Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amy, Diane and Emily

While reading Manila Bulletin's interview with novelist and recent Manila visitor Amy Tan just yesterday after it came out Monday, I took note of this interesting question asked: "Is there any person, living or dead, you want to chat with to write their biography or a book based on their story?"

Her reply: "Emily Dickinson because every one of her poems was so profound. Her poems are very deep and emotional but not in a predictable, sentimental way. I want to know, how did you have these thoughts?"

Today I happened upon a profile of actor Diane Keaton in a back issue of The New York Times (online edition, of course). She was asked what her favorite literary genre is. She then asked if quotes count as a literary genre or sub-genre because she hoards them. One such quote that she had scribbled on the back of an envelope are these lines from Emily Dickinson:

"In this short life that only lasts an hour, 
How much — how little — is within our power."

Coincidence? Synchronicity? A nudge--but towards what direction?

It's uncanny but as I encode these words, the fog in Baguio is rolling in, and I am reminded that I must bring in the laundry from the clothesline before they get damp all over again. I think that is today's message. That's the direction I am taking after I upload this blog for today.

By the way, "I must go in, the fog is rising" were supposedly the last words Ms. Dickinson said. A fitting thought before we all observe Dia de Muertos that has somehow been trivialized by a commercialized Halloween. Funny how of all the images of Ms. Dickinson, it's the one above that captured and captivated me totally.

Those last words won't be mine yet. And I'm not about to spook myself while alone in the house.

Thank you just the same, ladies.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sharing our sun

I don't know now which came first: the old Rod Mckuen song that had been playing in my head for sometime or the bright afternoon of yesterday, no fog, no threat of rain. It only meant there was a great chance of catching a sunset from The Wee One's and my favorite point somewhere in Baguio. By 5:15 we were clambering up the steps to get to that special place.

We caught it, and how we did! Just as the weather person predicted, it set at 5:39 p.m.

Now we share our sunset along with the lyrics of "I'll Catch the Sun" by McKuen. This I first heard in college, and it never quite left me. I know how schmaltzy-waltzy it sounds now, but I still like listening to it, singing it and will have it playing again when I get to that sleep-inducing non-activity of tallying all the sunsets that went noticed and unnoticed, admired and taken for granted in my life.

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

I’ll catch the sun
And never give it back again
I’ll catch the sun
And keep it for my own.

And in a world where no one understands
I’ll take my outstretched hand
And offer it to anyone
Who comes along and tells me
He’s in need of love
In need of hope
Or maybe just a friend.

Perhaps, in time
I’ll even share my sun
With that new anyone
To whom I gave my hand.

(I’ll catch the sun
And never give it back again
I’ll catch the sun
And keep it for my own)

Perhaps, in time
I’ll even share my sun
With that new anyone
To whom I gave my hand.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Interrupted walk

My three-year-old walking companion, a.k.a. The Wee One, and I often pause at this spot and try to be very still. It's where the butterflies from the neighborhood gather, without fail, on sunny mornings.

A week went by without a post, and I shan't detail what went on before--too inconsequential for my precious few readers to bother. They're better listed down in a private journal.

If my walks have been temporarily halted along with the photo documentation, it's because of a sudden flareup of rashes around my neck and upper chest. I felt the itch climb up, tiny rosary beads caused a swelling on my right cheek. The lid of my right eye grew heavy from the swelling. Nope, it wasn't something I ate. There's an animistic, less empirical side of me that failed to acknowledge some spirits dwelling on unused stone steps with heavy, untrimmed vegetation and flora along both sides. I chose to take that path less well taken and paid heavily for it. The Wee One was somehow protected by her fleet feet and the insect repellent lotion that her grandaunt rubbed on her exposed skin before we ventured out.

"Tabi tabi po. Makikiraan po." These are the traditional words that I should have spoken out loud as I climbed down those steps. The Wee One was light on her feet and took the steps quickly without a pause even if I tried to sound stern with my "Carefully! Carefully!" The experience has taught me to be more careful and mindful. At the same time, I'm grateful she was spared the discomfort.

I know better now. I won't dampen our combined spirit of exploration, but we'll be both armed next time with protected skin, prayers and our ancestors' incantations. These will save me another trip to the doctor and three days spent indoors waiting for the rashes to disappear with help from antihistamines. Meanwhile, I continue to just breathe.

Because of her size (she's closer to the earth), The Wee One is the first to always catch a spectacle. Then she issues a command: "Look, Booboo! Isn't that beautiful? Take a picture!"

