Wild in Negros! Don Salvador Benedicto and Environs

Self spent two days gallivanting in the wilds beyond Murcia and Marapara!

Passed her family’s farm.

Rode in same black SUV she used last month, to Dumaguete and Hinoba-an!

Villanueva cousins are just wild!  Wild!  Wild!  Non-stop talking!  Non-stop meet and greet in Don Salvador Benedicto and Murcia!  Had two free lunches!  Met a famous architect (the owner of the resort self and cousins spent the night in)!  Confided in the architect her dream of building a real Negrense house in family’s lot just outside Santa Fe Resort! And he had the good manners not to act as if he thought she were crazy!

It was cold —  brrr, brrr, brrrr!  —  in La Vista Highlands Resort.  It’s only been open a few months:  Cousin Mae knew about it from her son, who is close friends with a local family.  In just one of many surprising occurrences on this trip, self and cousins stopped to view a waterfall that is a favorite tourist destination.  There were only two other people at the viewing area, and one of them turned out to be a relative, the son of self’s Manang Elenita.  Negros Occidental is either a very small place, or the Villanuevas are a very big clan.

The architect-owner of the resort gave us a tour of his fab house, which included a demonstration of his customized disco sound system (complete with flashing disco lights)! There we were, in deepest darkest night, lights from huts shining dully through a sea of black, and throbbing in our ears were the sounds of an English dance band at maximum volume.

Self had such a crrrazy weekend!  Can you imagine:  she and cousins even stopped to snap a picture of this very “Narnia”-looking Lion (erected by the Lions Club), on the road through the mountains!

The Lions Club Announces Its Presence (Just Outside Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental)

Self and Crrraaazy Villanueva Cousins!

Now self is back in her room in L’Fisher Chalet!  Love, love, loooove being here.

The writing awaits.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

At Some Point: Reality

At some point, you stop asking yourself:  why, wherefore?  Who gave you this gift, this precious gift:  of time, of being with people who love you, to whom you will always and forever be “bata ni Oso,” daughter of a man who ran for Congress from here in the late 1980s, in the first flush of excitement of Cory Aquino, who some remember as “so quiet” (according to a Carmelite priest self met today, in her cousin’s office at the bank, where self had gone after shopping at The Negros Showroom!) and who people say self takes after, in her quietness (But self is not that quiet!), in her diffidence.

Today a different cousin took her to lunch.  So far, she has eaten in maybe a dozen different restaurants:  Bob’s, 21, Roley’s, Pendy’s, Louise, 18th Street Palapala, Chicken House, Inaka, Calea, Café Uma, L’Sea.  And even family secretary Ida’s turo-turo, across the street from De La Salle.  Today’s lunch was at Mu Shu, cute little “Asian Fusion” place in a quiet side street, where self laid out her plans for her next visit (If she can swing it, before the end of this year).

Why, why, why, self?  Useless.  Useless to ask why.

So far, self loves everything:  L’Fisher Chalet and its super-fast internet, the staff who smile but not in the obsequious, fawning way of other hotels self has stayed in; knowing she can go to the Balay Daku anytime she feels like it; loving the seven pesos she pays for the jeepneys, and the five pesos for the tricycles; the food, OMG, the food:  the piyaya with brewed coffee, the mango cupcakes, the caramel tarts, the pinasugbu, the cheese puto, the pansit molo, the steamed fish, the Chicken Hainan, the super-special Batchoy with crackling chicharon all over the top.  One day soon, she’ll wake up in the drab and drizzle of Redwood City, and she’ll think:  Was she dreaming?

Sometimes, she has inklings of reality.  As when she read, in a local newspaper, The Visayan Daily Star, that Negros Occidental tops Western Visayas in “most crimes in 2010.”  Then, self blanched and grew quite pale, wondering at her temerity, traveling all over Negros with just a driver, even though he was capable and she trusted him (or rather, trusted the fact that her relatives would never have let her go if it were not safe).  Joel assured her that no one would bother her in the car (black SUV, black tinted windows, belonged to a policeman from Silay), and she didn’t question him.  His only stipulation was that they never, ever be caught going through the mountains after dark.  There was one time she wanted to drive straight to a small town and back, in one day, and that was the only time he said no, they couldn’t.

The Visayan Daily Star of Tuesday, January 25, reported that there were “1,090 crimes against persons reported in Negros Occidental” in 2010.  In a separate category, “crimes against property,” Bacolod City reported 2,623 incidents.

