Durian Outside Durian Country

At a barbecue lunch one Sunday in Antipolo City hosted by my cousin’s ex-classmate, it fascinated me no end to see for the first time a live durian tree right here in the metropolis.  I have been to Davao, the durian capital of the Philippines, in the line of duty, but I never had the chance to see much of the sights or discover things indigenous to the place.  Not having to go all the way to Davao to see a durian tree up close is, therefore, a rare treat.  And what perfect timing to catch its fruit-bearing stage!  From what I gathered, the durian seed was planted in the property three years ago.  Now that’s a short wait!  Only a certified green thumb could have accomplished such a feat.  And no way was I going to pass up the chance to capture nature’s work for posterity.  Wish I had the privilege to savor the taste of its ripened fruit……

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For a bit of trivia, durian comes from the Malay word duri which means thorn or spike.  Characteristics of the durian include large fruits with thick spiky shell or husk and strong, pungent smell. They are native to tropical countries in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines (specifically in Davao in Mindanao), Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

 

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Letter to Carina

Following is a posthumous tribute to a dearly beloved friend of mine in letter form, which I wrote immediately after her passing in April 2014, but which I got around to publishing only now.  This is a toast to true friendship that knows no bounds.  This, too, is to celebrate her life that had touched many other lives…..

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My dearest Carina,

There are “so-called” friends.  And then there are the true friends.  The real ones stand out, like rare, sparkling gems on a bed of sand.  You’re one among the few.

Remember how we started out casually as classmates in a special course in college?  One invitation to a prayer meeting in your house became the ticket to our journey together.  Into your life, into your home, into your family and inner circle of friends, you unreservedly welcomed me.  Your winsome ways won me over to you, and our common passions made us gravitate toward each other.   An inseparable dyad, like two peas in a pod – that’s what we were.

And how conveniently close we were geographically!  Lying below your former Blue Ridge residence atop a hill is the street where I live.  I was your frequent house guest, and our “sister act” would stretch for hours on end, extending to sleepovers, almost making me blend among your home fixtures.  We would do what we loved doing – sing, talk, giggle, and so much more of the same.  The steps carved out of the rock on the hill slope beside your house became our private tavern.  On other occasions, we would be out enjoying acoustic music at the folk house of Asian Institute of Tourism, hanging out at your cousins’ place in Loyola Heights, ball-rolling in Greenhills bowling lanes, attending parties here and there, or visiting your close kith and kin.

When physically apart, we would burn the telephone wires with our endless conversations.  Those phone marathons would have spill-overs to include your two sisters, Lisa and Patty.  Not surprisingly, we would dwell just a little bit more on the favorite subject of normal girls our age.  You and your sisters even went as far as setting me up on a date with your neighbor.  And how can I forget that weird but funny moniker you coined as our secret code for a schoolmate turned boyfriend of mine!

While we were later building our respective careers, we would arrange to meet after work, and together with your sisters, we would take our ride home in your cousin’s car which we jokingly referred to as our “school bus.”  A few times, you gave me the privilege of witnessing corporate prayer for your business concerns in your office premises.  In your unrelenting pursuit, you kept to your agenda to lead me to the Good Shepherd by bringing me to the ministry activities of the church you were attending.  It was there that I once tearfully responded to an altar call.

Then came the time when you and most of your family migrated to the U.S.  We lost touch for what seemed like ages (blame it on our constantly changing home phone numbers coupled with my wandering days).  Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, our connection was restored.  But this much I will say: Our friendship was not rekindled, no.  Because neither did it diminish, nor was it ever extinguished.  Like an old pair of gloves, it felt just as snug even with the years and distance that came between us.  Time never rendered our friendship irrelevant.

Come to think of it, do you know what suddenly dawned on me as I was writing this?  How so alike our minds work!  Hmmm…..on second thought, I could be robbing God of the credit due Him.  I am fully convinced that as surely as you received His inspiration for your blog title, I got the exact same thing from Him.  You see, I was asked one time by my small group in church to lead a devotion.  After praying for God’s wisdom, lo and behold, the theme “I Am” was impressed upon me.  The confirmation came when I tuned in to a preaching on TV.  The topic?  You guessed it!  Coincidence?  I think not!