My fearless guide to Life Photos by Booboo Babeth

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dagohoy country once again

Part of Bohol's Chocolate Hills, the picture taken from the steps leading to the view deck

These are two bloggers who I follow regularly: Lorianne DiSabato, who can be found at her, and Vivienne Gucwa at her When I'm not reading a book for leisure or leisurely penning postal mail, I visit these neighbors on my playlist.
Morning sky over the municipality of Carmen

When I'm stuck and flailing like someone about to drown when my life raft of words drifts hundreds of meters away, I linger longer than usual at Lorianne's and Vivienne's sites (even the end syllables of their names have a nice rhyming ring to them). I listen to their voices, look at their images, and I'm reminded to pick up where I was interrupted--a plain narrative, even if it's just my own or someone else's story.

Sunday being rest day and the need to recover from the past weeks is so strong that sometimes I succumb to the lure of a nap not during siesta hour but at mid-morn, I shook off the lethargy by doing the kaoshiki dance that I learned two years ago from yogi Ajita Reyes. I relearned it from her when she joined us during that long weekend in the south.

By the sea getting ready to salute the sun

Yesterday I minimized the pixels of some pictures that I took of some September days spent with people who poet Marj Evasco invited to experience "wide-awake dreaming". The "retreat" from the familiar world made room for slowing-down rituals: yoga, sunrise or sunset meditation, healthy semi-vegetarian or fully vegetarian meals, listening to fellow poet Jose Victor Peñaranda's speak on emptiness and awareness. There was time as well to see how Bohol province is rising or has risen from last year's 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

We had what the bees of Bohol Bee Farm also had: flowers!

The small Busay falls nevertheless emits a roar as water forcefully meets water.

About as large as a woman's fist and most of the times receding, this tarsier peeks from under his cover of a dry, brittle leaf

This forest, called a man-made or "artificial" one, covers land in Bilar that once was made barren by slash-and-burn agriculture. However, it's an eerily silent cathedral of green, save for the sound of vehicles rushing by. It's a lesson for those in the reforestation movement: plant a diverse number of trees to make possible the visitation of birds and other fauna.

The light that lit Bohol during several weeks of no power after the earthquake is sheer Pinoy ingenuity: small stones lined the bowls like this one, cotton balls were rolled, placed inside and floated on used cooking oil, then lit with a match. The practice continues to heighten the mood when dining under the stars.

So whether it's an inward-turned tremblor shaking one's being or surviving a big one out there, the hardy, unsinkable Boholanons have set the example of moving forward, of rising above the rubble. Daghang salamat. Padayon indeed.

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Friday, October 17, 2014


"It's rather curious, but no matter how old we are, we're always troubled by inexperience--always searching for direction. Don't you agree?...Wake up! Stay awake! I say. You know, faith and hope, those strengths we gained when we were young, are all the more important in old age." - Joan Erikson speaking in Joan Anderson's A Walk on the Beach: Tales on Wisdom from an Unconventional Woman

News of their passing arrived by SMS, email, a phone call a few hours before dawn when I was in that blurry zone between dreaming and wakefulness. The deaths came one after the other during the waning days of September as the month made way for October.

No matter how faith prepares us for death's inevitability, we're still caught by surprise. It's a wonder I got off a jeepney or a cab or a bus without incident as the news of each closing of a life arrived. It's a wonder, too, that my cousins, who are also friends, were able to gather the generations before or after us in an exercise of oneness during the grieving days that, speaking for myself, are not quite over.

I name the departed in the hope that their journey from this dimension to that place suffused with light and love is devoid of the pain, discomfort and all things humans go through in a thorough cleansing process before they behold and become united anew with the Sublime and Divine: cousin-in-law Rodolfo "Dups" de los Reyes, father to nieces Raissa Jeanne and Regina May; Priscilla Flor Domingo, my high school batch's teacher of history, geography and economics; Rosalinda Olivar of Villasis, Pangasinan, mother to Mackenzie, who's part of our extended family in Baguio; Auntie Fe who I associate with adept piano playing (she confidently carried the melody of "Blue Moon" while I struggled to keep up with the bass part) and a unique kind of chuckle that came from deep inside her; and Flora Abeya of Sagada, Mountain Province, gracious Lola Flora to those who visited at her A-7 home in the Cordillera town and a respected "kingmaker" of sorts there.

See you around at the blue-ing of the next moon!

She was known to us as Miss Flor at St. Paul Quezon City. Stark in this former student's mind is her narration how she and her fellow history majors visited Emilio Aguinaldo in his home to try to get him to answer their questions about the Bonifacio puzzle: who had him killed and why? She told of his repeated denials of his involvement. Another time she mused aloud how we were all too young to have known the country to be seized by an overwhelming love for it as one beholds it. It felt that way for her, she said. And so she rests in Taytay, Rizal.