Of the 1,090 “crimes against persons in Negros Occidental, physical injuries accounted for 681, murder 182, rape 139, and homicide 88.”  (Self is so dumb she doesn’t know the difference between “murder” and “homicide.”)

So, wake up, self.  Wake up.  This is not the Paradise you with your California breeziness seem to think it is.  Even though every morning you look out at the rooftops of the city from the top floor of the L’Fisher Chalet, even though you are now an expert on the best massage places in the city, even though not one day passes when you do not talk to a relative, even though you feel loved, and cared for, and protected.

Yesterday self decided to get serious with her work and spent most of the day in her room, working on her novel, Leaving.  She thought of different ways to structure it, and each time she had to stop and text Zack.  Zack himself is writing at blazing speed.  She realizes that he is a very very disciplined writer.  Would that self could be the same!

What Her Bed Looks Like, Every Day

After dinner, the woman who delivered self’s clean laundry to the room said, in a tone of most abject sympathy, “You stay all the time in your room, Ma’am?  You don’t go out?”

Which then resulted in self feeling like the loneliest, stupidest person in the entire world.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Bacolod, January 2011: Muñoz Molina, Myth, Spectacle

Every day, her bed is made and the towels are replaced.  Yes, even if she ends up leaving the room for only half an hour to have breakfast in the restaurant on the 4th floor.  She keeps the DO NOT DISTURBED sign on the door handle as long as she is in the room; she takes it off when she leaves.  And that’s when the unseen spirit slips in, changes or smooths the bedsheets, arranges her books neatly on the bedside table, makes sure her slippers and shoes are lined up and pointing in one direction, towards the wall.

Every day, self feels a terrible anxiety:  time is passing!  She should have revised her novel by now.  Instead, she feels she is missing something.  She should either have gone to the uma (as they refer to the farm here) or visited another town or taken the jeep to the plaza.  She stays in her room as long as she can, so that when she finally emerges, she is amazed that the world is so beautiful, the breeze so warm, the trees so green.  She looks out at the same rooftops, every day.  Every day she has to stop, linger at the view (which is nothing spectacular, really:  just lines of low-roofed houses, palm trees, ending up in the pier)

With a shock she realizes that she is doing the same thing she did during her trip in December:  that is, she reads as if she is sleepwalking.  During the first week of this current trip to Bacolod, she managed to read only 60 pages of Sepharad.  And the book is nowhere near as dense or cryptic as Saramago’s The Cave was.  Back home, in California, self reads 60 pages a day.  What can be happening to her?

On this trip, self took tricycles and jeepneys and had massages at odd hours and ordered pots and pots of brewed coffee from Room Service and watched The Good Wife and Glee and watched Joan Rivers dissect the gowns worn by actresses to the Golden Globes and wondered at the groundswell of Oscar buzz surrounding a small British movie she had managed to see with hubby in the few weeks she was home for the holidays, The King’s Speech.

She tries to go to the Balay Daku often.  Earlier today, she took a jeep and as she entered the tall, green gate a guard greeted her and she kept on walking and looked up, up, to the very top of the house and it looked like a snapshot.  Everything was exactly the same as it had been when she was four, five, six.

In the Balay Daku, on shelves in the glass-fronted cabinets, are pictures of Dear Departed Sister.  Pictures of Dear Departed Sister’s children.  Pictures of self’s brothers and their children.  But none of self.  None.  Not even one of her as a young girl, when she spent every summer in Bacolod.  The irony is that, of her entire family, self has spent the most time in Bacolod —  not, of course, as much time as Dear Departed Dad, who grew up there, but certainly more time than Dear Departed Sister, or any of her brothers.

Perhaps she gave up her birthright when she went to America and married a man who wasn’t from this province or anywhere near it, who in fact wanted to get away from the Philippines because he hadn’t been altogether happy when he lived there.

Every day, she thinks and dreams and wonders what is happening to her, what gave her the stubborness and will to resist everyone who tells her to quit and get herself over to Manila where she (everyone seems to think) belongs.  Even better, she should get herself back to California, because she has no idea anymore how to behave.  She is lost, a foreigner, an American citizen.  Her home is there.

Here is what self read a moment ago on p. 131 of Sepharad.  It’s about a real person, Willi Munzenberg, who escaped from a prison camp at the very start of World War II, accompanied by two other men who he thought were friends but who, it turned out, had been sent by Stalin to the prison camp where Munzenberg had been incarcerated, sent there with the express purpose of killing him.  The two helped Munzenberg escape from the camp and, together, the three headed into a forest, from which only the two emerged.

