February 25, 2013 § 1 Comment
Mom, Tita Pelang and I just returned from Lumban, hopping off the South Luzon Expressway and onto the National Highway, which hugs the shores of Laguna de Bay. We passed through Calamba (birthplace of the José Rizal) and Los Baños, which along with Calamba is famous for its hot springs. The highway is lined with nurseries stocked with bouganvilleas in a riot of different shades. On the way we passed by this crazy looking restaurant in the town of Victoria, called Isdaan, which had these enormous terra cotta fish sculptures spitting water into this very elaborate system of canals, difficult to describe… anyway we ended up eating a very late lunch there on the way back. We had green mango shakes, a roast chicken marineated in gata (coconut milk) and a very crispy and delicious krispy pata.
But back to the purpose of the trip. I had done a little research and decided that I would stop by Marivic’s house to procure Barong Tagalogs for my dad, brother, Owen and his dad. Marivic owns La Burda de Filipina (the embroidery of the Filipina)… . Marivic laid out several beautiful barongs, some gown fabrics and some alampays. Because I was curious, she called in two of her embroiderers to demonstrate the process of decorating the Barong Tagalogs. One of the embroiderers, an older manang was embroidering vines and roses in a padded satin stitch onto an enormous piece of fabric, the other embroiderer, actually a caladodero was a man in his early 40s. I was a bit confused when he came in, as out of the corner of my eye it looked like he was crawling. Acutally he contracted polio as a child, but refused a wheel chair all of his life. Instead he chooses to walk around with his legs tucked underneath him, moving mostly with his arms. When he stopped in front of us, his legs were in the same position as they were when he was moving. He was shy, but clearly enjoyed our sense of awe as we watched him spread the fibers of the piña silk into various patterns.
Marivic is the chairperson of the Lumban Embroiderer’s Association, a cooperative organized to secure fair wages for the craftspeople of Lumban. By the time that heavily embroidered garments make their way to market, they’ve been marked up in excess of 300% in some cases, and very little of this goes to the craftspeople themselves, a fact that disincentivizes the preservation of the craft, which for me is only a secondary concern, though I would be truly heartbroken if this craft disappeared. However, truly heartening is the fact that the coop has been largely successful, with the help of Lumban’s mayor in securing higher wages for the burdaderas and burdaderos. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’m in the Philippines on a research/wedding planning/ family trip… more on this soon. The Lansium Domesticum, known as Lanzones here in the Philippines belong to the family Meliaceae (the mahogany family). The fruit has a peel like a banana, its flesh is segmented like that of a mangosteen, it has the texture of a grape and tastes a bit bananaish, but only inasmuch as an orange tastes like an apple, that is to say it’s difficult to compare it to anything. It is about the size of a lychee and has a very bitter seed. It is one of my absolute favorite fruits and it’s in season here.
February 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
This was the sunset in Hauz Khas the other day—or as I like to think of it—the pink and orange upside of smog. For Reyner Banham, Los Angeles’ smog made for the loveliest sunsets in the world. If my lungs didn’t suffer so much here much more of me would be grateful for this most beautiful daily sight.
February 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
That last post reminded me of a strange encounter I had several years ago. One day when I was helping my ex-boyfriend paint a house one summer in Austin, Minnesota. The old man whose house we were painting peeked his head out of his sliding glass door and pointed at me. He said “you, come here” and waved in his direction. Eric was just preparing to bleach the house with a power sprayer, and I really desperately wanted to be a part of it, but I decided to forgo the opportunity and obliged. He sat me down and said “you’re Filipino aren’t you??” … I answered “yes, how’d you know?!!!” politely feigning excitement. “Well,” he said, “Did you ever hear about the Bataan Death March during WWII?” … “uh, yes” I said. “Well, I was there.” He then recalled a crazy story from which I have yet to recover. He recounted how he was stuck in a foxhole with a buddy for over two weeks, drinking nothing but water off of leaves. They did shit outside of their foxholes, he told me—though it was a serious risk. To get to the punchline… he said that he used to reunite with his foxhole buddy once every ten years. “He was a Jew, you see, do you know what a Jew is?” he asked me… I said “yes” trying not to sound surprised. “Jews, you know, they don’t believe in the second coming.” I answered “OH!” he then continued “…My foxhole mate was Rod Serling.” (cue twilight zone music).
I’m pretty sure that I was one of the very few Filipinos that Dean White has met since WWII. In any case, so yes, it doesn’t take much digging to find connections between Rod Serling’s time in service in the Philippines and the Twilight Zone. To me, the whole thing made so much sense all of a sudden, the claustrophobia, unrelenting paranoia, death—these were all such vivid experiences for Dean and Rod. At the same time there was this surreal unfamiliarity surrounding them, a jungle more disorienting perhaps than even the ruins of Europe, which many soldiers still had at least distant cultural connections with.
Among the many gruesome things Rod witnessed during the war were the decapitation of a close friend by a food crate dropped by US Air supply. He also killed a Japanese soldier standing on Third Base in Rizal Baseball Stadium—a disorienting and tragic juxtaposition of the dark and the familiar. The Twilight Zone seems all of a sudden so strangely light.
