25 October 2006

the usual haunt

Some pictures I took of my comfort zone using my uber handy mobile phone. I don't even remember anymore what my previous life of drinking 3-in-1 coffee was like.

05 October 2006

I Heart Palawan

In his justly famous essay "On Fairy Stories", J. R. R. Tolkien writes:

The realm of the fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy
and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them.

In this modern day and age, Palawan retains a certain 'faerie' element. Wish I could have seen it in its most primitive state.

23 September 2006

blog fatigue

I haven't written here in months--partly due to a hectic work schedule and partly because I simply have more important things to take care of then to just sit down and write. I suppose others have the luxury to sit and update their blogs all day. Lately, I can't even find the time to surf my favorite lit blogs.

As I am in the blog doldrums, I'm thinking of just publishing random thoughts, or the occasional book review, or quoting some book passages that really strike me. Not a very intellectual blog endeavor, I must say. But I'd rather read than write anyway.

Wisdom is realizing that I can never sustain a love for writing very long when there is an increasing number of books to devour every day.

24 April 2006

desideratum for summer

Went and bought several pairs of Havaianas over the weekend. It's really ridiculous how we succumb to the vultures of commercialism--in this case, Brazilians who rake in millions just producing rubber flip flops. Poor old local Islander sandals are now treated as the Untouchables in the Flip Flop Caste System.

I got basic black Havaianas from their Brasil line, the ones with the Brazilian flag on the rubber thongs. Red-hot Espana Havaianas from the World Cup flip flops line looked good on my younger sister's feet so I bought that as well. And my personal favorite is my white and orange Havaianas from the 2006 Havaianas Cartunistas collection, which features colorful cartoon drawings from Brazil's top cartoon illustrators. They're absolutely adorable. Wish I could wear them to work everyday.

So now I have four pairs, including black High ones for everyday use. I wanted to buy this other pair of brown Havaianas with brown, blue and white stripes on the rubber sole, but A's mom and sister had to practically drag me away from the entire display. (I looked psychotic, smelling the rubber and holding the brown slippers close to my face.) They said I had too many pairs at the moment. Can one really have too many pairs of Havaianas?

To appease myself, I ended up buying A his very own Havaianas World Cup flip flops. England, size 12. Next month, I'm getting more High ones for my sisters and me. Money can buy you happiness sometimes, you know.

Hello, I'm Gina, and I'm showing early signs of a severe Havaianas addiction.

01 March 2006

Shawarma Snack Center

February has been a very stressful month for me, and I'm anticipating March to be even more hellish--what with all the string of media trips and press conferences I'm handling right now.

Went to Boracay last weekend on a familiarization tour for our media friends. It was actually a culinary adventure in Boracay--and the best one our agency has organized so far. I gained two fucking pounds though. More on this food tripping adventure when I've collected enough photos on the gastronomic delights we've encountered.

As if I haven't had enough of food last weekend, I thoroughly enjoyed last night's dinner with my boyfriend at Shawarma Snack Center located at Salas Street in the Ermita/Malate district of Manila. When I'm not hunched over my office PC (knee-deep in summer media trip logistical nightmares) or guzzling my venti-size hot caramel macchiato, I am dreaming of stuffing my face with Shawarma Snack Center's food.

This place is the stuff Middle Eastern cuisine dreams are made of. Despite its highly unimaginative name, this restaurant serves authentic Mid-East food, with its owner perpetually hovering over the covered dishes (which are laid out cafeteria-style to entice passersby) to ensure that the food is served hot and fresh. Shawarma Snack Center, or SSC, is frequented by Middle Eastern shesha-smoking customers--an obvious indication that the food offered must truly be authentic.

I love, love, LOVE super spicy food, so Arabic/Persian cuisine is right up my alley. Obviously, SSC serves great shawarma (an easy Php60.00 for the large size) but I go there for the beef kabbab (Php165.00) and my uber favorite dish, qurma (Php120.00 or something like that), which is like the Filipino beef kaldereta, only much spicier and with that distinct Middle Eastern flavor.

Their tabouleh (Php150.00) is a light salad that complements the spicy entrees, while the kofta (meatballs covered with an indescribably lovely spicy sauce which costs only Php120.00) is heavy enough to be considered as a main viand and not just a side dish. Also good to mention is SSC's falafel (Php75.00), a typical Arab snack food that's stuffed with hummus, vegetables and beans.

Not many people are familiar with this hole-in-the-wall resto, and that's just fine by me. I'd be horrified if the Jollibee-crazed Filipino crowd would start going in droves there. I love SSC for its unpretentious look, simple dishware--and the fact that one can munch on spicy food while trying to decipher the Arab customers' conversations or listening to a Korean's wailing rendition of love songs in a videoke bar beside SSC. Throw in a couple of gay hookers passing by every few minutes and a perpetual crowd of Filipinos checking up on the status of their horse racing bets nearby--and you know you're in for a people-watching treat as well.

God, how I love the old Manila district in all its motley, gaudy glory.

16 February 2006

The only thing that's worse than seeing someone read a paperback copy of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in the MRT is seeing someone read a hardcover special illustrated edition of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in the MRT.

I can't believe people actually shell out extra money for that shit.

08 February 2006

semi-narcoleptic me

A decided to practice at the gun firing range yesterday, so I accompanied him. While he and Jojo, his instructor, were in the firing area doing a few warm-up gun draws (whatever that means), I put on my ballistic glasses and ear muffs, and sat down in one corner. I watched A fire away for a couple of minutes but then my eyelids started to droop, and eventually, I fell asleep.


Jojo was laughing at me and said he had never encountered someone sleeping inside the range before with heavy firing going on. And A happened to fire a lot of rounds that day. Even with ear muffs, gun shots are incredibly loud and take some getting used to.