Writing…..that’s another validated item in our list of “commons.”  Dabbling in poetry in your youth had somehow rubbed off on your sister Lisa.  Do you remember how we all were in stitches reading Lisa’s funny poem about cockroaches?  Ha ha ha ha!  Seriously though, your giftedness in writing cannot be denied.

Through your “I Am” blogs, I not only saw how you have matured as a writer, but also how you’ve evolved into a woman of greater substance and depth. Underneath your musings are a profundity and vivid imagery that can only come from the God-breathed utterances of the heart, allowing us readers to take a peek into the windows of your soul.  Your dexterity at wordplay makes your work sound almost lyrical.  They are decidedly refreshing to the spirit, evidently the outflow of intimately close encounters with God.  In journaling your journey while you battled with the Big C, you were dropping golden nuggets along the way for us to pick up.  Words may never be adequate to describe just how much you’ve inspired and encouraged me (and I’m sure many more out there) by how you carried your cross with grace and how admirably strong you finished your race.  Yes, you wrestled with your giant, but you fought a good fight and you ultimately wrested the victory.

When I got wind of the news that you crossed the finish line, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was a bitter pill to swallow.  Tears kept my grief company.  I took comfort in the knowledge that you are now in the crook of Abba’s arms where eternal rest begins.  No more tears.  No more pain.

In the few weeks that followed your passage, I found myself revisiting your blogs.  Each time I did, a wave of unspeakable sadness would form lumps in my throat.  Earth has turned a little dimmer for having lost you, for you were a sliver of light that made the world around you brighter.  The life you lived is a tough act to follow.  Your unpretentious nature made you comfortable to be with. You made allowances for me to be the real me……embracing me for who I was even at my worst.  Not once did you judge me for my words, deeds or misdeeds.  You did not reckon it as an excuse to shove me away when the skeletons in my closet started to show.  Not one recollection do I have of any disturbing undercurrent that threatened to undermine what we had.  With patience and understanding, you lent me your attentive ears and offered your shoulders for me to cry on.

Gently, albeit slowly but resolutely, you goaded me to the direction leading to the quintessential essence of life and the afterlife.  I once was lost, but you showed me the way.  Surely, your fingers have pointed countless others to the path that leads to Life.  Your memory shall live on and your life of robust faith I celebrate, for the lasting legacy you left behind is more precious than silver and gold.  When you bowed out of the world’s stage and finally entered the pearly gates, God must have beamed with pride and said as He ushered you in, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I miss you, my dearly beloved friend!  Yet I am redeemed by the thought that we have both made each other feel our genuine love and affection for each other, especially during the last stretch of your earthly journey, even if only in the virtual realm.  Owing to the vast ocean between us, the possibility of giving a eulogy at your memorial service was quite remote.  Let this message, then, be my special tribute to someone as extraordinary as you, with hopes that God will deliver it to you.  But for all I know, you may be giggling right now while reading this from the lofty places above.

For being my one-in-a-million heaven-sent friend, trusted confidante, wise counselor, first-ever spiritual mentor, soul sister and the other half of our singing duo, a big, fat thank you!  One day, we will see each other again.  Until then, our favorite duet of Sergio Mendes’ “Put A Little Love Away” can wait.  The song will, however, always remind me of you for defining what it means to unstintingly give love away.

As I think of you now, I hear jamming in heaven with you in the midst of the singing angelic host.

(Signed)

Your forever friend

Clueless About The Criminal

CLUELESS – that’s a new formula that works for me.  I find myself hanging in animated suspense watching movies absolutely in the dark about the casting and the storyline.  It spikes the thrill and excitement with the elements of surprise and unpredictability.

