31 May, 2011

The Mary Month of May

In the Philippines, the month of May is always associated with three things: the start of the rainy season, the month of fiesta celebrations, and the devotion to the Holy Cross and the Flores de Mayo.

Superstition has it that it always rains on May 1st which is celebrated as the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker coinciding with the secular holiday: National Labor Day. They used to call the first showers 'Primera Lluvia de Mayo' [the First rain of May]. People would save the rainwater from that day and have it blessed to be used as holy water, believed to have healing properties.

Then come May 3rd, the feast of the Holy Cross commemorates the finding of the true cross by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. From hence, all over the country, for the remainder of the month, chapels and churches would be filled with the sound of prayers and hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary as children offer her flowers every late afternoon in a ritual they call Flores de Mayo. While in some communities, a wooden cross is moved from house to house by little girls or young ladies until it reaches the house of the one chosen to be the Reyna Elena for the Santa Cruzan or Sagala, the annual promenade of little girls and young ladies dressed in the finest gowns paraded with arches decorated with flowers in commemoration of the Pilgrimage to find the true cross.

Actually, the Santa Cruzan and the Flores de Mayo are two different things: The Flores de Mayo is an act of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary culminating with a procession at the end of the month; while the Santa Cruzan started out as a pageant of sorts to showcase the eligible young women as they represent characters in the christian legend. But somehow, in the last thirty years, the two have merged into one unique hodgepodge of an event. The titles of the Virgin Mary like Rosa Mystica [Mystic Rose] or Reyna de las Estrellas [Queen of the Stars] is mixed with Characters like Reyna Banderada [the Motherland], Infanta Judith [the biblical Judith with a severed head], Reyna Elena [Empress Helena] and in some towns, Cleopatra -which i have seen reclining on a palanquin.

Celebrated Cultural writer Gilda Cordero Fernando could not contain her amusement when once shown photographs and regaled with the often incongruous line-ups of the Santa Cruzan or Sagalas of late. But she is forgiving in saying, "Hayaan mo na, it's sooo Folk eh." [Leave it be, It's so Folk].

Folk indeed, as I myself often could not make heads or tails of it yet find it uniquely Filipino. Some people find the Santa Cruzan irrelevant nowadays; a remnant of bygone era that has been consumed by displays of vanity and fundraising activities. But in some towns, they still cling to it, as tool of faith and the retelling of one dramatic chapter in the story of Christianity -and that to me, is better than showbiz celebrities paraded about town upstaging the Blessed Mother and the lessons of early Christian legend. Here's to that, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

thus spake the Barefoot Baklesa

25 May, 2011

the barefootbaklesa reviews: Virgin Snow [Hatsuyuki No Koi]

Watched this movie again the other day, just wanna share this one more time...

The Barefoot Baklesa Movie Review: Virgin Snow [Hatsuyuki no koi]
Direction: Han Sang-hee
Story and Screenplay: Han Sang-hee and Ban Kazuhiko
Release Date: November 2007

How long are you willing to wait for the one you love? How long can you keep a promise to the one you love? How long can you hold on to the hope that you and your love will find your way to each other again? In the cinematic style that I have come to expect of the Japanese slash Korean wave of films that I have seen these past few years, Virgin Snow presents a unique and well proportioned blend of plot elements that make up a romantic love story that defines the blossoming of a youthful love in places where the old and the new keep their fragile balance cradling the precious hope that love brings with it. [I have learned that there’s an alternative translation to the title in English, The First Snow of Love; more poetic, I think…]

The film begins when Kim Min [played by Korean actor Lee Joon-ki or Lee Jun-ki or Lee Jun-gi if you’re particular about spelling and phonemics] moves to Japan from Korea to follow his father who is a potter and ceramics artist by trade. While going around the city of Kyoto in his bike, Kim Min gets into an accident with a monk also riding a bike. He finds his way to a shrine, and at the ritual purification area [the way I see it, some sort of well or fountain where you wash up before you come into a sacred place], he meets a girl named Nanae [played by Japanese actress Miyasaki Aoi] who helps him tend to that scratch he got on his elbow. Nanae realizes that Min is not Japanese and guides him around the temple complex.