Self loves this passage because she thinks it captures something Munzenberg must have realized only very close to the end (Another reason self loves this book:  it has helped her discover real people, people like Sanz Briz, who during World War II was a minor staff member of the Spanish consulate in Hungary:  he issued, on his own authority, Spanish passports to thousands of Jews, thereby permitting them to escape Europe with their lives.  Self looked up Munzinger and landed on Wikipedia):

All his life was a game between show and inevitability, between veiled power and the weightless splendor of appearances, and in the end he was invisible, erased from history by the same powerful people he served so well, the ones who in early June of 1940 hanged him from a tree in a forest in France.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Happy Mode, Bacolod Trip II

When self woke up this morning, she was shocked to find a huge tureen of pansit molo on her desk.  The tureen was almost empty.  Only then did self remember ordering room service, at almost midnight.  Aaargh!  No wonder she can barely fit into her jeans!

This morning, she awoke at 5 a.m.  Self knows she has to write.  But, in spite of the fact that she is alone in a hotel in the middle of this island, she can only write if she gets up early or sleeps very late.  Hence, eyebags this morning are tremendous.  Simply tremendous.

Tomorrow, she’s accompanying a friend to her farms.  Friday, she’ll go to Murcia.  Saturday, Joel will drive self and cousins Mae and Marilou to a town called Salvador Benedicto, on the slopes of Mount Kanlaon.  By Monday, she’ll be tired, finished off, dead.  Dead, dead, dead.

She returns to Manila on the 3rd, Thursday,  because she has to meet up with her Ateneo classmates.  They have every reason to be pissed off at her.  They tried manfully to meet her for dinner last month, her first trip.  Self had to bail because she was in Bacolod.  Then, they set a new date for dinner, for the day after she flew in from San Francisco.  But her Delta flight was cancelled, so she had to cancel that dinner as well.  At this point, self thought it might be more advisable for her ex-classmates to simply allow her to crawl into her hole and disappear.

But no!  They manfully set up another dinner!  For the 4th of February!

Self is amazed, simply amazed.  And touched, too.

In fact, everything in the Philippines —  from Ida to Bacolod relatives to Ateneo classmates to drivers like Joel —  constantly amazes her.  In Manila, she becomes frustrated at the traffic and not having her own driver.  In Bacolod, her frustrations are of an entirely different sort (Like:  not being able to stop eating.  Like:  not being able to write unless she gets up at 5 a.m.)

Yesterday, self rode only her second tricycle since getting to Bacolod.  The man was very old, and was having such a hard time pedaling on Lacson Street that self felt she had to keep apologizing for not weighing less (Incredible:  buses and jeeps kept zooming by, in fact she felt as if she and the tricycle driver were really a road hazard and should not have been on Lacson Street).  By some inscrutable and mysterious process, the man had deduced that she wanted to be taken to the Negros Museum, when what she really wanted was to be dropped off at 17th and Lacson.  Which she then realized was in the opposite direction from the one the tricycle driver had taken.  So then began the slow and laborious return journey, with all those honking buses and jeepneys.  Self couldn’t bear the man’s labored pedaling any longer, so she asked to be let off.  But apparently the man had made it his sworn mission to deliver her to Ramos Street, for he did not let her off.  Self finally had to put a foot out to attempt a “soft” landing on the street.  Then the man stopped.  Then self got off.  And she gave the man double his usual fare.  Even though he had made her very very late for her appointment.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Protected: SEPHARAD: Is This a Novel?

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2nd Sunday in Bacolod: Café Uma, San Sebastian Cathedral, SM City

Took things slow today.  Had brewed coffee at Café Uma.  Along one wall is a montage of old photographs, one of which is of self’s Tita Gloria as a young and heartstoppingly beautiful woman.  They serve coffee with a small piyaya balanced on the saucer!  Self finds this absolutely fab!

Brewed Coffee at Café Uma

Self returned to San Sebastian Cathedral for mass.  There were far fewer people today than had been at last Sunday’s mass, so she was able to get a seat quite close to the main altar (A hearse was parked right across the church’s main entrance.  Self saw a number of funeral wreaths stacked on the ground, next to the doors.  But self found no sign of the deceased within, guess the funeral mass was earlier in the day!)

