Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A load of bull

I remember reading The Dangerous Summer when I was a bored teenager and found myself fascinated with the sport of bullfighting. The way Hemingway described it, bullfighting was more art than sport, more driven by honor than by bloodlust. In that summer of 1959, the superstar bullfighter of the day, Luis Miguel Dominguin, and the young upstart, Antonio Ordonez pushed each other, trying to outdo each other, taking more and more risks, to claim the title of 'the best'. Hemingway's writing was brutal, breviloquent, and beautiful, and having never seen an actual bullfight in its ritualistic entirety, I came away with romantic notions about the art and craft of killing bulls. It was years later that I would be able to see an actual bullfight, thanks to the Spanish TV station TVE Internacional. And Im sorry, Spain; try as I might, I never could find the beauty and artistry that drove Hemingway to tears that summer of '59. All I saw was a stupid animal being taken advantage of for sport and spectacle.

I was flipping channels yesterday morning when I saw a bullfight on TV. My younger daughter was awake and sat beside me. We watched as the matador with his retinue paraded the arena and saluted the crowd. Then the bull came out, a huge powerful beast, muscles seemingly wanting to burst through its hide. The bull galloped around the arena displaying its awesome strength. This bull was blonde, which piqued my interest that much more since I was used to seeing black bulls on TV. I was about to switch channels since I knew what was about to happen, but decided against it, using the opportunity to expose my daughter to a foreign culture. All she knows about bullfights are what she sees on cartoons. She'll ask questions and I'll do my best to answer.

First, the bull is tested by the matador and his alalays by waving pink and gold capes at it. The bull attacks the capes and the matador waves the cape around with all the art and attitude he can muster with a half ton animal charging at him at full speed, it's horns inches from his groin. Very nice. The bull gets as much applause as the matador, especially if it shows courage and determination in its attacks. The point being, I would guess, to establish the bull and the matador as two equally matched and worthy adversaries: the matador with his wits and cunning, and the bull with its raw power. This is all well and good, except that the match is anything but even.

After the 'suerte de capote', two picadores on armored and blindfolded horses come in and things start to get really ugly for the bull. The horses are blindfolded to prevent them from freaking out at the sight of the bull. The bull then attacks the horses, trying to impale their bellies with its horns. At this point, the horse, which won't win a Nobel prize for physics anytime soon, has no idea what's going on. It's only aware that something is trying to lift it from the ground, and is calm throughout. Meanwhile, the picador uses his lance to stab the bull about the neck and shoulders. Blood pours down on the bull's side, and because this one's blonde, the blood is clearly visible on the bull's hide. The bull keeps attacking the horses, while the picadores stab at it, leaning on their lances. (The lances have stops on them to prevent the lance heads from going in too deep. Theyre not supposed to kill the bull; only wound it.) My daughter's attention is rapt at this point. She's fascinated by the brutality of it all. "What's he doing?," she asks. "That's supposed to weaken the bull," I say. "They stab it to weaken the neck muscles so it won't be too strong for the matador." "That's a lot of blood," she says. Indeed it was.

After this, the matador and a couple of alalays are given two spiked banderillas. They taunt the bull to attack and then jab the banderillas into the bull's shoulders, further weakening it with loss of blood. The matador, if he's good, will stand squarely facing the bull, taunt it to attack, then sticks the banderillas onto the bull's shoulders from the front, with the bull's horns inches away from his face and neck. This to me is the most thrilling part of the corrida. The bull is weaker, but you know it's still strong enough to kill the matador with a well-placed jab; the matador not protected by a distracting cape, standing right in front of the charging bull, sticking his harpoons in the bull's hide with all the art and grace he can muster... then gets the hell out of there. There are wooden barriers he can go to to escape a bull's charge. The other alalays are there with the pink capes just in case things go wrong. If it seems that the matador might be in danger, they move in with their capes to distract the bull into charging them instead.