If World War III ever happens, I can sleep through it just like Rip Van Winkle.

05 February 2006

dibeedee dibeedee

By way of jumpstarting the Oscar season in our home, my sisters and I bought dvd copies of some Oscar nominees this week---Memoirs of a Geisha, Pride and Prejudice, and Capote in Makati Cinema Square, a pirated dvd haven sans the heat and muggers that one usually encounters in Quiapo.

Quiapo dvd vendors have tons more stocks and can sell the latest movies for as low as Php 50 (less than USD 1.00), but it's such a hassle to go there. The last time I went, I was able to get copies of The Motorcycle Diaries and Girl With A Pearl Earring--and got dehydrated in the process due to the cruel heat of the sun. Dvd shopping in Quiapo? Never again. I'll just take my chances with Makati Cinema Square and my very nice Muslim suki there (who gives me a small discount and religiously updates me with the latest films in stock).

Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha was, well, just okay. The female actors still look Chinese under all that cumbersome Japanese costume and make-up. Michelle Yeoh, for me, is the real star of the show as the poised and regal geisha Mameha, and she still manages to get away with the irritatingly stilted 'Japanese English' dialogue that's heard throughout the movie. Acclaimed Japanese actors Ken Watanabe (The Chairman) and Koji Yakusho (Nobu) turn in good and subdued performances but aren't utilized well enough by director Rob Marshall, considering they're such great actors. (Come to think of it, Watanabe seemed to be under utilized as well in Batman Begins but then, I'm not a Batman fan to make such an opinion).

I haven't read the book by Arthur Golden, and I haven't been to Japan, but seeing the movie made me wonder if Rob Marshall's Japan--where cherry blossoms seem to be in every movie frame, and people open and close the sliding doors of their houses just like that without ever needing locks (gee, they must have a low crime rate)--even comes remotely close to the actual pre-World War II Japan. It all seems contrived somehow. It's no surprise then that Memoirs of a Geisha isn't included in the running for the main Oscar awards and was instead nominated for categories such as Costume Design, Sound Editing, and Best Original Score.

Pride and Prejudice
I watched Pride and Prejudice this morning, and as always, I'm pleasantly surprised with how Jane Austen's novels translate so well into film. Her books are quite dull (even for someone like me who enjoys reading 19th century classic literature) but the movie adaptations I've seen so far (e.g. Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, Robert Leonard's Pride and Prejudice filmed back in the 1940s, Mansfield Park which stars Frances O'Connor, and Douglas McGrath's Emma with fine actors Jeremy Northam, Ewan McGregor and Alan Cumming) make Austen look incredibly good and timeless.

This latest adaptation by director Joe Wright is a great and faithful effort. At first, I was taken aback by the somewhat dishevelled looks of the Bennet sisters and the rundown appearance of their house but then I realized that this shabby genteel setting is probably truer to the novel than any previous P&P film adaptation. I guess I just got used to the fantastic cinematography and pretty costumes in Lee's Sense and Sensibility.

The movie is long, but that's to be expected of a period film, especially one that takes up a Jane Austen novel. There's a considerable amount of dialogue that's actually lifted off the book, so I'm assuming the scriptwriter must be an Austen fan. Keira Knightley (who resembles Winona Ryder here) and Matthey Macfayden (who uncannily resembles John Cusack) exhibit good screen chemistry as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy respectively, and keep up the love-hate tension that's as great as that of Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson in the 1940s version. The Knightley-Macfayden chemistry is so good that I wasn't even disappointed when their characters didn't kiss in the end. In fact, there were no kisses at all in the movie, and that's just fine because a really good love story doesn't always have to be peppered with dramatic Hollywood kisses. The crucial love scene in the end was beautiful and touching in an understated way. Just like the Jane Austen novel, I suppose.

Copyright © 2005 Focus Features

Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet is a stellar actress as usual, while Judi Dench (Lady Catherine de Bourg) is unmistakably one of the best. Give her only a few minutes of screen time and she's sure to make her mark. I have to also mention here Donald Sutherland, who gives a suprisingly charming and muted performace as Mr. Bennet. I've always considered him as the king of B-movies because of his bad acting but he seems to be at home in this particular movie. He should probably just stick to period films then.

The funny thing about this movie though is that it seems to be full of look-alikes. Simon Woods, an actor who's no stranger to period films and who plays Mr. Bingley in this Pride and Prejudice adaption, looks like an uglier Prince Harry here with even more dishevelled hair. And Tom Hollander looks like a less attractive Rob Lowe but he shines as the comically ridiculous Mr. Collins. The funniest look-alike is Rupert Friend, who plays Mr. Wickham and bears a striking resemblance to Orlando Bloom's Legolas. It must be the blond wig.

Pride and Prejudice is nominated for Best Actress (Keira Knightley), Art Direction, Costume Design, and Original Score (although the movie seems to just play one piano piece all throughout). Excellent film by Joe Wright.

I have yet to watch Capote, but I'm sure it's going to be awesome. It's about time Philip Seymour Hoffman shines in the spotlight.

By the time, the Academy Awards is shown live on TV, I should have at least watched other movies such as Munich (which looks depressing but very promising), Walk the Line, Crash (a movie I know nothing about but it must be good because it's nominated in major categories), Syriana, and of course...Brokeback Mountain! The pirated dvd copies of Brokeback Mountain were selling like hotcakes in Makati Cinema Square, but I refused to buy one because I'd rather watch it for the first time on the big screen with A. Besides, it'll be too uncomfortable to watch it at home where my conservative mom would probably shriek all throughout the 'lovemaking' scenes and declare it a work of the devil.

30 January 2006

a so-so year for me

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan! Wong Kar Wai!

Okay, that's all the Chinese I know (and the last one isn't even a Chinese greeting). I know I should be showing a picture of tikoy or a Chinese dragon or the bleeding remains of a person's finger blown to bits by firecrackers--but aren't fortune cookies cuter?