Looking at the altar up close, self found herself giving particular scrutiny to the statue of San Sebastian in a niche high above the main altar.  There seem to be one, two, three, four arrows protruding from his torso and legs.  Hmmm.  As far as self knows, this is the only church in the Philippines (or perhaps in the world) where people have the opportunity to ogle a saint at the precise moment of his martyrdom.  When she was young, she imagined the statue as huge and imposing.  In her memory, it was a gigantic sculpture, at least as large as anything by Michelangelo.  But now she realizes her memory was wrong:  the statue is actually quite puny, and its charms lie more in the realm of folk art than high art.

After the mass, self chose to leave the cathedral through a side door, next to which was a very convenient bench.  She sat and watched people praying and lighting devotional candles in front of an alcove.  She walked over to have a look, and saw a statue of a very dark-faced madonna in blue robes, cradling an equally dark-faced Santo Niño.  To the side was another statue of the Virgin, but this one had a pale face.  She found it extremely interesting that the people were ignoring this pale-faced Virgin; all their attention was directed to the dark one.

Then, self decided to walk to SM City, in the Reclamation Area, a couple of blocks away.  In the mall, she saw a Mister Donut, a tiny bookstore (crowded with people) selling mostly magazines, a National Bookstore, a Japanese restaurant called Kaisei (“the largest and finest Japanese restaurant in Bacolod city”), and a gigantic supermarket, bigger even than the Costco back home in Redwood City.

She decided to check out the large supermarket.  By the entrance, there were rows of food stalls (Potato Corner, a siopao vendor, a bibingka and pie stall).  She saw a regular pharmacy, and a Chinese pharmacy.  She had run out of contac lens solution, so she went to the regular pharmacy.  And the only thing they had was a large bottle, 235 pesos ($5.20 —  Eeeek!).  It took forever for them to give her her change.  First they had to put the product in a plastic basket.  Then someone had to take it out of the plastic basket and put it in a plastic bag.  Then someone had to receive this plastic bag and staple it across the top.  Finally, someone rang up her purchase on the cash register.  Then another person had to retrieve the plastic basket with the change and walk it over to the customer.  Okey-dokey!

On the way out of the supermarket, self passed a food stand featuring stacks and stacks of piyayaNo, self, no!  Self control, please!  You do not want to leave Bacolod looking like a tub o’ lard! But, wait a minute!  She noticed the labels on the food said “Bailon.”  That’s a pretty famous name!  Self remembers it from her childhood.  She stopped.  She asked the pretty salesgirl (Tiny, as are most of the young women self sees in Negros) if Mrs. Bailon had a store somewhere in Bacolod.  The woman said there was now a “Bailon Fastfood” on San Sebastian Street.  Oh happy day!

Then self paid 60 pesos for two pieces of fresh lumpia.  She consoled herself by saying she would skip dinner.

Then, because she was so worn out by all the exploring, self decided to forgo the jeep and take a cab.  About halfway to her hotel, the driver started to sing.  Dear blog readers, this is only the second cab self has taken during this trip, and the driver of the first cab (who took her to Santa Fe, which her relatives said she must never do again, as Santa Fe is “far” and “something might happen”) also started to sing.  What’s with this predilection of cab drivers to break out into song?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Signage: Victorias Milling Center

Seen yesterday, near the entrance to the Victorias Milling Center, a large sign proclaiming:

We accept only clean, fresh, sweet, and mature canes.

Since today is Sunday, self thinks of repeating what she did last week:  attend mass at the San Sebastian Cathedral, then walk around the Plaza.  There’s an SM City Bacolod nearby, only a few blocks from the Cathedral.  If she wanted to return to her hotel, she could have a leisurely lunch at Cafe Uma on Lacson Street, only a block away from L’Fisher Chalet.  The cafe is owned by the same family whose hacienda she visited yesterday, the Gastons.

She suddenly remembers that there is a ferry she can take to Iloilo.  And it is only a one-hour ride.  So she could conceivably take the ferry and attend mass in Iloilo, then catch another ferry back to Bacolod, all before dark.

She loves riding the Philippine ferries.  She feels they are the best way to appreciate what the country has to offer:  oceans and more oceans.

That, and getting away from Manila.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Peregrinations: Church of the Angry Christ; Manapla; the Gaston Hacienda

Today, self was driven to points north in a van borrowed from Santa Fe Resort.  One of her relatives, Marilou, was with her.