They come upon an Omikoji tree which peaks Min’s curiosity. He learns that an Omikoji tree is part of a fortune-telling tradition with the Japanese. You take your fortune, which you get in the form of a sheet of paper, and you tie it to the Omikoji tree if it reads bad luck; and if it says good luck, you keep it. Nanae tells Min that his fortune says lucky so he keeps it.
Right from the start, you see that these ancient practices are still alive and well in a place as modern and fast-changing as Japan. I mean, from the monk in a bicycle and a peaceful shrine where time seems to have stood still in the midst of the city, the writer could have chosen to place these characters elsewhere to have met for the first time; but this is where that factor of the ancient ways in a modern world comes into play.

You’re going to love Min as he struggles at being the new Korean guy at school, and you’re going to love him more when he tries to win the heart of Nanae [who also studies at the same high school] which starts out with rather disastrous results.
Indulge this blow-by-blow, if you please: On his way out from his first day at his new school, Min runs after Nanae and catches her by the bridge. Unfortunately, his bike accidentally knocks-off her painting case from her hands and it falls into the stream below. Kim jumps over the bridge to get it but fails to realize that the stream is quite shallow and ends up a bit hurt. And as he victoriously raises the painting case in the air, its contents all drop into the water.

But before I reveal too much [which I often tend to do when I do these movie review posts], allow me to just skip a few things so I don’t get too excited with all the sweet things he does and turn an eye towards objectivity.
Not long ago, I saw this Japanese animated film called Millennium Actress; and the film had quite a premise that said “love is a burden, and often a curse” [non-verbatim, but that’s pretty much the point]. And I realized how this governs the many love stories I have seen of recent vintage from the Japanese. It’s an observation rooted to certain philosophical musings that have been brought to my attention by my friend who studies Japanese philosophy. And as much as I want to veer away from being too profound with such a simple love story, you tend to realize that it is far from simple.
As the story rolls along, Min and Nanae’s love seems to have been built around these ancient practices like the Omikoji tree and the memory books, as well as superstitious urban legends passed on about lovers destined to part if they go to certain places, down to the charm/talisman that Nanae gives Min at the festival, and the promise to meet at a certain place in Korea by the first snowfall to seal their love with that magic or luck that goes with it.

And as their joy is cut abruptly by their untimely separation, Min’s promise to Nanae that he will learn to make fine porcelain for Nanae to paint on seems to have been lost. For when Min returns from Korea to visit his ailing grandmother, he finds out that Nanae has moved out of their home and is nowhere to be found. The seasons would change for these lovers lost to each other more than once until they find one another again. But as season’s change, so do some hearts; and the love they bear lost to the pain the heart feels.
Still, the journey of their love seems far from over. And by journey, you’re literally taken from Japan to Korea and back, but you’re also given this sense of completion –if you could call it that- when Min realizes that all he had to do was keep his simple promise.
If you see the way this movie ends, you’re going to want to watch it all over again and come up with the realization that the wait was all worth it, that some promises are worth keeping, and that if you hold on to your hope, your love will find you where you’ve always waited for him at the first fall of snow.

20 May, 2011

Sifted from the Rolling Mist in My Mind

Hello World, The Barefoot Baklesa is back.

The Barefoot Baklesa blog has been experiencing its nth blog post drought since early this year. It's part busy, part procrastination, part hit-and-miss. He has many a draft for blog posts saved that never made it online. Although his goal has never been about an overwhelming number of blog posts, nor online popularity, nor about an overwhelming amount of readers, he does enjoy the dynamics of the blog phenomenon.

But of recent vintage, the Barefoot Baklesa felt as if blogging has lost its gloss. He never bothered to review anything he's seen in film or television recently, nor has he voiced his disapproval of what is being served at the places to dine around town, nor does he feel like being political with all this RH Bill hullabaloo. The most activity he's made an effort of is uploading photographs to his Flickr and Facebook accounts; the latter enjoying the added status updates more than the blog.

The Barefoot Baklesa is currently on an extended stay in Panay Island, letting the summer pass, some afternoons less productive than others with the book he is currently developing. Taking out his processional image for Holy Week, attending social functions, hanging out with friends until the wee hours of the morning, are among the many things he's been occupied with.

But for now, he has these things to say. They are short, but they make up for lost time -sifted from the swirling mist in his head.

1. Never allow people to fool, abuse, and make you feel any less than the wonderful individual you are more than twice.

2. Abuse comes in many forms, learn to acknowledge it actually happening and never allow yourself to be blinded by your compassion, understanding, or even love for someone who takes advantage of you.

