Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Extended Summer, Week 13 (The War)

I watched "Saving Private Ryan" for the first time the other night, and by the time the credits started rolling, I was already so distracted by how corny and embarrassingly derivative (given this is Steven Spielberg we're talking about) and patronizing to the audience in an America-is-the-best-place-in-the-world way the ending is, that I started thinking how the movie totally deserved to have lost Best Picture to "Shakespeare in Love" because "Shakespeare" was indeed an equally ambitious but miles more creative film than this war flick.   
I thought about the first and final shots of "Saving Private Ryan," with the American flag proudly waving before our faces, and I thought about how American directors - the whole of Hollywood, really - sometimes find the need to convert a film into their own private Fourth of July event. I thought about how this somehow helps (not necessarily that it's a direct cause) in promoting a culture of ignorance in American classrooms, especially in the subject of geography, when all these Stateside kids get to see and hear all day are America, America, America. Like in that classic movie "Mean Girls," where the character of Amanda Seyfried asks pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan, "If you're from Africa, why are you white?" and that random anecdote about many an American school kid not knowing where Guam is or, heaven forbid, even Hawaii. (But perhaps the reference to Mean Girl Karen may just be a bit unfair.)

And then I started thinking about Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter," the one where Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken go to Vietnam and get captured and play Russian roulette, and where Meryl Streep plays the long-suffering wife, and Walken goes cuckoo because of the madness he witnesses in Saigon and instead decides to be a Russian roulette prodigy. And I was reminded of the movie's length (three hours!) and that I watched it during that week when I almost got a cold but successfully suppressed the virus through a combination of vocal rest (imagine that!) and gallons of water, and how I had to pause "The Deer Hunter" every thirty minutes to drink a glass and pee some. And it brought me to the final scene of the movie, where Meryl Streep starts singing "God Bless America," and I realized how it could have been the only perfect ending at the time (the film came out in 1978) and the gamut of emotions that must have flooded every screening in every theater back then.

And I thought to evaluate more carefully the merits of "Shakespeare" as a Best Picture winner, and decided that it's very much a "clean" film (and here, observe how I've shifted from using the populist term "movie" to "film"), meaning that the plot is carefully thought out, and the storytelling is neatly structured. From there, however, I realized how little I remember about my experience of watching it a few years back - mainly, Judi Dench's delightful, if rather literally mortifying, appearance as Elizabeth I, and all those excerpts from "performances" of The Bard's plays, and that mesmerizing final shot of a woman walking down a seemingly endless beach. And so I decided that I should probably stop comparing "Saving Private Ryan" with it until I get around to watching "Shakespeare" a second time, and that it was totally wrong and rash of me to have mentally condemned the former simply on the basis of an overtly manipulative ending.

And then I read Roger Ebert's review, and gee, did a lot change. For example, realizing that the first thirty minutes, depicting the initial stages of the invasion of Normandy, is truly one of the most gripping and skillfully made battle sequences of all time, and that this section alone is justification enough for the critical acclaim the film had earned. Also, that if we just get hold of the reel and cut off the opening and closing scenes, "Saving Private Ryan" is really a magnificent, magnificent film (see what i did there). But most of all, that my frustration over the character of the cartographer/translator/believer of goodness and the rational/battle virgin Upham (Jeremy Davies) in that part during the culminating fight sequence where he ends up cowering on the stairs with a string of unused bullets the length of a reticulated python, could only be, to echo Ebert, my subconscious way of relating to the character.

And so I imagined how I'd fare in war as a civilian abruptly thrown in the thick of action, how I'd face the endless barrage of bullets, how I'd gun down the enemy or if I'd even get around to doing it, how I'd trek across towns reduced to rubble in my muddied, bloodied uniform. And I remembered how my paternal grandfather, long before he became a chain-smoking alcoholic, but also a great and humble man, as many in our city remember him, was supposed to have been a guerrilla messenger or something during the Japanese invasion. And that next week will be his 15th death anniversary.

This city is vicious. It has sucked the writer in me dry.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Extended Summer, Week 10 1/2 (Dreams)

My sister, speaking with the conviction of a pre-med know-it-all: "I have tennis elbow." She's referring, of course, to her sore forearm after a night of badminton.

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Dream No. 1: It was an Orthopedics/Rehab Medicine practicals, and we were to manipulate this machine for muscle strength testing or something, and all I could remember was carpal tunnel syndrome. My examiner was Jeff Goldblum (no shit), and because I'm such a klutz, the machine ended up boring a non-bleeding pit into my snuffbox.

Dream No. 2: Inspired by "Game of Thrones," featuring the Unsullied, with elements from "The Sound of Music" and World War II. There was an evil "Unsullied" army approaching my kingdom in the desert; a secret underground passage and me taking the sword of one of my soldiers; hide and seek in a church that's connected to another church (or maybe it was an abbey); and a couple of taxis who refused to take me, and a third one who warned me that "going to town" was an exercise in futility because the Japanese were about to invade us. 

