A Cultural Feast

Penman for Monday, July 18, 2011

ON THE heels of my three-part series last month about my Italian escapade, I’ve been ribbed by friends bemoaning my utter lack of culinary sophistication. How could you go to Venice, they said, and look for Ligo sardines? (Well, I did—I came, I saw, and I ate them; and they tasted even better, devoured in the recesses of a 15th-century castle in Umbria.)

But just to dispel the notion that I know absolutely nothing about good European food, let me insert a plug for the divine paella of a friend for whom paella-making is an art and a livelihood. I ran into Ditto Lesaca shortly after my return from Italy, and wished fervently that someone would send me to Spain, where I’ve never been, because I can live on Spanish sardines, chorizos, jamon serrano, and paella forever. Until that happens, Ditto’s heavenly creation—not cheap, I must say, but brimming with fat prawns and chunks of chorizo—will satisfy my cravings. You have to call him to cook your order, at 0918-9634886; no such thing as a quick takeout, here.

NOT SO appetizing is the continued force-feeding of my UP mailbox by the Office of the Presidential Spokesman. I began last week’s column by begging—too politely, I think—the OPS to release my mailbox back to me, after hijacking it for weeks with daily doses of at least one or two 5-megabyte “good news” messages about what the government is doing.

They expect me to read them, but apparently, they don't read me, because a week later, the assault continues, and again nothing is getting through to my jdalisay@up.edu.ph address but OPS releases, which refuse to be filtered out as spam. (This is like that mythical hydra—you chop off one head, another one pops up—and I don’t have the Herculean savvy to kill it.)

Can’t they at least reduce the file size of these releases to, say, 50 kilobytes, which is already as long as this garrulous column? Show a little consideration, guys—you’re not going to get any good press for your boss by doing something so rude and stupid as spamming journalists’ and academics’ mailboxes. Sonny, Ricky, Manolo, and whoever is out there I can call a friend—please find that brainless creep in the Palace who’s spewing out these releases (not the clerk, but his boss) and find him another job.

GETTING BACK to the real good news—in literature, that is—I'd like to share some choice bits of news that I’ve received these past few weeks, all of them having to do with advances made by Philippine and Asian literature on the global stage.

First off, let me acknowledge receipt of a new book of poems from a Macau-based Filipino poet, Oscar Balajadia, writing under the pseudonym Papa Osmubal. Pan Chai, A Filipino Boy in Macau is a collection of finely wrought poems detailing the travails of an expatriate worker in that former Portuguese colony. Married to a Chinese, Balajadia holds an MA in English Studies from the University of Macau, but his poems focus on the pan chai—the local, somewhat derogatory term for “Filipino.” In what might well be his signature poem, “The Filipino Workman in Macau,” Balajadia relates:

I come home from work. Sip an ice-cold beer.
See the evening news. Sip another beer.
Take dinner. Throw garbage. See more TV.
Sip one more beer. Feed the fish.
… Stagger to bed.
Say a prayer of thanks for not waking up the kids.
And for not waking up the wife who pretends to be asleep.

And so on goes the poem, detailing the “litany of blankness” undergone by this fellow every working day. Many thanks to my friend, Rene Villapando, now our consul general in Macau, for bringing to my attention this new, resonant voice from the diaspora.

SPEAKING OF Filipino voices on the global stage, I was pleasantly surprised to hear, through an intermediary, from Trevor Carolan, the Canadian writer and editor who, back in 1992, put together one of the most comprehensive anthologies of the contemporary short story from the Asia Pacific, titled The Colors of Heaven. The Philippines was represented in that collection by F. Sionil Jose and myself. This time, Trevor has edited and released two new anthologies: The Lotus Singers and Another Kind of Paradise—two collections of contemporary stories from South Asia and East and South Asia, respectively.

Together, the two books offer 39 stories by some of Asia’s best writers from 21 countries. This time, Philippine writing is represented by Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Marianne Villanueva. Another Kind of Paradise is published by Cheng & Tsui, and is available on Amazon.

While we’re on the subject of Asian literature, you might want to check out the Asian Review of Books at www.asianreviewofbooks.com. Now a decade old, this Web-based magazine provides incisive reviews of new, significant, and interesting books from all over Asia, covering a wide range of concerns from art and literature to politics and economics. On the editorial board is Peter Gordon, formerly executive director of the Man Asian Literary Prize and a friend to Filipino writers.

Right now the Review seems to be more oriented, as “Asian watchers” traditionally have been, toward China, India, and Japan, so we hope that it will also look more to the southeast in forthcoming issues. A search box would also help in navigating the site. But it’s a very useful portal to what’s new in Asian publishing, and what they’re talking about in the coffeehouses of Hong Kong.

I BEGAN this week’s piece with a reference to Italy, and I’ll close with one. One of the things I kept marveling at during my six-week visit there last May was how well the Italians have been able to preserve their art, which ranks among the world’s greatest treasures. Indeed, many of these masterpieces by the likes of Piero della Francesca look like they were painted very recently, so vivid are the colors and so nuanced the figures—thanks not only to the long-departed artist but also to the skill of the modern art restorer and conservator (which my wife Beng happens to be).

Starting today until August 5, however, you no longer need to fly to Italy to appreciate the restorer’s art. In cooperation with the Italian Embassy, the UP College of Fine Arts will present an exhibition titled “Saper Fare, il Restauro,” a collection of thirty panels showing the restoration of significant Italian paintings and structures, at the lobby of the University Theater in Diliman. The featured subjects include Leonardo da Vinci’s Cenacolo, Raphael’s Madonna del Cardellino, and St. Francis’ Basilica in Assisi.

Also, from 4 pm today, and daily until Wednesday, an Italian art restoration expert, Dr. Maria Teresa Castellano, will give a lecture/workshop in the same venue. She will discuss the exhibition and also her own experience restoring the works of Federico Barocci (1535-1612). (The workshop is actually already fully booked, but the CFA says it will do another workshop to echo this one.)

Of interest to local conservators and art teachers and collectors will be Dr. Castellano’s diagnosis and discussion of intervention techniques on a badly damaged portrait done by Fernando Amorsolo of President Manuel Roxas from the art collection of UP. She will also be looking at a 1903 painting of Jose Rizal at the College of Fine Arts.

Beng, for sure, is going to be in the front row taking in every word, and fascinated as I am by these things, I won’t be far behind.

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