3. Your inner child knows if you are happy or not. Yet maturity teaches you to quell the inner child to be practical, to say the least.

4. Forgiveness is one thing, but to expect things to be the same as before is another.

5. Blood may be thicker than water but the meat stays when blood finally dries out. An absurd thought, if you thing about it when the saying should apply.

6. Once you say someone is “Dead to me”, stick by it. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Christ has ascended into heaven and it's been two thousand years since Lazarus was raised from the dead; you're not one to waste resurrection on the undeserved.

7. Never sit idly by when you know someone is abusing a child. This is why sexual predators -some of them family members, get away with it. Take it from someone who knows, you would not want that baggage when you are older.

8. Never judge anyone's life choices against your own. You can have an opinion about it but if you're not willing to live their life then you better let them be. No matter your disgust, the best you can do is let them live the consequences.

9. If you make a living taking advantage of others, at least have the decency never to do it to your kin. To pull one under a close relative is just plain despicable.

10. To behave like nothing happened when one has been seriously wronged is to say that it is okay to be treated thus.

11. Social climbers can be amusing company, entertaining at best. But never make the mistake of calling their pretensions to their face. You might end up losing your next topic for gossip. It's their choice anyway.

12. Read a few pages of a book every night before you go to bed and stimulate your mind. Never allow your mind to drift to sleep with useless television. You might end up blaming Willie Revillame in your old age for your Alzheimer's.

13. Learn to differentiate Art from crap.

14. If you must make a spectacle of yourself, never display bad taste in your homes, there's only so much your guests can take. [Hahahahaha!!!]

15. Less is more. Just because you wear more than a few carats, does not immediately mean you'll make it to society -in the 19th century sense.

16. Sincerity is the hardest to fake. If you can't be yet you pretend to do so, people will see through it.

17. However, there are others who are just oblivious to their own masquerade.

18. From Lady Bracknell, “Never speak ill of society. Only those who can not get into it do that.”

19. The act of Generosity is marred by one's selfish desire to be acknowledged publicly for what should be a modest act.

20. When it's time for some people to go, some people will never leave without having the last say. Beware the rumors they spread blaming you for their personal misery -most of the time, of their own making.

21. Learn to be ahead of those who you know are capable of pulling the rug from under you.

22. Appreciation for the simplest things people do, goes a long way. Don't fail to let these good people know how much you appreciate their deeds and words.

23. You can protest all you want, and wax poetics on what there is lacking in this world but if you stay in your ivory towers still, then you are no better than those whom you protest.

24. Listen to the Jesuits, their brand of wisdom has done them good.

25. Understand first how the simpleton looks at life rather than impose your superior life view.

26. Copycats are the worst, they always say theirs is better but there really is no point in comparison. Let the work speak for itself.

27. Just because someone is a licensed career professional, say a doctor, does not mean they are above anyone else. The humble laborer is as important as the delusionally entitled.

28. Speaking of entitlement. The next great human failing next to hipocrisy is a “Bloated Sense of Entitlement” -some people may think that because they are of a certain profession, of a certain family, or even religion they are immediately entitled to a lot of things.

29. If a person is an acquired taste, then let them realize their flavor.

30. Rain may wash away the dirt for a while, but it does dry to be dirtied anew.

Thus spake the Barefoot Baklesa

11 May, 2011

Raving about PERFUME, brace yourselves...

-This is a repost of an old review I had done some years back... I reckon it's worth the reading.

PERFUME [the story of a murderer]

I have more than once before encountered copies of PERFUME during my usual dvd hunting trips in quiapo but never bothered to purchase one. Even with a recommendation to do so, I never did. And so, last Saturday, with no new find other than a dvd of Ian Mckellen playing King Lear, I gave in. And what a purchase it turned out to be.

PERFUME is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell bordering on the superhuman. The consequences of his birth on the most putrid spot in 1728 Paris, under his mother's fish stand, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was left to be shovelled away as dirt -with the fish guts and filth- for coming out stillborn, he was thought to be dead.

But then, Grenouille breathed his first, followed by a cry which led to his discovery. Thus the very breath and cry that first came out of him, sent his mother to be hanged. [come to think of it, Picasso was stillborn, for 5 minutes laid out on the kitchen table until his uncle decided to blow in tobacco smoke into his mouth and the baby Picasso coughed. Five minutes of death equated to an artistic gift...hmmmm...]