I have also learned that, just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, a movie should not be judged by its title alone until viewed in its entirety.  Not all is lost even for films that can easily be dismissed as forgettables or lacking in substance.  When you scratch the surface and look beyond the apparent, the crux of the matter grips you in its raw, profound essence.  Even a violence-riddled film can speak in a hushed tone much like a gentle embrace that envelops your core.

The movie title Criminal didn’t strike my fancy at first.  But seeing that it was still running the next time I checked the movie line-up the following week, my curiosity was piqued.  I surmised, it must be enjoying good patronage to merit an extended run.  Sure enough, the cinema was full.  The appearance of actors Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner and Gary Oldman on the screen reinforced the seal of quality.

The action thriller film is mentally stimulating, suspenseful, riveting, emotionally-charged and engaging all at the same time.  I have yet to learn to dissociate myself from the reel, but the reel has a way of weaving seamlessly into the real, that it strikes the heart chords within.  At the outset, it confronts the audience with a jigsaw puzzle to solve.  As the story progresses, bits and pieces start falling into place.

CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is on his way to deliver the money and new identity for “Dutchman,” the cyber-hacker who has the key to subvert the enemy’s computer program that is poised to launch a nuclear warhead.  The minions of Russian anarchist Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molla) track Bill down and successfully blocks his efforts to accomplish his mission through an ambush.  The CIA led by bureau head Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) is faced with a blank wall as it races for time to get to the Dutchman first before the enemy camp does.  With medical science’s intervention, the brainchild of neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones), dead Bill’s memory brain is transplanted into the brain cells of handpicked basket case of an ex-convict Jericho (played by Kevin Costner).  They pin their hopes on Jericho to pick up from where Bill left off to foil the evil plot.

Heartless thug Jericho with a criminal mind and beastly instinct who eats violence for breakfast, when wired with the mind of caring family man Bill through memory transference, eventually imbibes the soft stuff that Bill was made of.  His close encounters with Bill’s charming wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and adorable daughter Emily (Lara Decaro) activates the mind of Bill. and draws out emotions from Jericho for the first time.  Although Jericho tries to do horrible things to mother and child, Bill’s memories prevailed upon him.  Jill gives him the benefit of the doubt when Jericho displays Bill’s unique mannerisms and breaks secret codes known only to them.  Jericho’s inner being gradually changes as Jill and Emily start to warm up to him.

But as fate would have it, with the failure of CIA agent Bill to deliver the goods to the Dutchman as promised, the Dutchman turns traitor and tries to sell his program to the Russians.  Jill and Emily would later fall into the hands of the enemies.  Jericho not only saves Bill’s widow and daughter but also saves the world from a nuclear holocaust.  Surprisingly, he was permanently transformed into a better person with the capacity to love.  The film wraps up with a dramatic, tear-jerking  scene that formed a lump in my throat.

Whittling down to the subliminal, insightful message underscored in the film, there is hope of life transformation for “worthless” scums of the earth when they get a taste of acceptance and affection from humanity.  But this is one of those occasions where I wish they had left out the graphic, gory details of brutal manslaughter and bloodshed.  Nonetheless, my verdict for The Criminal: a very good must-watch material.

Cultured & Artsy For A Day (Part 2)

Picking up from our first leg of our museum tour after a late lunch, we walked over to the majestic structure adjacent to the National Museum of Anthropology – the Old Legislative Building located at Padre Burgos Drive across the Walled City of Intramuros, fronting the Manila City Hall.  For those not in the know, this was the previous address of both Houses of Congress and Senate.   We queued under the scorching afternoon sun for about 30 minutes for the second part of our tour to view the National Fine Arts Collection.

The stately Old Legislative Building, now the National Museum of the Philippines

The stately Old Legislative Building, now the National Museum of the Philippines

On exhibit here are some of the masterpieces of illustrious icons in visual arts, for which they are hailed as national artists.  Greeting visitors in the foyer of the main hall is an imposing sculpture of a winged goddess by Guillermo Tolentino, who was the same artistic genius behind the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City.  Once inside the inner chamber or what used to be the Senate Hall, one can’t help but be regaled by the humongous sight.  Sprawled across the wide, wide wall is the art galleries’ piece de resistance – Juan Luna’s priceless, world-renowned and critically-acclaimed masterpiece, the Spolarium.