Since it's the Chinese New Year and all, I decided to check out my horoscope just for the fun of it (even though I really think horoscopes are a bunch of generic forecasts recycled every week). Here's the verdict for me, the Monkey:

More travel prospects await monkeys this year, thus, "the more they travel, the more they will gain." A job promotion or a change in career or business is also possible. Lucky industries or professions for monkeys include immigration, travel, trading, transportation, logistics, shipping, hotel, sales, education, publishing, art, law, accountancy, medicine, social affairs, and public relations. Money luck is optimistic. Monkeys should keep away from sharp objects and should avoid going to funerals and wakes. Not a romantic year for monkeys.

Oh. Well, definitely I'll be traveling to Cebu this February for work. And all I'm gaining, I think, is a great deal of stress. At least I'm still lucky in the workplace. And even if I resign from my current position as a PR manager and work as a taxi driver in the transportation industry, I'm still in luck. Hooray!

But I guess I should stay away from knives and pencils. And to make sure that my boyfriend isn't slacking off in the romance department.

29 January 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Copyright © 2005 Focus Features

Can't wait to see Brokeback Mountain. It seems like it's the Hollywood movie to watch out for this year.

Are there really 'I wish I knew how to quit you!' t-shirts being sold out there???

28 January 2006

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Last night, I was watching The Island on DVD for the nth time. One of my reasons for liking this movie--aside from the scintillating Ewan McGregor--is the similarity of its theme with that of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel Never Let Me Go. Both deal with the issue of cloning and ideas on the essence of humanity, but Ishiguro decidedly takes on a more emotional approach and glosses over the ‘science-fiction’ aspect of his plot.

I read this book in late September 2005 and was blown away by its unabashed sincerity sans the melodrama. I loved Never Let Me Go so much that when The Man Booker Prize included it in their 2005 shortlist, I voted for it in the People’s Prize category. It was a biased vote, since I hadn’t read the other shortlisted works, but I had a strong affinity for the book. Other people may have felt the same way because Never Let Me Go received 500 votes in the aforementioned category as opposed to the 2005 Booker Prize winner, John Banville’s The Sea, which only garnered 184 votes.

Never Let Me Go centers on three characters: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy---close friends who are brought up in isolation along with other children in a boarding school called Hailsham in a British countryside. As the protagonist, Kathy narrates life in the boarding school in microscopic detail. Students are exposed to a high standard of education, with their guardians placing emphasis on good physical health and talent in the field of arts. Gradually, the reader is made to realize that Hailsham is no ordinary school and that its students are actually ‘very special’, bred for a particular purpose in life. The veil is lifted slowly, and by the end of the story, the horror that awaits these children is brought out from the suffocating layers of mundane conversations and concealed emotions.

Kazuo Ishiguro writes about his characters and their day-to-day experiences with psychological acuity and an exaggerated attention to detail, but deliberately holds back on explaining the actual significance of events as they happen--leaving his readers to wade through the controlled subtleties and discover the truth bit by bit. Skilled in the art of suppression, Ishiguro lets his stories unfold from the point of view of his restrained protagonists: the butler Stevens in The Remains of the Day--who meticulously narrates his mundane regimen of running Lord Darlington’s household while remaining oblivious to the growing threat of a Second World War--and in this case, Kathy, who describes her life with Ruth and Tommy in a detached, almost robotic fashion that belies the undercurrent of emotions running through her. The truth is always disguised; even the name ‘Hailsham’ serves as a clever allusion to the contrived purpose of the boarding school--that of rearing its students in a sheltered atmosphere of love, solidarity, and academic excellence, only to send them out later on into the world as ‘spare parts’ like lambs for the slaughter.

In Hailsham, the best creative works of the students are sent to ‘the Gallery’, with a female stranger of unknown nationality called ‘Madame’ choosing among these pieces. None of the children know where these selected artworks actually go, but to have one’s ‘masterpiece’ chosen by the aloof Madame is considered an honor. Eventually, Kathy and the others discover that Madame is an advocate for their ‘kind’, using these works of art to justify to the outside world that ‘things like pictures, poetry, all that kind of stuff…revealed what you were like inside. She said they revealed your soul.’

Unnervingly astute, Never Let Me Go forces us to examine ourselves and redefine our concept of humanity. Is Kathy merely a simulacrum of what it means to be human or can a perceived ghost in the shell, who has the ability to experience a whole gamut of human emotions such as happiness, longing, confusion and anguish, be considered human in every sense of the word? The book continually addresses the question on whether these unfortunate beings have souls or not, as well as the implications of subjecting these human-like entities to a cruel fate that they have never wished for.

Throughout the novel, the reader is also made witness to the complexities of the friendship that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy share. Kathy and Ruth are best friends, with Tommy as their close companion. Ruth and Tommy become a couple--and stay as a couple for years until adulthood--but the reader senses that Kathy and Tommy have an unmistakable regard for one another. This regard eventually translates into love but the two are too helpless to admit it, and out of respect for Ruth, place themselves under a self-imposed condition of utter denial and emotional restraint that goes on for years. It is the outspoken Ruth, who, nearing the end of her life after one or two organ donations, tells Kathy and Tommy that they are the ones who are truly meant to be together and advises them to make use of the time that is left before they too are ‘completed.’ But despite Ruth’s act of selflessness and benediction, Kathy and Tommy realize that the remaining time that they have isn’t enough--and never will be until they do something about it.