By this time, the bull's blonde hide is black with blood, its tongue hanging out from exhaustion. It has a dazed look in its eye and you'd think that it would just quit or drop dead right there and then. The matador then comes in with a sword and a small red cape. He taunts the dazed bull, who then charges. The matador now has more confidence to show off since the bull's charges are not as powerful. He pirouettes, he glides. He tiptoes, turns his back to the bull, at one point even touching it's forehead, all the while waving his cape with a flourish. The bull charges, his neck lower to the ground now from exhaustion, so much so that it once ended up catching its horns on the ground almost causing it to somersault over. The crowd cheers. I'd like to think theyre cheering the bull, too. There's just no quit in this animal. At the final series of passes, the bull's horns get caught in the ground again, but this time, the bull powers through, and all that energy stored in the bull's neck while the ground stopped its momentum is suddenly released, and the bull's head comes up fast, causing the matador to mistime a step. He was still moving forward when the bull's horns were coming up and only his reflexes saved him from getting disemboweled. The bull's horn caught his jacket and he was off-balance for a second. The ever-alert alalays move in to distract the bull til the matador regains his poise, this time with enough information about the bull: the speed of its charges, the position of its now-exhausted head; all this the matador factors in as he prepares to deliver his deathblow. He stands in front of the bull, his sword held at eye level, feet together with front leg bent and on tiptoes. A silly pose really, all cartoon-y, but it's part of the ritual. He holds the cape low and taunts the bull to charge. He is aiming for that spot between the bull's shoulders. The bull charges...

The matador lunges forward, between the bull's horns, and buries the sword between the bull's shoulders almost to the hilt, straight to the bull's heart. He moves away and basks in the crowd's cheers, the alalays distracting the still-standing bull who still tries with whatever strength it still has, to attack. Then it crumples to the ground, its legs giving way. A puntillero then delivers the final blow: a dagger through the bull's spine just where it attaches to the skull. The animal stiffens and falls dead.

"What are they going to do with it?" my daughter asks.

"Theyll eat it," I said.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Moral force

After a week or so of drive-by blogging (commenting on the blogs of other people instead of writing them down here), I've decided to give it a rest for now. I was mostly commenting on Manuel L. Quezon III's blog and making the case against further use of People Power. My reasons are simple: 1) our country's already weak institutions cannot survive further undermining by going outside the system, and 2) People Power encourages military adventurism. The Newsbreak articles Failed Enterprise and Romancing the Military illustrate both. In fact, these articles report that civil society organizations have been actively seeking military inetrvention: coup d'etat. A recent Pulse Asia survey reports that only 6% or respondents favor a coup d'etat, which some people find heartening. It shows Pinoys havent completely lost their senses. But I wonder about the findings. Perhaps 'coup' to most people, mean a violent power-grab by the military; a full-on shootout. But a coup doesnt have to be violent. The military can stage a coup just by showing up. They did that in EDSA 2 when they issued their famous 'withdrawal of support'. That, ladies and germs, was a coup d'etat, an extra-constitutional means of transferring power. It took some legal gymnastics from the Supreme Court to legitimize the new administration, declaring Erap Estrada has resigned based on Senator Angara's diary entry. Erap maintains he hasnt resigned; that he was forced out of the Palace; that he still is the legitimate president. Boo-hoo for him. But even more boo-hoo for our democratic institutions. Dont get me wrong. Im not lamenting Erap's ouster. At that time, I believed we did the right thing. But in hindsight, I realize now that what we did then was a mistake. We turned off our constitution, in effect denying equal protection under the law to someone we didnt like. That isnt democracy. That's the rule of the mob. What we shouldve done then was kept up the pressure and pushed for impeachment or resignation. There was a distinct possibility that we wouldve lost the impeachment trial in the Senate, but those are the breaks. That's the law. We can't love the law only if we win. We have to love the law even if we lose. If it needs changing, there are ways of doing that, too. What we dont do is storm the streets and disrupt eveything just because we're convinced of the moral supremacy of our position.

