but after 10 minutes, there was no problem at all. She would wait until a poor butterfly would land on the wall netting, carefully clamp the wings tight, and “set the butterfly free” by throwing it up as you would a paper plane. Pretty soon, all the butterflies were clutching the net way beyond The Hooligan’s reach. Then, The Hooligan contented herself by watching the butterflies closely and announcing, “Dad! Doing love, doing love!” whenever she caught a couple of butterflies in a moment of intimacy.

When we went home that night, most of my tattoo was smeared on The T-Rex’s diaper bottom. I’d forgotten I had a tat and carried The T-Rex. Should have gotten inked permanently.

Week 2: Get a Tattoo

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Last week caught The Hub, The Hooligan, The T-Rex and I in Marinduque (with huge thanks to Dan P. and his family for generously opening the doors of their house to us). It was the perfect break from Manila’s heat and pollution; the only things we had to think about were The Hooligan’s very pronounced tan lines and the rumored snake living in the tree with the hammock where The T-Rex took his naps.

Being in a different place gave me several options for something new to do. Marinduque – home of the Moriones – turns into the nation’s hub every Holy Week. Starting Monday of Holy Week, men dressed as Roman centurions and wearing wooden masks (who knew that Roman centurions had such terrifying faces?) roam the streets. They pose for photo ops and scare little kids. If only for that, I thought of getting one of the Centurions to trade me his costume for an hour. But then some locals told me most of these men participate in the Moriones festival for very personal reasons; walking for hours in their costume in the heat is their way of atoning for their sins. So since I didn’t have the right to do the forgiving, being a Roman centurion for an hour was out.

Another option was to jump into the sea at high tide. A two-minute walk on the beach from where we stayed took us to an old pier where locals laid out coconut husks to dry and fished for little crabs and tiny fishes. From the beach, the pier stretched just for about 20 feet into the sea. The perfect set-up for a cannon ball into the water. Our host’s little girl said she and her siblings did it all the time. They must have had wills of steel. I, on the other hand, did not. And when I finally decided to do it, the tide was low. I secretly said thanks up above.

There was another way, though, which The Hub thoughtfully suggested. I could row a banca to the middle of the sea and jump there. That way, there was no danger of me slicing my skin and shattering my bones on sharp corals. There was, however, a chance of a meeting with sharks. I didn’t particularly think it was exciting to be eaten while submerged in cold, dark waters. I know there’s only one kind of shark that attacks people without provocation. But I couldn’t tell the sharks that. One sniff of my fear and I knew they would all turn violently hungry.

So I did the only thing left for me to do. I went to town and got a henna tattoo.

Duwag!