This is where the underlying theme of the novel reaches its crescendo, where these so-called clones exhibit such wonderfully human qualities that the reader cannot help but be affected by their predicament. While the novel’s title initially refers to a song called ‘Never Let Me Go’ which Kathy listens to again and again during her years at Hailsham, the book is all about never letting go--of one’s relationships and real feelings and of the possibility of transcending the confines of one’s supposed destiny. Indeed, it is this desire to transcend the present limits that makes Kathy, Ruth, Tommy and the rest of us human: we adhere to a philosophy of more--of seeking more than what is given to us, of going beyond our present capabilities, and of wanting to explore the breadth of a full human existence. And as Kathy and Tommy strive to be exempted from a fate of being ‘completed’ or ‘harvested’ and their eventual, reluctant acceptance of the doom that is spelled out for them, we see in their desperate efforts and in their final acts of selflessness--like soldiers dying for their countrymen--the manifestations of what it means to be truly human, even when the uncomprehending world thinks otherwise.

Ultimately, Never Let Me Go serves as a cautionary tale of sorts in an age where the line between ethics and human progress has become increasingly blurred, and where science reigns supreme. With his spare, cool prose, Ishiguro expertly strikes at the core of our being, strips off our original perceptions of humanness, and lets us recognize the sublime soul in every being that lives, breathes and feels.

24 January 2006

superb instant noodle packaging

As my boyfriend (who wants me to call him 'A' on my blog--how very James Bond-ish) and I were having a very cheap but surprisingly comforting Boy Scout dinner of instant noodles and pork & beans earlier this evening, I happened to glance at a small body of text located at the side of A's noodle cup:

Did you know that in the Philippines, Filipinos were introduce to the English language in 1762 by British invaders, not Americans. Philippines is the world's 3rd largest English-speaking nation, next to the USA and the UK.

If I were the head of this instant noodles manufacturing company, I wouldn't be this eager to publish trivia about the country's supposed reputation as a nation of capable English speakers--especially if the people in charge of quality control on product packaging in my company can't even get their English grammar right.

* * *

While having dinner, I was also mulling over the credentials of Akiva Goldsman (the screenplay writer for that wretched Da Vinci Code movie) and how his screenplays turned out in general:

Cinderella Man - good, good movie
A Beautiful Mind - a brilliant piece of work
I, Robot - hmmm, not a very exact adaptation of Isaac Asimov's book
Practical Magic - so-so
Lost in Space - what the fuck?
Batman Forever - ?!
Batman and Robin - ?!?!?!?!?!

Seems like an occasional hit-and-miss guy to me. We'll just have to see how his other upcoming screenwriting efforts (e.g. Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice and Superman Returns) will turn out.

22 January 2006

'Initial Variation of Consonants'

In The Lost Road and Other Writings (Volume 5 of The History of Middle-earth), Christopher Tolkien writes:

As I understand the matter, this variation is due to the phenomenon in ‘Exilic Noldorin’ (i.e. the language of the Noldor in Middle-earth, in exile from Valinor) called ‘Initial Variation of Consonants’, whereby a consonant at the beginning of the second element of a compounded word (or of the second word in two words standing in a very close syntactic relation, as noun and and article) underwent the same change as it would when standing in ordinary medial position. [p.298]

Holy Moses. Mr. Tolkien, could you run that by me again?

Et tu, Brute?

I sent this fuming message to friends via SMS last night:

Have you seen the trailer of Da Vinci Code?? Excuse my french but...PUTANGINAAA!! I’ve known for ages that Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou were starring in it. But I just found out only now that Jean Reno’s there too? And Alfred Molina? AND SIR IAN MCKELLEN?! Even Paul Bettany, who plays the albino Silas (just because he has a really fair complexion...!) I feel so betrayed somehow . I usually prefer the book over the movie adaptation but now...the movie had better be damn good! In fact, it SHOULD be better than that blasted book, because the Hollywood actors there are among the few ones whom I like! After watching the trailer on the pc, I just burst into tears. Stupid fucking dan brown and his da vinci code.

Oh the crumminess of it all.

21 January 2006

coffee and Kierkegaard

Had a nice frothy cup of cappuccino in Mocha Blends Katipunan last night while waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up. There are four or five major cafes located along the Katipunan strip in front of Ateneo--and that's a good thing, because it means everyone in the area doesn't have to crowd into Starbucks for coffee.

Lately, I prefer to have my evening cup of coffee in Mocha Blends because the place is very quiet compared to the eternal marketplace that is Starbucks. The latter is full of students (who don't seem to be studying that much and instead contribute to the place's ceaseless chatter) with their books and their laptops and iPods. (Everywhere I turn, some Atenean student is touting his/her iPod. If someone had the bright idea of robbing Starbucks Katipunan, he'd be able to steal a ton of wallets and at least 20 iPod units.)

Mocha Blends is ideal for serious students and the twenty-five somethings like me who need the quiet and feel displaced among the young and the restless in Starbucks Katipunan. I love Starbucks’ coffee selections (I get my morning or afternoon cup of coffee there almost everyday) but some of its branches are so reader-unfriendly. I have yet to see someone concentrate on his reading in Starbucks Greenbelt 3, for example.

I decided to try out Mocha Blends Katipunan a week ago and was pleased as punch to discover that their prices aren’t steep. A 14-oz. cappuccino here is less than a hundred bucks and it comes with uber frothy foam topped with lots of chocolate powder. The foam actually looks like a doughnut on top of the coffee cup and the coffee itself has the right bittersweet taste that I always look for. The foam looked so good, I had to take a picture of it using my phone.

So as I was trying the cafe's cappuccino for the first time, I happened to overhear a bit of dialogue between a guy and a girl in a table nearby.