I'm pretty sure Jeff Goldblum was my mind's version of the principal from "The Breakfast Club," and the church race was lifted from "Of Gods and Men."

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James Gray's "The Immigrant" is the first great movie with a 2014 release. An argument may be made for Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," but not here. Some may find "The Immigrant" hard to watch, but such uncompromising brutality is a rarity onscreen nowadays. This is the story of a woman (played by the divine Marion Cotillard) who's in the deepest throes of desperation, and about the two men (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner) who seek to insert themselves in her life. It has the year's best final shot, and also the second Oscar nomination-worthy performance (after Ralph Fiennes at his funniest in "Budapest Hotel"). 

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This will be one of the most exciting weekends for Mother. Saturday, she'll be a principal sponsor at a wedding; Sunday, she'll be guiding the bride-to-be down the aisle (it's how they do it in Beijing) at an engagement party. She can barely wait, though she tries her best to remain collected. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Extended Summer, Week 8 (C&C in Iloilo)

It's been quiet in here for some time, thanks to the chaotic intrusion of one Carmel Vistal, Duchess of the Borough of Hillsborough, Muntinlupa City, and her squire Charles Patrick Uy (a.k.a. He Who Purportedly Listens to Genetics E-books To Fall Asleep) into our unassuming jungle-city lives. As tempting as it is to just whip up a Facebook album and stuff all the photos in there-- Who am I kidding? My Facebook is dead. 

June 2-6, 2014


I gave the obligatory out-of-town churches tour because everybody knows Carmel is a closeted nun. Our first stop was the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church in the municipality of Miag-ao, some 40km southwest of Iloilo City. It is one of four baroque churches in the country designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. (The official designation is - guess what? - "Baroque Churches of the Philippines.") 

Miag-ao is also home to one of four UP Visayas campuses. This one has it owns beach.

Our third stop was the Church of St. John of Sahagun in Tigbauan, about 16km southwest of Iloilo City. Tile mosaics, the biggest of which lords over the sanctuary, adorn the interiors.


This was Bacolod day. Our mission was to show our allegedly profligate neighbors across the sea that an alliance still exists between us, despite Carmel's unpublicized recent trip to the delivery room. (She gave birth to a pair of fire-breathing iguanas and declared, "When my children are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who wronged me!") The other version of our mission goes like this: We went to Bacolod to eat, though I have no photos to prove it. 

This is The Ruins (of the Don Mariano Lacson Mansion in Talisay City, which is actually right next to Bacolod). Trivia: The funny tour guide here was featured in an episode of "Gandang Gabi, Vice!" 

"I'm wishing for the one I love to find me today." ---Snow White

Meet Francis. He is Pia's five-year-old nephew. I gave him a 25-centavo coin and told him to get atop that rock, look intently at the coin, and say, "My Precious!" Hey Peter Jackson, I've found the next Andy Serkis.

San Sebastian Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of the city.

The gazebo at the Bacolod Public Plaza is inhabited by alien fish that swim in a sort of Area 51-ish pattern and frequented by lovers as young as five. When Francis the young traveling knight felt he was done with the maiden in the photo and took off for the nearby swings where a gaggle of lovely ladies were combing their hair and putting on lipstick, I whispered to the distraught child, "Today, you learn to fight for your man!"

Later that day, Pia practiced her mommy skills. She is getting married before the year ends, after all. Or so the rumor goes.


We went to Guimaras Island with a bottle of Merlot, among other important stuff, in hand. This is Ortiz Wharf near Santa Maria Parish where the family hears mass. The regular fare for a one-way trip via pump boat is P14.

Guimaras is an island-province. The provincial capital is Jordan, which is not pronounced the same way as the basketball star. It claims to have the world's smallest plaza.

This is the Trappist Monastery in Guimaras. Pine trees thrive in the place, which should say something about its elevation. Also, we saw a monk from afar. CHALLENGE: Enlarge the lower-right picture, and tell me what you see. Clue: I was so thankful I did not touch the scallop shell.

Our main destination in Guimaras was Magic Island Resort, near the southern tip of the island. It is a little more than an hour by tricycle from the Jordan Wharf, not counting the 4km rough road leading to this settlement of boats nestled in the midst of a mangrove forest. Magic Island has its own motorized flat boats to transport its clients.

I mean, come on, these are mangroves!

The truth is that Magic Island is just one of roughly 49 islets scattered in the area. The approach to the resort is simply breathtaking. (Coron, anyone?)

Magic Island is still a work in progress. The caretaker told us they don't always have guests every day, but there are always guests every week.

We were one of only two groups of good friends sharing one wonderful one short day spending that Wednesday night in the resort.