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Statue by Guillermo Tolentino

World-renowned critically-acclaimed Spolarium by Juan Luna

The Spolarium, world-acclaimed priceless painting by National Artist Juan Luna

The next gallery is dedicated to the works of the old masters, Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo.  Much of Luna’s pieces depict life in Paris, where he maintained an atelier in his flat during his prolific days.  It helped that I caught an episode of the TV documentary program, Front Row, where producer-host Howie Severino went on an expedition to Paris to get an inside look at the private life of Filipino-blooded hero-artist Luna.  I felt privileged to come face-to-face with some of the oil-on-canvass paintings I only previously saw on the TV screen and be privy to the stories behind them. Hidalgo’s paintings, on the other hand, while they showcased his adept brush strokes, used predominantly subdued, muted colors and subjects that failed to personally connect with me.

Portrait of a Lady (aka Mi Novia or Portrait of Paz Pardo de Tavera)  oil on canvass c. 1882 by Juan N. Luna

Portrait of a Lady also known as Mi Novia or Portrait of Paz Pardo De Tavera, an oil on canvass painting by Juan Luna

There’s another side of our national hero, Jose Rizal, that I didn’t know much about until this tour.  As a visual artist, he definitely has mastery and sensitivity, both as painter and sculptor.  However, only one precious, carefully-preserved artwork with the Berlin Square as subject, was available for viewing.  It felt frustrating to take a picture of it, because its protective glass encasing glared from the lights and the reflection of the window across it marred the photographic image.  But what really amazed me was Rizal’s small but meticulously-sculpted terracotta piece titled “Pablo el Ermitaňo,” where attention to detail is visibly evident.

Terracotta sculpture of Jose P. Rizal titled San Pablo el Ermitano

Pablo El Ermitano, a terracotta sculpture by Jose P. Rizal

Several other artists also shared the limelight in their own designated areas – Juvenal Sanso, Vicente Manansala, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Napoleon Abueva, Victorio Edades, Cesar Legaspi, Mauro Malang Santos, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Impy Pilapil, Romulo Olazo……….just to name a few of those I have become familiar with.  I was introduced to a handful of period as well as modern artists whose names I have encountered for the very first time.

Watercolor portrait of Abe Cruz by Vicente S. Manansala

Watercolor portrait of Abe Cruz by Vicente Manansala

Oil on canvass painting by Carlos Botong V. Francisco

An oil on canvass painting by Carlos “Botong” V. Francisco

Torso, an adobe stone sculpture c. 1952 by Napoleon V. Abueva

Torso, an adobe stone sculpture by Napoleon V. Abueva

Superstition oil on canvass c. 1982 by Cesar T. Legaspi

Superstition, an oil on canvass piece by Cesar T. Legaspi

Mother and Child oil on canvass painting by Mauro Malang Santos

Mother and Child oil painting by Mauro Malang Santos

A visit to the National Museum is not only educational, enlightening and enriching, but it likewise leaves you with a sense of pride for being a Filipino.  It is ­­­good to be reminded of our Filipino roots and our identity as a nation through our historical past and rich cultural heritage.  It is also highly recommended as a de-stressing therapy.  Regrettably, I was not able to cover all grounds.  A day’s tour is not an ample enough time to browse through all the museum’s open chambers, especially for someone like me who takes pains either to take photos or appreciate and absorb what I find captivating.

A massive antiquated church altar with intricate details

A massive antiquated church altar with intricate details

Triumphal arch of the Commonwealth of the Philippines

Triumphal arch of the Commonwealth of the Philippines

The National Museum is open daily from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  There is a regular entrance fee of P150.00 during weekdays (with discounts for students, senior citizens and groups).  On Sundays, it is open to the general public for free.