Guy: Have you read Kierkegaard?
Girl: No. Who is he?
Guy: He's a Swedish philosopher. One of the classic ones. Very religious and conservative.
Girl: Oh. I haven't read him.
(awkward pause)


I'm no philosophy major or expert but I do remember that:

a) Kierkegaard is Danish, not Swedish. Why do I know this? Well, I remember cramming for my final orals in Philo 103 back in Ateneo. My teacher then was John Giordano, who had the cheerfulness of a corpse and talked unintelligibly, so it was pretty pointless to listen to his lectures when you could just study the readings instead. But he did introduce Joseph Campbell to our class, and for that, I am forever grateful to him. (So please don't be mad, Prof. Giordano, if you happen to come across this blog.) Søren Kierkegaard's readings were part of the orals and to help me remember his nationality, I just imagined Zoren Legaspi (Søren, Zoren? Get it?) eating Danish cookies. Labo, I know. At least it worked; until now, I still remember the dead man's nationality.

b) I don't know why the guy referred to Kierkegaard as "one of the classic ones", and I don't know what his definition of a "classic" philosopher is. All I know is that Kierkegaard was one of them modern philosophers, and that he was an existentialist. I'd hate to cram Kierkegaard's teachings into a few trite sentences (because that doesn't seem right somehow) but he basically advocated for a philosophy involving personal choice and responsibility and a more personal approach to religion (not exactly conservative). He was religious, yes, but he was against the rigid, either/or attitude of the Church. Again, why am I fortunate enough to remember this piece of arcane information? Because I recall cramming on Kierkegaard's Either/Or a few hours before the orals, praying desperately that I'd get asked about Kierkegaard--and not Hegel or Spinoza--because Kierkegaard was easier to understand and seemed like the nicer dude among the three. (Well, me being the lucky ass that I was, I got asked about the straightlaced Hegel and I had to try and babble my way through orals.)

I honestly don't know what the guy in the table nearby was up to.

20 January 2006

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lost Road and Other Writings

Since late December 2005, I’ve been reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lost Road and Other Writings. This book is the fifth installment in a 12-volume series called The History of Middle-earth, which is edited by Tolkien’s son Christopher. The series is practically required reading for huge Tolkien scholars and fans (a.k.a. Tolkien geeks) and not really read by most people.

The latter have a good reason for not wanting to take up the series, anyway--for Christopher Tolkien’s 25-year labor of love is a scholarly, almost tedious attempt to chronicle the staggering mass of drafts of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings written by his father. J.R.R. Tolkien was known to be unfailingly exacting with his own work--often re-writing his manuscripts, changing details, reverting to the original ideas, and making changes once more to suit his high standards. (It would have been a real nightmare to be his secretary or typist.) The process then that Christopher underwent of sifting through his father’s writings, determining the chronological order of revisions, and explaining the changes in the numerous drafts themselves seems almost as long and as painful as Frodo’s journey to Mordor.

And Tolkien fans really delve into this History of Middle-earth stuff with gusto--much to the puzzlement of outsiders who think it’s extremely silly to read the drafts when the final, published versions are available anyway. Well, I would think that if some people like watching the behind-the-scenes of a movie, then others are interested in the making of a book.

Needless to say, I’m a huge Tolkien fan--although there are those who really demonstrate Tolkien fanaticism to the point of studying and speaking Tolkien’s created Elvish language. I know several basic Elvish phrases (and the famous Elvish phrases in the books) but I’m pretty sure linguists and die-hard fans out there are having a field day speaking Elvish the entire time.

I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back in high school, and the feeling of discovering for the first time Tolkien’s elaborate Middle-earth at that age is still pretty much indescribable. And when I read The Silmarillion, I was sure I had died and gone to literary heaven (or into the West to the Undying Lands, if you will). I promised myself that when I was already earning my own money, I’d buy the best hardcover editions of these books. And happily enough, I have--but more on that later.

I know I’m digressing from the main point of this blog entry; however, one cannot talk about The History of Middle-earth (HME) series without mentioning The Silmarillion. In case you haven't read this yet, The Silmarillion is shorter than The Lord of the Rings, yet more epic in ambition and content, and is strongly reminiscent of the pathos and spirit exhibited by heroes in mythological tales. The Silmarillion is my favorite among Tolkien’s works and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve read it for more than 10 times already, not including The Silmarillion drafts found in HME. When reading the drafts, I still get teary-eyed over some passages--a personal testament to the sheer genius of Tolkien’s writings.

The Lost Road contains more developed drafts of The Silmarillion; in fact, these drafts (labelled as the Later Annals of Valinor, the Later Annals of Beleriand, and the Quenta Silmarillion) closely resemble the published form, save for certain details and formatting. When J.R.R. Tolkien started writing The Lord of the Rings in the late 1930s, the said Silmarillion drafts were set aside—only to be taken up many years later, when LOTR was already published. Bewildering as these drafts may be to the uninitiated, I totally enjoyed seeing the gradual progression of Tolkien’s epic story from Volume 4 (The Shaping of Middle-earth) to this, Volume 5. The High-Elves are still called the Lindar (in the final Silmarillion edition, they are known as the Vanyar) while the Elves of Beleriand--Sindarin Elves in the final edition--who are ruled by Thingol and Melian, are named the Ilkorindi here. The Vala (goddess) Nienna, the healer of hurts, is described here as the sister of Manwë and Melko, whereas in the final Silmarillion, she is the sister of Mandos and Lórien, the Fëanturi gods. There are a host of other major and minor revisions but it would be arduous to enumerate them all.

The special section of this book focuses on, of course, ‘The Lost Road’ (duh), a story that was abandoned by Tolkien after a few chapters. Chalk it up as one of his “Unfinished Tales.” As the anecdote goes, Tolkien and his best friend C.S. Lewis had a discussion where they agreed that the latter would write a space travel story while he, Tolkien, would write a time travel story. The fruits of that discussion were Lewis’ popular Out of the Silent Planet and this story--'The Lost Road.' As unfinished tales are wont to do, this one leaves the reader hanging and wishing that the great man had finished writing the damn thing.

