Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Days, Two Books

The typhoon that ravaged much of Luzon these past days has brought me some well-meaning benefits. Academic productivity is unquestionably on hold; thus, I awaken my inner bibliophile, as I have long intended but miserably failed to do so.

I find the bespectacled creature dusting away in some abandoned corner next to a pile of high school textbooks, and pull him out into the light like those Chilean miners (sans the darkness and despicable environment). As much as he struggles against my hold and the brightness, he loses the battle, and I casually throw him into the tub. The water swallows him up; for seconds, he seems to have drowned. But he doesn’t, or this entry would obviously end without a respectable climax. Like the Loch Ness monster, he rises out of the bubbles with sheer formidability that everything around me – the soap, the floor tiles, the toothbrush – melts in shame. Unfortunately, in that thousand-page litany of all molten things, I am included.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In a few, slightly narcissistic ways, I feel like Crisostomo Ibarra of that novel by Rizal with the English translation, “Touch Me Not.” I come home to find out that my people are being robbed of their meager provincial earnings. The neighborhood tiangge is closing shop for good in a week’s time, while the men of the gasoline station are forced to head back to their mountainous abode by the end of the month – all because of this abhorrence that is invisibly taking place.

What I mean to say is: Not a day goes by that the power does not go out for at least an hour. Is this how Panay Electric Company defines ‘service’ in their undoubtedly dated dictionary?  I suppose the complete intricacies of the monopoly of a city’s power source are beyond my current understanding, but this is not a game. We are paying citizens, and we demand to be paid back. (The power goes out, yet again.)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Life is about exceeding the unsurpassable. Every moment that one does that, one becomes entitled to a piece of fulfillment that society stores in a giant granary in the heavens. Thanks to Typhoon Juan, I deserve two pieces.

By now, you would have realized two things. One, that I have gone slightly overboard in inflecting my usual mundane prose with more ‘profundity’ than necessary; and two, that the previous paragraph makes the least sense among all that precedes this.

But really, life is about smashing the records – or dreaming of smashing them with a diamond-encrusted trophy, at least. And in the span of 48 hours, I smashed one of mine with a badminton racket – twice. Tuesday was spent with Orosa-Nakpil, Malate; today was a date with Salamanca.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Orosa-Nakpil, Malate concerns the escapades of a medical student in the gay community of Malate,  Manila, and his subsequent discovery of true love. A brilliant boy graduates valedictorian from high school amidst a slew of other honors, enters the UP College of Medicine’s Intarmed program, and begins his turbulent journey through the homosexual subculture. This, of course, is more than a terrible synopsis. But I imagine, as the author is himself a member of Batch 2010 of said prestigious program, that more than once was reality reflected or faintly twisted in the story.  

Honestly though, the writing failed me. I don’t blame the author: He’s no professional writer with rigid professional training. Or maybe I'm just not into his style of writing. But there came a point somewhere in the middle when I felt as though I was simply turning the pages, passing over each letter in anticipation of the end of this chore that was the flipping of pages. However, the twist – or twists, as they are so many – saved the book for me. A very impressive plot, I must say.

A passing thought: As an Intarmed student myself, I found it hard to ignore the crisscrossing highways of fact, fiction, and the in-between throughout the novel. I found myself asking, “How could he (the central character) possibly have the luxury of time to have a more-than-bustling nightlife amidst the hurricane that is the first semester of the second year?” Maybe he was memorizing all those reaction mechanisms for Organic Chemistry while barhopping.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I bought Salamanca almost a year ago for the sheer reason that it won the Palanca Grand Prize for the Novel, as the front cover announces to the entire world. I must say, after the span of eleven hours that I devoured the book, Dean Francis Alfar has gained a fan.

The story is as simple as it is complex and metaphysically mind-boggling. The technique here, once the ‘magic’ begins in the first chapter, is to suspend disbelief and just ride along. One would find that the novel is indeed a very magical read, a creation of salamanca itself, if only to borrow from the almost indistinguishable line separating reality from imagination throughout the book. Indeed, Alfar’s prose overflows with beauty; his imagery is just stunningly vivid.  

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