Febe "Fe" Valdellon (left), beloved aunt and the eldest of the five Lolarga siblings, is seen here with sister Pacita Romero, brothers Enrique Jr., Ernesto and Celso, at the May 1988 burial of their mother, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga. The five are reunited.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The clarinetist from Cavite

Clarinetist Andrew Constantino demonstrates the breathing technique he follows before he plays his instrument. He was a soloist of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra in its "Sunsets at Makiling" concerts in May this year at the National Art Center in Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna. Photo by Babeth Lolarga

Observe how a baby breathes while asleep; its belly rises and falls in a natural rhythm. Yogis recommend to students that they relearn this rhythm. When adults are anxious or nervous, they just have to inhale, exhale deeply until they calm down. In meditation, when one’s monkey mind roams restlessly, one technique to quiet it down is to concentrate on one’s breathing.

Andrew Constantino, a clarinetist (this word can also be spelled “clarinettist”), knows how crucial diaphragmatic breathing is in playing his Yamaha woodwind instrument. Before he even practices the pieces that he studies, he stands tall, puts his hand sideways across his mouth. He inhales, holds his breath for five second before exhaling through his mouth slowly, then repeats until he has done this 10 times.

This 17-year-old freshman at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music will debut professionally on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Ayala Museum to close the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation’s Young Artist Series. Melissa Taqueban will be his assisting artist on the piano.

The program includes: Francis Poulenc’s “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano”; the more jazzy “Clarinet Concerto” by Aaron Copland; Robert Schumann’s “Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano”; and Debussy’s “Premiere Rhapsody.” Even Joseph Uy, MCOF cultural associate and walking compendium of music info, says these pieces are difficult.

Nicknamed Drew, the lanky boy from Imus, Cavite, also keeps fit by jogging with ears plugged to classical music, particularly Mozart’s and Brahms’ Clarinet Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. Smoking, late nights and activities that may compromise his health are no-nos. Discipline was imposed by his dad Ariel, once a clarinetist and now a baritone saxophonist who plays with the Imus Youth Symphonic Band. The band was founded by Abdoncito "Dasoy" Constantino.

The band where father and son play, by the way, can be heard every last Sunday of the month in a concert at the Imus municipality. These free concerts will go on until the end of this year.

Young Constantino was allowed to play tag with friends and cousins. But after dinner, two-hour lessons with his first teacher, his father, followed. He wasn’t a reluctant learner; he has after all been raised in a home where music was always being played. His older siblings Archie is a trumpet player of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, sisters Adrian, a saxophonist of the UP Woodwind Orchestra, and Alexis, a percussionist of the UP Symphony Orchestra.

At age seven, Constantino started playing the trumpet, gave it up because “mahirap ang breathing.” At eight, he turned to percussion instruments (snare and bass drums), but also gave up, finding the notes “more complicated.” At nine, he decided on the clarinet, or was it the clarinet that decided to snare him?

He says, “Whether played high or low, it is pleasant to the ears. The brightness of its sound can surprise you. It's a nice kind of surprise.”

This UST music major under the tutelage of Prof. Ariel Sta. Ana leaves his home in Cavite at 5 a.m so he can be in school by 6:30 when the hallway is still quiet. There he plays the clarinet. Because the city's pollution and traffic noise bother him, after classes he rents an air-conditioned studio, also at the university, for two hours at the rate of P10 an hour so he can concentrate on his practice. Photo by Babeth Lolarga

Playing for the Imus band and being mentored by his father helped him on the road to independence. “It's good to know somebody is helping you. However, it’s up to you if you want to pursue it, and music was what I wanted.”

There were eight music majors in all when he won a scholarship at the Philippine High School for the Arts, including pianists Matthew Calderon and Warren Garrido who’re making a name for themselves in the music world.

It was in one of the MCOF masterclasses under the famed clarinetist and teacher Marcel Luxen that Constantino was singled out. Luxen told him that he had no problem with techniques, he is able to follow tempos well. But he had to develop his musicality and interpretative side. Since then, the young man has gone to live performances and studiously watched operas on YouTube where clarinet solos can be seen or heard.

He is also reading more music-related literature. Uy says, “It’s not enough to be able to read music itself, you must know its history, background, even the life of the composer.”

Constantino has read up on Poulenc, discovering that in the second movement of “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano,” there are hints of the composer’s mother singing a lullaby to her son, telling him that he would grow up to be a great musician one day. By the third movement, Poulenc is playing with Arab children on the streets in the poor part of Paris and there is a phrase of Arab music.

The clarinetist says, “Those stories are helpful. When I play, I’m able to see these images.”

Another side of him is he composes music, writes lyrics to them and sings them himself. He has a tulawit (poem song) called "Gaano Mo Kamahal ang Sariling Wika." - Elizabeth Lolarga

His dreams may not be too far-fetched: To someday own and play a Buffet clarinet made in France and also to pass the live audition and study with Marcel Luxen at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Schools in Singapore. For tickets to his concert, call Ticketworld at 891-9999, the MCO Foundation at 750-0768 or 0920-954-0053 or the Cultural Arts and Events Organizer at 762-7164 or 0918-3473027. Photo courtesy of MCO Foundation