‘The Lost Road’ is Tolkien’s version of the legend of the Atlantis; he originally planned that a father-and-son team would travel back in time to the Second Age of Middle-earth, where the first Men of the West were living in the island of Numenor. Father and son would find themselves caught in a tumultuous period (when the Numenoreans were starting to envy the Elves’ immortality and they questioned the reasons of the Valar for not allowing the Men into the Undying Lands). Eventually, the Valar became angry with the Men’s excessive pride and consulted Iluvatar (THE God), who decided to sink the island to teach the Men a lesson. Anyway, Tolkien decided to abort the story, skip to the last and juiciest part--the Fall of Numenor--and include this bit into The Silmarillion.

And that’s that. So much for ‘The Lost Road’ story. But the Downfall of Numenor can stand on its own, and offers a lot of background details, so that’s a consolation.

This volume, in true esoteric Tolkien fashion, also includes The Lhammas (‘Account of Tongues’), a long, exhaustive essay on the complex structure and relationships of the languages in Middle-earth. The geek in me was thrilled with Tolkien’s diagram of the ‘Tree of Tongues’ and his detailed account of how the speech of the various Elven groups branched out into different languages/dialects over the ages due to the sundering of the Elves. In the group of the Noldor (the Wise, the Deep Elves) alone, there were already five different dialects. Although this essay did not reach a final form, it’s still a worthy source of Tolkien trivia.

Following The Lhammas is the section featuring The Etymologies, a glossary of Elvish word "stems" which explain the origin of Elvish words and their relationships with one another. This section--and The Lhammas--are really the stuff of linguists’ dreams, and I’m sure The Etymologies is considered Holy Scripture for scholars on the Elvish language.

I’ve written this blog entry after the day’s work—writing surely, rapidly because it’s a subject I care about and am familiar with. On rereading what I’ve placed here so far, the entry sounds like a summary of The Lost Road and Other Writings and my ravings on this volume, but that’s okay. This is catharsis for me at any rate.

I’m almost done with the book and am in the last part, The Etymologies. At the start of the section, Christopher Tolkien writes:

Those languages were conceived, of course, from the very beginning in a deeply ‘historical’ way: they were embodied in a history, the history of the Elves who spoke them, in which was to be found, as it evolved, a rich terrain for linguistic separation and interaction: ‘a language requires a suitable habitation, and a history in which it can develop’ (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien no. 294, p. 375). Every element in the languages, every element in every word, is in principle historically ‘explicable’–-as are the elements in languages that are not ‘invented'--and the successive phases of their intricate evolution were the delight of their creator.

This is lovely lembas for thought.

18 January 2006

goats will save the world

I am seriously considering giving goats to Rwandan families. It seems like a worthwhile endeavor. And The Hunger Site makes such a compelling plea for this cause. I also like the idea of providing school lunch kits to the children of Eritrea. But maybe when I have extra money already. I'm somewhat poor right now because of expenses incurred last holiday season.

Mental note: Must allot more money for these causes. (If I weren't such a spendthrift on books, I'd have more money in the bank).

I love The Hunger Site, which I first heard of back in college from a good friend. It wouldn't hurt to click on the donation button once a day. It's free, people. So click away!

Just got home after a quick stop at Powerbooks. Okay, maybe not that quick a stop. Powerbooks is on sale (20% off on most books) until January 31. And I was, like, fuck, I gotta buy something. The thing is, Powerbooks holds sales practically every month so it's not like I'm missing a big event if I don't buy something during this January sale.

But as I am incurably addicted to books and book shopping (a 'gentle madness,' as author Nicholas Basbanes puts it), I really couldn't help buying a book earlier this evening. Just one, I told myself, because I can't afford to splurge at this point.

Bought myself a copy of Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature. It's the first book of Mahfouz's famous Cairo Trilogy, and I'm eager to read it. One more book to add to my reading list.

an ever-growing list

Work keeps me busy lately, so I'm not able to read as much as I'd want to. As such, my list of books to read isn't getting any shorter. And with the number of excellent new books that are being published every year, the list just gets longer and longer.

During the lean months when work isn't that demanding, I can read one book a week. That sucks, in my standards. I should finish AT LEAST two books a week.

But so far, I've only read one book a month (for the months of December and January) because of work. Shucks. I ought to hit myself.

So if, for example, I live until the age of 70 and I average two books a month (a very, very conservative estimate), that means I would only have read an additional 1,080 books since the age of 25 (my present age). That's terrible!

I've been an ardent reader ever since my dad bought the Grosset & Dunlap's Companion Library (a hardcover collection of around 20 children's classics) in the early 1980s for my elder siblings, who weren't interested at all in the books. The whole lot fell to me and I practically devoured the stuff. Since then, I would say (as a conservative estimate) I've read around 2,000 books in my life so far--mostly covering genres such as classic literature, contemporary lit, mythology, and science fiction and fantasy. But 2,000 books aren't really much, I think. I read somewhere that an ardent reader would read around 10,000 books in his lifetime. What the fuck. Unless I take up the post of a librarian, I don't think I'd ever reach 10,000 books in my lifetime.

I think I had more time for reading when I was kid; all I had to do was finish my homework and then I'd sit in a corner of the house to read all day. Indeed, the most prolific reading years of my life were from age 6 to 16. Of course, I had more stuff to do when I was in high school and college, and the average number of books I read per month lessened somewhat.

Hence, this panic. The reason why I got a pension plan in the first place (and it's such an impractical reason) was so I'd be able to have a monthly stipend for books when I'm retired and unable to earn income anymore. At least I'd be able to afford buying books even at the ripe age of 60--assuming that I won't be filthy rich by then. (I didn't even think of basic needs like food and clothing when I got the pension plan. I guess I'm assuming my children will pay for those needs????)