The Magic Island overnight package includes three full meals and two snacks. Upon arrival, we were treated to a plate of biscuits and fresh buko juice.

This is the view from our balcony. (It is a common balcony, accessible to all six seaside rooms, but still.) Some time in the afternoon, I grabbed a chair, put my feet up on the ledge, and read Monica Ali's "Brick Lane" to an enchanting symphony of wind and water.

"What does that island look like?" the caretaker asked. "A duck!" I immediately answered. "That is what we call Swan Island," he said. And I was like, omgmcdbfmns I just couldn't.

Now here's the secret of Magic Island: Come evening, when low tide is the word, that expanse of water in the next two photos transform into what looks like the Hundred Islands of Sand (y'know, like the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan). It is this nightly juxtaposition of tide pools and sand islets that is the real magic of the place.

Lunch: Sweet-chili shrimps, fresh crabs, and sinigang na lapu-lapu, with Guimaras mangoes for dessert.

That afternoon, Carmel showed us what is known in her beloved high school Woodrose as the "Day-off" pose. It took us lowly creatures quite some time to decipher what she was getting at.

The ceiling of our balcony was home to this beautiful spider.

Mid-afternoon, we went island-hopping. (It was more like island-seeing, really, because we only did step foot on one island.) Also, I got stung by jellyfish, and it hurt like a bullshit (and here, I'm quoting Violet Weston).

Right across Magic Island is Mama Mary Island, obviously because it has a giant statue of the Virgin Mary. To get to the statue, you actually have to do minor-league wilderness trekking, and so to alleviate the pain from the jellyfish sting, I started singing "Let It Be" even though I knew an apparition of John Lennon was 98% impossible.

Sunset by the beach, or how Charles' fascination with crab holes made for an amusing sight. The first photo clearly shows a dark curve on the bottom half; that was the edge of the shore in the morning.

Dinner: Lechon kawali, sweet and sour lapu-lapu, and tinola na Bisayang manokwith Guimaras mangoes for dessert.

After dinner, it was biology time! Under the influence of a laboriously opened bottle of Merlot, we conquered the tide pools and played with starfish (I made a starfish pancake pile!), funny-looking crabs, trapped jellyfish (hurray!), sea centipedes, and sea snails. To borrow from Woody Allen, it was magic in the moonlight.


Breakfast: chorizo and fried eggs. From our balcony, we could see this big-ass orange starfish.

Then, it was rowing time. They weren't really kayaks, nor were they canoes, so I'll settle with rowing time. The funny start to rowing time was C&C's boat sinking because it actually had holes or something.

Behold, the morning-after look of my jellyfish sting.

Rowing time was the best part of this trip for me. We got to see some cool rock formations up close, scan the water for huge-ass orange starfish, put the physics behind two-person rowing to use, unintentionally hit some mangroves, and take badass selfies. And yes, my lips can get unnaturally red at times.

Then, it was time to leave. This was our double-twin-bed accommodation. There are presently six such rooms in the resort.

The last part of our Guimaras adventure was climbing Mt. Balaan, locally called Balaan Bukid, but one does not really go there to climb. During Holy Week, specifically Good Friday, people flock to this 170m mountain either in simple pilgrimage or to do the Way of the Cross - because yes, the stations are scattered throughout the trail to the peak, where a small chapel and a huge cross that's visible throughout Iloilo City await. And of course, a vista of Iloilo.

From the peak, I spied a clearing and a cow.

Obligatory turista photos.

It was time to cross the strait. These are scenes at the Jordan Wharf.


C&C's last day in Iloilo was a jam-packed city tour with yours truly as the great driver. Among the destinations were Jaro Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Jaro. The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Candles and is one of the few in the country to have a belfry (photographed) separate from the main church building.  

After lunch at Breakthrough Restaurant, we dropped by the Sinamay House, where we saw this badass weaving machine and a chess set donated by Ian McKellen himself. 

We dropped by the reconstructed Fort San Pedro, next to the Iloilo Domestic Port. The place was built in the early 17th century to protect from invaders from the sea, but nowadays, it serves as the vacation home of Mrs. Lovett.

A stone's throw away from our house (in Molo district) is the Church of St. Anne, bastion of Catholic feminists because of its all-female-saint lineup (in contrast to Jaro's all-male roster). 

Meanwhile, in Molo Plaza, they've erected this fairly inaccurate ode to Grecian paganism. Star of the photo below is supposed to be Athena, but everybody knows the Olympians were overweight.

Finally, the day ended with a sunset walk along the new Carpenter's Bridge and the Iloilo River Esplanade. The old city abattoir is now riddled with hippy vandalism. The mountains signifying the border between Iloilo and Antique provinces finally appeared after days of cloudy skies. And C&C undoubtedly returned to Imperialist Manila a few pounds heavier, because that is the truth.