Several of Serling’s scripts were set in the Philippines, and almost all of them drew upon his experiences in war. The stills above are from “A Quality of Mercy” (partially set on Corregidor) about a zealous American Lietuenant stationed in the Philippines who suddenly wakes up as a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, and “The Purple Testament” in which a soldier has the unlucky gift of seeing who in his company is about to die. Anyway that day was one of those moments where you think how weird it is to be in this world, to meet the people that you do, how distant and close we all are &c. « Read the rest of this entry »
Quoting at Length: Paschal N. Strong, “Operation Negrito” and the stuff that gets left out of dissertations
February 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today I was actually doing research relevant to my dissertation (gasp). I read an account of the construction of the Malinta Tunnel by Paschal N. Strong, the Army Engineer in charge of its construction during the “lean years” following the Washington Naval Treaty. A preternaturally gifted ‘military mind,’ Strong graduated from West Point at the tender age of 20, eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General. Among other things Strong had a talent for adventure writing producing pulpy pre-teen fiction under the handle of Kennedy Lyons for Boy’s Life, the Boy Scouts magazine. He was also a script writer for the radio adventure series Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy, apparently the pre-cursor to Jonny Quest (and eventually The New Adventures of Jonny Quest, a cartoon that Daryl and I grew up watching). A boldly adventurous spirit, he built his own sailboat when he was only fourteen, traveling by himself all the way from his native Savannah to Brooklyn, according to his own seemingly fabulist account. Attempting to reconstruct this experience Strong once again built his own sailing vessel in his spare time on Corregidor (apparently the covert arms race with Japan left him with plenty of free time). The then Lieutenant engineer set sail once again all on his only lonely, but this time for a jaunt around the archipelago, on a purpose driven mission to gather material for future issues of Boy’s Life (see images below).
One of the Bilibids escaped. He was a diminuitive Negrito whose natural habitat was the highlands of the Marivales mountains on Bataan. How such a child of nature became involved with the Filipino law, I do not know: possibly an arrow from his little bow feathered itself into the pants seat of some Filipino official hunting wild pig. At any rate, he was with us, and he escaped. Since there was no way for him to get off the Rock without swimming the 3 miles to Bataan, obviously he must have found a hiding place nearby. Night after night he foraged, morning after morning some icebox among Officer’s Row would be stripped. Sentries were posted, doubled and trebled, but the little creature continued his raids. The gauntlet was hurled and the Army met the challenge gallantly(…) With the plans and annexed areas maps prepared, the officers of the three regiments were briefed. Then to the clarion call of the bugle we took the field. We moved swiftly and energetically, Within a few hours every square yard of the Rock was searched. Not a bush, building or ravine was overlooked. The sweep was made in a continuous line of warriors so that if forced from one hiding place to another, would eventually be forced into the sea. But when the unbroken line reached the cliffs and looked down upon the raging breakers below, the child of nature was still free.Weeks later his hiding place was discovered – a hole in the vertical face of the cliff looking across the bay to his mountains. He was captured soon after that and everyone was sorry. He had endeared himself to us by that time and the bolder housewives had taken to leaving special dishes for him in the icebox on nights when they thought he might be around.
(Above) Inspired by Operation Negrito? The caption in the corner reads: “Forced to bail out over the Hump, these pilots parachute into a weird world that fills this new serial with fierce action.” « Read the rest of this entry »
February 16, 2013 § Leave a comment
Very recently much has been made of the still unverified discovery of the other half of Gustave Courbet’s “Origin of The World”. And in my unending quest to detail the rest of the world I offer my thoughts on a lesser known though equally scandalous painting.
This amazing portrait of Jean Baptiste Belley was just recently on display at the American Historical Society, for their show “Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn” I was lucky enough to see the portrait, though I was also incredibly disappointed with the way it was installed. The installation of the entire show was terrible, but that is a subject for another day. Anyway in the portrait Belley is resting on the a bust of Guillaume Thomas Raynal who wrote A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1770). Raynal, a supporter of the abolition of slavery had just died in 1796. He is as much a subject of the portrait as Belley. Raynal stands still in all of his stony dignity, while Belley relaxes against his weight. Much has been made of Girodet’s depiction of the bulge in Belley’s breeches—and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, it sits at the centerline of the painting and is doubly emphasized by the placement of Belley’s hand. Its significance has been interpreted in a number of ways, perhaps the most interesting interpretation is one that takes the canon of classical penises into account… According to Cecil Adams (Ed Zotti):
According to Kenneth Dover’s landmark study Greek Homosexuality, (1978): (1) Long, thick penises were considered–at least in the highbrow view– grotesque, comic, or both and were usually found on fertility gods, half-animal critters such as satyrs, ugly old men, and barbarians. A circumcised penis was particularly gross. (2) The ideal penis was small, thin, and covered with a long, tapered foreskin. Dover thinks the immature male’s equipment was especially admired, which may account not only for the small size but the scarcity of body hair in classical art. A passage from Aristophanes sums up the most desirable masculine features: “a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick.”
…and thus the large penis (at least in the classicized canon that we assume Girodet is following) is a symbol that marks Belley as the still savage, though noble savage. This portrait, if one follows this line of argument then evinces deeply conflicted feelings towards Africans in the age of enlightenment. Belley’s relaxed pose shows not only his dignity but his grace and ease in his position. But was Girodet depicting an ‘animalistic’ side to Belley? It’s difficult to say—and even more difficult because Girodet was a French Romantic and not a Neoclassicist. I will have to consult a few people on this one. That is not to say that French Romantics did not use classical motifs.
More important than these details however are those of Belley’s life. Following the abolition of slavery, Belley continued to campaign for the equal treatment of African-French citizens, whose never fully confirmed rights were constantly under threat. He spoke out forcefully on the equality for French citizens regardless of their race or location within the French Empire. In 1804 Napoleon came to full power and reinstated slavery and Belley was imprisoned, without the benefit of charge or trial. Josephine, it should be remembered was born into a slave owning family in Martinique. More on this soon.