Anyway, the gist is, I ought to improve on my reading frequency. Of course, the quality of the books matters, and I don't read shitty romance novels and other sub-quality fiction of the sort. The Da Vinci Code has left me a little traumatized already. Haha.

In the past few weeks, I've acquired several books which I still haven't gotten around to reading. My short-term goal is to finish reading these novels by end of March 2006.

Books I Own and Have Yet to Read:
1. Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
3. The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir
4. In Search of Lost Time, Volume 2: Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust (I've had this book for ages. Started reading a couple of pages, had to put it down to read other more interesting books, and eventually failed to take it up again. I really ought to start reading it once more.)
5. Patrimony by Philip Roth
6. Misfortune by Wesley Stace

Books to Buy (and read within this year):
1. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology by Joseph Campbell
2. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology by Joseph Campbell
3. Siddharta by Hermann Hesse
4. The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch
5. The Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
6. Baudolino by Umberto Eco
7. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
8. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Shame on you, Gina; you should have read this ages and ages ago)
9. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
10. Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre
11. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
12. The Trial by Franz Kafka

Of course, there are still a lot of books that I'm planning to buy but I can't remember all of them at the moment. I'll have to update this list from time to time.

17 January 2006

commuter crimes

The MRT (Metro Rail Transit) is the perfect place to get pissed off at people.

I commute to work via the MRT everyday, and more often than not, I encounter idiots on the train. And I'm sure that at some point, people with common sense and good manners have encountered at least one of these annoying types (I know I have--several times over the past few years):

Men Who Don't Like Getting Their Balls Squished
These are the guys who take up too much seat space by spreading their legs far apart. I know guys can't sit with their knees together like girls because it can get uncomfortable for them down there, but they shouldn't sit spread-eagled either-- to the utter discomfort of the people beside them who get sort of squashed into a corner. This annoying habit of some men indicates a total lack of breeding and a ridiculous display of manhood.

I happened to encounter this type a few days ago. He went inside the train and sat down beside me spread-eagled, like he had his own sofa in the MRT. As a not-so-subtle hint, I sort of jabbed him at the side with my bag so that he could move over and sit more properly. He looked at me and I glared at him. Good thing he got the picture.

Those Who Hog the Post
Every train has a number of vertical posts where one can hold on to in order to avoid losing one's balance and making a fool of one's self. There are even those safety handles which are attached from the top so that all you have to do is reach up and hold on to a handle for balance. (But females usually prefer the vertical posts because these are more accessible.) It completely pisses me off when the train is jam-packed and I see a person who hogs the post by leaning on it with his/her entire body, thus depriving other commuters with the right to hang onto that particular post. Filipinos are usually not confrontational, and some commuters would rather be content to let the matter slide and grip a small part of the post that isn't occupied by the leaning idiot. Sometimes, there are several individuals already trying to hold on to that one post while the leaning idiot remains oblivious to the number of hands that are wedged in between the pole and his/her back. It's amazing how inconsiderate some people really are.

There was this big bouncer-like man who went inside the train one time and actually had the audacity to lean on the post that I was already clinging to, along with other commuters. My knuckles could feel the sweat on his back (It was a hot day and Bouncer Boy was wearing a tight black shirt so he must have sweated buckets while walking outside) and I made several attempts to jab his back with my knuckles to show him that, hey, you're leaning on my hand, you big half-wit. But his sensory nerves must have been shot because he didn't seem to feel my knuckles digging into his flesh. Finally, I got fed up and tapped him on the shoulder. In a voice loud enough for the other commuters to hear, I said "Excuse me. Pa'no naman kakapit nang matino ang mga ibang pasahero kung inangkin mo na yung buong poste? 'Di mo ba nakikita na marami kaming humahawak dito? Tapos pawisin ka pa!"

He was so startled (and probably even embarrassed by the comment I made on his profusely sweating physique) that he moved far away and stood in a corner of the train. Not once did he try looking in my direction. Served him right. *evil laugh*

Those Who Broadcast the Contents of Their Audio Players
There was a bunch of us MRT commuters sitting/standing quietly inside the train when out of nowhere the unmistakable sound of R&B music jarred the relatively tranquil atmosphere. Apparently, one of the passengers--a girl--was tinkering with her Sony Ericsson P800's audio player. I thought she was just testing the loudspeaker mode of the phone's audio player but after several minutes of watching her switch from one song to another (and man, she was even moving her body to the beat of the music), I got annoyed.

Since I had a tiring day at work and was in a not-so-great mood, I said somewhat snappishly, "Could you please stop playing your music on loudspeaker mode? Not everyone shares your taste in music."

Everyone's entitled to freedom of expression and the right to listen to their favorite music. But just because this girl likes to listen to Usher or whoever doesn't mean that the rest of us have to endure a public broadcast of her collection of rap and R&B music on the MRT. She could have used earphones, for Pete's sake.

Ringtone-Happy People
"Ringtone-happy" people are those that get a kick out of listening to their entire gallery of mobile ring tones. In public. And in full volume for everyone to hear.

Is that a ringtone-happy person's way of showing off his/her collection of ringtones? Are the rest of us in the MRT supposed to be enamored with that person's polyphonic ringtone of the horridly ubiquitous Pinoy Big Brother theme song and secretly envy him/her for having one? I don't get it, really.

Whenever I encounter a ringtone-happy person in the train, I turn up the volume of my iPod so I can drown out such sounds.

Those Who Talk on the Phone Too Loud
Well, I believe in freedom of speech but why do some people have to carry out personal conversations on their mobile phones which can be heard by anyone within seven meters? On several occasions, I've managed to hear other passengers talk loudly about family fights, first dates (blow-by-blow accounts which either made me wince or snicker) and even debts over the phone. Wow. I guess some things aren't that private for some people anymore.