Moving on... This pattern of death would follow those that would let Grenouille go or those that would abandon him in the years that came to pass - was what i would say be- the scourge of his leaving. Growing up in Madame Gaillard's Orphanage, he never learned to speak until years later as there were no words for the olfactory experiences he began discover of this world through his divine gift.

By the age of 13, Madame Gaillard sells him to a tanner named Grimal, and she was to meet her end later for the ten francs she had earned would soon mean her death on the hands of robbers.

Surviving Grimal's tannery in the years that came, one fateful trip to the heart of Paris would change his life forever.

His first ever expedition from the tannery, the only world he had known for years, into the heart of the city intoxicated him as he breathed. And in doing so, his feet led him to Pelissier's perfume shop, and from the window outside he was able to smell the latest craze in perfumes; a scent named 'amor and psyche'. Mind you, I have never seen the streets of Baroque Paris portrayed this way on film. Capturing the contrasts and movement of light and darkness, the well-to-do and those that have none, and Grenouille against the backdrop was an engaging cinematic sight.

Then, by the corner,another scent overpowers him. He never knew much of the concept of beauty but he followed its scent. And this led him to follow a young woman, a fruit seller, that in pacifying her for screaming due to having surprised her, he ended up suffocating her. [familiar though to the idea holding a bird in thine hand never wanting to let go, ergo one ends up killing it.] His lack of experience in the other complexities of the human person, seems for us a mirror in cinema of the time we encounter loss as a child and live with the consequences of this deprivation in our adult years.

As he tried so hard to hang on to the fading scent of this dead young woman, by his hands, he tried to hold on to it. But as she is dead, the scent of beauty and life that was there once before, was gone. Thus begins his obsession with "capturing the scent of things to reprise it forever"

One is not surprised with his lack of remorse, having known the world differently. He returns to the tannery to be beaten by Grimal, a timely punishment for wandering off...

And as fate would have it, he meets Baldini, a perfumer who is past his prime and has seen better years [ brilliantly played by Dustin Hoffman ], during another delivery. To Baldini did he exhibit his gift by recreating the rival Pelissier's perfume 'amor and psyche' and made an even better one.

Here we are treated to the unconventional skill he displays. Mostly letting his nose lead him from shelf to shelf and mixing chemical after chemical. And it was a foreshadowing of how his naive notions and instinct would come into play.

Baldini purchases him from Grimal for fifty francs, and in doing so Grimal would meet the fate of Grenouille's mother and madame gaillard: death.

In Baldini's care, Grenouille learned the perfumer's craft. He resurrected his master's business to its former glory, even surpassing it. Baldini then utters the definitive master to apprentice lecture: "Because talent means next to nothing while experience acquired in humility and hard work means everything."

In this world of frauds and posseurs, this reverberates to the talented few, who not only have to contend with the fakers out there, but also take heed of the relationship between 'present mediocrity versus absent genius'. A true apprentice indeed must take nothing with him but leave learning enough with
the resolve to do much learning.

Peaking my interest aside from the beautifully detailed perfume shop and laboratory with apothecary jars, flasks, and vessels filled with wondrous things; the movie introduces the idea that every perfume is composed of 12 essences
of notes, 4 of such assigned to one
of 3 Chords; namely the head chord [a perfume's first impression that lasts a few minutes], the heart chord [the theme of the perfume that lasts for hours], and the base chord[the perfume's trail that lasts for days]. Knowing the right combination of notes and chords and their harmony results in a good perfume. Then Baldini speaks of a legendary 13th note that if added would supposedly produce the perfect perfume. This elusive 13th ingredient would be in Grenouille's thoughts...

But distilling essential oils from flowers and herbs did not meet with Grenouille's desire to capture 'the scent of all things'. And in his ignorance, he tried to distill scent from glass, copper, and a cat [yes, a cat...a cute one at that.] to find out it can never be. One does begin to pity Grenouille for the combination of innocence and ignorance he displays. The very nature of his gift evidently ostracizes him from absorbing certain realities and he himself unconsciously builds a dangerous wall.

He grows sick upon the disappointment to the point of near death. But Baldini gives him hope when the physician could give none; in a place called Grasse, he can learn the elusive art of Enflourage -another way to capture scent. And he miraculously recovers. Leaving his old master with a hundred new formulas for perfumes so his business won't go the way it did before, he journeys to Grasse. And as one would expect, Baldini would never again awake in this life.