Speaking of storming the streets, a middle class led 'People Power' (Im beginning to get really annoyed at how that term is abused) protest is a powerful force. It has what I'd like to call 'moral force.' This moral force can sway the military to act. The 'masa' dont have this moral force. A masa-led uprising will not cause the military to try to salvage the situation by taking over the government or withdrawing support to the legitimate government. The middle class can do that. They did that in EDSA 2. And having given the taste of that kind of power, of determining the outcome of a political conflict, the military have taken on a new role for themselves: the role of savior of the republic. Various civil society groups are now openly or covertly courting military support. They dont know what theyre doing. Using the military in this way is like handling nitroglycerin. It can blow up in their faces. In the Newsbreak articles, the coup plotters are already arrogating unto themselves the power to determine who gets to head the new government if they succeed in ousting Ate Glue. That's just what we need: a political party with guns whom every wheeling-dealing politician would court. That's what Ate Glue is doing. She owes her presidency to the military and she's endlessly courting their support, so much so that the military head has now swollen with pride, claiming that they are the ones who're holding the country together. (Which could be true. In which case, the damage has been done. It has been done since EDSA 2.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's all harmless fun til a government gets toppled

Here's the reason I havent been blogging much lately: the Pinoy blogosphere has been a-buzz with the recent shenanigans from Ate Glue and those opposed to her and Im just blog-hopping. Everyone of course has an opinion on the legitimacy of the little one's continued stay in the Palace by the Pasig, and the discussions have been interesting, to say the least, with plenty of self-righteousness and sanctimoniousness to go around, especially from the anti-Gloria groups who are advocating her immediate removal. It makes for very entertaining reading. So without further ado, here are the links to the blogs Ive been following:

Columnist Manuel L. Quezon III's blog. Lively discussions in every MLQ3 entry, some take some straining to comprehend but on the whole, lively, entertaining, and informative. The blog has links to other opinion-makers as well. (Side-note: my great-grandfather's brother, Venancio, was appointed by then President MLQ, his Philippine Revolution buddy, as president of the Philippine National Bank when the Philippines was a commonwealth. If I read my history correctly, his tenure in the PNB was, shall we say, less than spectacular.)

Self-professed ordinary Joe Schmoe S.C. Austero's Out of My Mind. Mr. Austero is the author of the now-infamous Open Letter to our Leaders (it's in his blog) circulating via email and has attracted the ire of the rallyistas against Ate Glue. I suspect that the reason it has caught their ire is because Mr. Austero seems to have articulated a sentiment shared by a large number of people, (myself included, to a certain extent.).

Other blogs of note are:

Stepping on Poop. The blogger here shares the same view that I have regarding the problem of Gloria: use legal and constitutional means. Mr. Austero advocates this as well. I happen to think that that's the only way we can mature as a democracy. Imagine if the coup-plotters succeed in toppling another president? We'll just confirm to the world what theyve long suspected: We're a Banana Republic.

The Black and White Movement's blog tries flash mobs to try to oust Gloria. They were the instigators of the Starbucks Protest and their t-shirts read: "Patalsikin Na. Now Na." which leaves no doubt as to what strata of society theyre targeting. There hardly is any discussion in the site, but I just thought I'd note it here because they have some pretty novel ideas about staging protests rallies.

Read, participate, make your keystrokes heard.

Monday, March 06, 2006

One time only

Gratuitous self-portraits.

The earliest self-portraits go back to the time of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Probably even earlier than that. The Cro-Magnon cave paintings sometimes have stencils of the artists' hands. Since they probably didnt have mirrors then, I would submit that those hands were a form of self-portrait.

There has to be some level of conceit in the making of a self-portrait. Or is it insecurity; a fear of just vanishing into oblivion? Of course any artist's work can be considered a mixture of conceit and insecurity, but the self-portrait is another kettle of sandtrout altogether, there's something else other than the paradox of conceit-insecurity. It's the artist trying to capture some lost and fleeting something in the his or her soul. Or it's the artist just saving money--models arent cheap and they need to practice.

Or maybe it's none of those. Maybe they do it because it's fun.

My impression of a grouper fish. Grouper fish like to hang out
with starfish. Because theyre grouper fish. (Mitch Hedberg)

Smaa-a-a-aaash. My tribute to Jack Kirby.

In a reflective mood.


I was channel surfing one morning when I chanced upon the late Mitch Hedberg's Comedy Central special on Jack TV. I remember seeing him for the first time on the Late Show with David Letterman and went, Wow! What a friggin genius!. He just rattles off jokes in a spaced out delivery that had no segues between jokes whatsoever. His jokes were never off-color, almost always free of four-letter words. Theyre mostly wordplay and non-sequiturs and clever twists on everyday observation. Just like Carlin without the hate. "When we were on acid, we would go into the woods, because there was less chance that you would run into an authority figure. But we ran into a bear. My friend Duane was there, raising his right hand, swearing to help prevent forest fires. He told me, 'Mitchell, Smokey is way more intense in person!'"