People Who Act Like Wild Cattle
These are the people who participate in the stampede to get into the MRT and find seats--forgetting all the while that there are passengers who need to get out of the train first.

One time, I was about to go down at my stop; the train was slowing down and I was standing right in front of the train doors, just waiting for these to open. When the doors did open, this guy on his way in practically knocked me down. He totally pushed me back further inside the train so that he could enter. And I could feel a crowd of people surging inside as well. Outgoing commuters were yelling, "Hayaan mo muna kaming lumabas ng MRT!"

I was so furious at this cretin of a man that I pushed him with all the necessary force to get him back right out of the train. (Anger does wonders to physical strength.) He was wearing a jacket with a few tassels on the collar area and I flung the tassels onto his face, shouting expletives at him. I think a few people cheered as I berated him for his boorishness.

On most days, I'm a pretty nice and well-mannered person. But when someone intrudes on my personal space (and in this particular case, lays a hand on my person) with a complete disregard for proper public behavior--I turn into a war freak. What that oafish man did was just plain rude, and I never tolerate such behavior.

I still get riled up whenever I recall that incident. If I had the opportunity of running into him again, I'd kick him in the groin.

Dan Brown Readers in the MRT
Okay, reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code isn't exactly a crime against humanity, or even a minor commuter crime for that matter. I guess encountering people reading Dan Brown novels in the MRT is a pet peeve of mine. Really, can't people read someone else besides Dan Brown? I've seen, like, more than 50 people on countless occasions hunched over tattered copies of The Da Vinci Code (obviously the book has been passed around from person to person like fruitcake) in various places and modes of transportation.

I can remember an instance when I was reading Giovanni Boccacio's The Decameron in the MRT while the person sitting beside me suddenly whipped out--guess what?--The Da Vinci Code from his backpack and proceeded to read. Another time, I was reading James Joyce's Ulysses (one of the most complex novels ever but a rewarding read nonetheless) and the passenger beside me took out her copy of The Da Vinci Code. I felt faintly insulted somehow: I was reading notable literary works while commuters nearby took delight in that blasted Da Vince Code book, the gospel of mass-market readers. Of course, this is just the lit snob in me talking.

Other people think my abhorrence for Dan Brown stems from a supposed violent reaction to the controversial stuff found in The Da Vinci Code. Well, that's not the reason. I don't mind the religious controversy that Brown so gleefully stirs up. People will always have different views on religion as well as speculations on the life of Jesus (to whom other people in the secular world would consider simply as a prophet with very human qualities while devout Christians would deem him as the son of God or God Himself). I think it's just a matter of respecting other people's individual religious beliefs.

So what's wrong with Dan Brown?

Well, I find his style of writing utterly trite and corny:

The wheels are in motion.
It is time.
Jacques Saunière was the only remaining link, the sole guardian of one of the most powerful secrets ever kept.

WHAT THE F@#K?! Sentences like these reek of cheap drama.

I'm no professional book critic but in my opinion, Dan Brown had a great plot to begin with and yet failed to deliver his story in a more intelligent way. In the hands of, say, Umberto Eco, the book would have turned out much better. Eco's version would have been less commercially appealing but more capably written. I think Mr. Brown should keep in mind that one doesn't have to resort to cliffhanger chapter endings and a dizzying round of plot twists to come up with a fantastic story.

There are a lot of great books out there. I really think people should exert the effort to go beyond pulp fiction and read good literature.

PS. Whenever I want to feel good about myself, I read Geoffrey K. Pullum's review on The Da Vinci Code. At least I'm comforted with the fact that there are people out there who also have violent reactions to Brown's prose style, or lack thereof.

16 January 2006


Got an email from Fully Booked at the start of the year informing me that I'm one of the winners in their recently held Booked the Halls contest during the Christmas holidays. Sort of like 12-winners-for-each-of-the-12-days-of-Christmas kind of thing.

The contest was no biggie; the questions were so easy I had to laugh. Not that I'm complaining. I've never won a book in a trivia contest before! (Believe me, this kind of stuff is exciting for someone whose main thrill is to spend a big chunk of her salary on books and gourmet coffee.)

Anyway, I got to choose from a list of books that the Fully Booked staff sent me. There weren't that many nice ones to select from. It mostly featured cookbooks and chick lit--ugh. Fortunately, Misfortune by Wesley Stace was on the list, and it's a book that I've been planning to buy anyway. So...yay! The only thing better than a free book is a free book that one really wants.

Misfortune seems to be a promising debut novel by the author, who's already established a good reputation as a musician under the name John Wesley Harding. More on the book later as soon as I read it. For now, I'm just happy enough to pick it up from the bookstore and add it to my shelf.

a hundred books....oh lordy

Powerbooks launched a contest last month, offering a grand prize of 100 books (shucks, a hundred books!), which the winner can select from the store's range of book offerings. Every purchase amounting to Php 1,000 entitles one to a raffle coupon. So you can just imagine the flurry that I went through into purchasing a good number of books so that I could get meself some coupons. At least that would increase my chances of winning, right?

A few minutes after I've dropped three raffle coupons into the contest raffle box at the store's customer service area, this precocious boy with thick glasses came and dropped in, like, five coupons. Man, oh man. Seeing him sort of deflated my geeky hopes of winning a hundred books, which are a most welcome addition to my bookshelves.

Of course, I've never been lucky in winning contests of this sort. (Although recently, I DID win a book in a Fully Booked online trivia contest. It must be God's consolation prize for me. But that's another story.) And since the draw date is over and no one from Powerbooks has called me, I obviously didn't win. I just hope the grand prize didn't go to some loser who considers Dan Brown's books as the pinnacle of literary excellence. Or someone who's into sappy, overrated authors like Paulo Coelho and Mitch Albom.

Because that would really suck.