Grenouille's journey to Grasse, reveals more to him, as his own scent leaves him. Imagine how tragic that is, having that extraordinary sense of smell but being without any scent of your own. There I mark, he saw himself dead... And the perfect perfume would undo this, would give him life, the life of which he knew he was deprived of.

I found the cinematographic treatment of this film to be such a visual feast. As Paris had a very dark and worn out texture, Grasse -i take it- was golden sunshine in a bottle. And the fields of lavender and jasmine...oh my...

Also, there is much to be said about how they treat the very concept of scent in this movie. It has a visual quality unto itself that you seem to be able to smell what you see.

There in Grasse, he learned Enflourage, and became the skill of use for his odyssey into calculated murder. And the city bathed in light and colored by the very flowers of its industry, was soon to be swalled by the shadows as one young woman after another -each with her own beauty- met their scented end in the hands of Grenouille. Their essence collected and served as a note to complete 12. Fear and Paranoia sets into Grasse by the first few dead girls. And with a manhunt for a killer, Grenouille remains uncaught...and twelve women for twelve notes to make up the chords found their way into vials.

But the legendary 13th note, in his quest for the perfect perfume, he reserved for a girl named Laura -whilst the others have been but essential notes, Laura would top them all, for he loved her [and freakishly reminded him of the first scent that he could not keep: the fruitseller's, the first one he killed]. But that proved to be his undoing. For in killing Laura, the wrath of her father [played by Alan Rickman a.k.a. Professor Snape] would fall upon him and he is hunted down. And as he was mixing his chords, by the time he finished adding the 13th note, finally with the vial of his perfect perfume, he is caught.

Hanging onto it for dear life, he was able to keep his perfect perfume and while incarcirated, he thought of how to reveal it to the world.

With his execution looming over him, in the flair of the baroque, Grenouille takes the stage so to speak and reveals the perfect perfume...a scent so powerful it topples sanity, reason, and the very fibre of morality. For this was no perfume made from some flora, this was made of the same stuff we are all made of...madenning, isn't it?

I shant give away the ending; and like the 13th note, it shall remain elusive. But i daresay, PERFUME is one great movie you should see.

03 May, 2011

Fascinating Filipino Fare

My Mother's side of the family has been known for serving a good table at any occasion. Well, it did not hurt that my abuela Aurelia owned and operated a restaurant for over fifty years. I remember taking my vacation at San Jose de Buenavista in the Province of Antique as a child, and before first light, the household would already be active to prepare the day's menu.

Unlike the more western concept of what a usual restaurant set-up is, which requires food to be cooked as you order, the average hometown restaurant in early 1950s Philippines had a set menu that was cooked in mass quantities everyday and displayed inside a glass 'escaparate' or display cabinet for people to choose from. By 10:30 to about 11:00am, the viands prepared or cooked in sauces like Menudo [porked stewed with vegetables in tomato sauce], Caldereta [often spicy meat stew], and Callos [tripe stew with garbanzos, poatoes, and bell peppers] need to be displayed at the escaparete and the soup based ones like the sour soup Sinigang -still piping hot- are ladled straight from their cooking pots. Customers would arrive and take a look at the escaparate and would point to what they wish to be served; perhaps the root of the term Filipino term turo-turo -the word turo literally meaning 'point at'- which is a common name for the local eateries of late.

Ihe images contained in this post were taken during the fiesta celebration at Balay de los Reyes last May 1st. My Abuela's restaurant has ceased operations since 2003, but when we can, we cook the food that she was known to have served and served best. With the many changes that have transpired through the years, the Barefoot Baklesa is thankful that the only constant thing is the food we have learned to cook and serve. And thank God for Nanay Elsie for keeping the recipes alive.

Food has always been a universal thread in all human contact. A guest is served the best cut of meat, the family's best dish, or is treated to a local specialty when he arrives. The Filipino and Thai people are best known for their hospitality, mentioned more than one foreigner to the Barefoot Baklesa. A telltale sign that we have not totally lost our openness as a people -a trait often misconstrued as a failure by some critics of Filipino lapses in judgment. But to hell with that, says the Barefoot Baklesa -we are here to celebrate he best of the Filipino, aren't we?

The Barefoot Baklesa would like to take a closer look at Pinoy food culture the many facets that made it the way it is, thus expect some more cuisine culture related posts soon.

thus spake the Barefoot Baklesa