My favorite comics are the ones who just stand there and deliver with no gimmicks, no making faces, nothing over-the-top. Hedberg's delivery was such that you half-expect him to fall asleep on you in the middle of a sentence. He was a master of the one-liner. In fact, his entire act is almost made entirely of one-liners. "
I wrote a script, and I gave it to a guy who reads scripts, and he really likes it, but he thinks I need to rewrite it. I said, 'Screw that, I'll just make a copy!'" Too bad I didnt catch it from the beginning. But Jack TV always replays the good stuff.


I really feel sorry for Brad Pitt. Have you seen his recent photos with Angelina? Heartbreaker says he looks like an alalay. He's just a man. A rich, good-looking man to be sure, but just a man nevertheless. Angelina is a force of nature. She's a typhoon, she's a tornado, the Aurora Borealis. She's the Van Allen radiation belts. No way can Pitt get that close to her without being destroyed. I feel for you, man. Good luck.


Oscar night. Yaaaay. Not. I havent seen any of the nominees. Im just looking forward to what Jon Stewart will do in the show's opening. Then I'll go to bed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Papa Tatong on the wall

When we were kids, growing up in the old house in Caloocan, we had these wooden walls in our bedroom with whorls and wood grains visible on them. One day, my brother and I were playing on the bed and he pointed out what looked like a human face on the wall. I looked and I did see what looked like a disctinct human face from the whorls in the wood. "Papa Tatong is looking at us," my brother said. It was an odd name, but it stuck. We started to call the face Papa Tatong and use it to scare my sis. "Lagot ka kay Papa Tatong." I dont know how my brother came up with the name since we havent heard of anyone named Tatong before. And "Papa?" We called our step-grandfather Papa, just as we called our grandmother Mama.

Name-dropping side-trip: Papa, my step-grandfather, was a USAFFE officer from Manila who guerilla-ed in Pili during the war when my grandmother met him. She was a young widow and my mother said Papa would serenade her with his guitar. Once my grandmother's yaya thought he was serenading one of my grandmother's unmarried cousins. "Hindi ho siya. Yung viuda," Papa said. He had a great baritone and sang Spanish love songs. Later, war over, they married. He then managed a local radio station in Naga and also DJ-ed. In the 50's one of his guerilla buddies, Ramon D'Salva, was acting in movies and introduced him to the big studio producers at the time: the Santiago's, Vera-Perezes, etc. He eventually acted in movies and earned a FAMAS nomination for best supporting actor. He was probably one of the most type-cast actors in movie history. Because of his looks and bearing, he was always cast as a pipe-smoking, robe-wearing, Don Something, or as Mayor Something. At the same time, one of the soldiers in the guerilla unit he commanded was also making a name for himself in the movies; a young man from Sorsogon from the Escudero clan, whom we all know today as Eddie Garcia, Manoy himself.

Mama and Papa moved to Manila with the kids, eight of them, because of Papa's movie career. They rented a place in Caloocan near the Premiere Productions lot in Grace Park. This was in the late 50's or early 60's. At around lunch time when they were shooting, two young actors would poke around the house and ask Mama what was for lunch. They loved Mama's laing. Their names were Fernando Poe Jr. and Joseph Estrada. My mother had such a huge crush on FPJ. End of name-dropping side-trip.

Anyway, there was Papa Tatong on the wall looking at us. It was only years later that we would find out that my grandfather's name was Fortunato, and he was called Tatoy for short. Eerie that my brother would choose the name Papa Tatong for the face on the wall. Methinks it's some sort of memory my brother had when he was still a baby, or a fetus, or something, when our folks were talking about my grandfather, lodged in his subconscious. The name resurfaced years later, slightly altered but unmistakable.

Here's a picture of my grandmother and grandfather, the oldest picture of them my mother found in a relative's vault somewhere.

The note on the back reads: To Tio Ramon and Tia Sulu, A simple souvenir of our first wedding anniversary. [signed] Tatoy-Mila and Baby. The siopao-faced baby is my mother.