First stop, Victorias Milling Center, to see the Church of the Angry Christ.  Of course, that’s not its real name.  The real name is “Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker.” Self hadn’t been there for decades, not since before she was married. The roads were pretty terrible. The van heaved from side to side along the rutted roads.

The sugar cane stalks are ripening. We passed truck after truck, so heavily loaded with canes that they seemed about to topple over. Smoke emerged from the refinery, far far off.

Church of the Angry Christ, Victorias Milling Center, Negros Occidental

The exterior of the church is completely un-imposing.  But inside, the murals’ restless spirit is overwhelming.

After we had seen all there was to see in Victorias, had the driver take us to the next town, Manapla, which was famous (self had read), for its puto.  They came in two colors.  Self decided to try the yellow ones:

The Famous Manapla Puto. Self decided to try the "Cheese" Puto (Name is somewhat misleading: the puto contains no cheese. The "cheese" on the label refers simply to the color!)

Then, self told the driver to ask directions to the Gaston Hacienda, because she wanted to see the Chapel of Wheels.  The first road we drove down turned out to be a dead end.  The driver had turned there because he had been told to take the road where there was a  waiting shed.  Luckily, there were two young boys passing by, and they told us that there was (of course) still another waiting shed, on a road a little further on.  The second road led us straight through the Gaston place, and we arrived at a tall, imposing house.  Guess what, the owners were home and came out to greet us.  Turned out they were expecting guests for lunch, and came out expecting that we were the first of the guests, arriving.  Surprise!  We turned out to be two incredibly nosy people from Bacolod.  But the Gastons seemed completely unfazed, and were so incredibly gracious that they led us on a personal tour of the house, which was truly beautiful and turned out to be the house used as the setting of Peque Gallaga’s iconic, shattering “Oro, Plata, Mata.” How absolutely thrilling!

The very long dining room table was set with formal place settings.  On the balcony were more tables with more place settings, and various colored balloons.  Yes, the lunch was actually a birthday party.  Self met the owners’ two young children, and the boy was so well-bred he came up to self and kissed her on the cheek.  At one point, self remembers staring at the large, open windows and remarking that they had no screens.  Wouldn’t that admit a lot of bugs, specifically mosquitoes?  We were at the door to one of the bedrooms.  Joey Gaston pointed out the poles around the beds.  “To hold up the kulambo (mosquito nets),” he said.

Here are some pictures of the exterior of the house:

Fountain in Front of the Gaston House (which was built in the late 1930s) The statues depict the daughters of the house's original occupant.

Front porch of the Gaston House. The blue Santa Fe van is in the background.

We finished up the day at El Ideal in Silay.  We each, including the driver, had bowls of Batchoy with Egg (Yum, Yum!  Self loves the way they serve the Batchoy here, with strips of liver and generous toppings of chicharon)

All in all, a perfect day.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Poetry Book Launch: Doren Robbins’ AMNESTY MUSE

Self taught with him at Foothill.  He was the organizer of the Foothill Writers Conference for several years.  He still teaches, and self doesn’t know how he manages to stay so productive in his writing.  A few days ago, she got the news about Doren’s new book, Amnesty Muse.  She can hardly wait to get her hands on a copy.

About his new collection, just out from Lost Horse Press (Sandpoint, Idaho), Adrienne Rich says:

A poet examines his life:  what he’s been dealt, what he’s chosen, the workings of history with personal griefs and delights, “amnesty” of an uneasy coming-to-terms with self and others, being his muse.  There’s a macabre wit, masculine vulnerability, and soul-conflict in the best of these poems, adding up to a very strong book.

About Doren Robbins:

Doren Robbins’ poems, prose poems, and short fictions have appeared in American Poetry Review, Caliban, Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, Kayak, New Letters, North Dakota Quarterly, Poetry International, Sulphur, and many other periodicals.  His recent collections of poetry, Driving Face Down (winner of the Blue Lynx Poetry Award 2001) and My Piece of the Puzzle (awarded the 2008 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Poetry Award) are published by Lynx House Press and Eastern Washington University Press.  Robbins is also the author of an experimental fiction collection, Parking Lot Mood Swing:  Autobiographical Monologues and Prose Poetry (Cedar Hill Press, 2004).  After twenty years traveling, working mostly as a broiler chef and a carpenter, he became a teacher of English and Creative Writing.  He teaches at Foothill College.

His book can be ordered directly from:

    Lost Horse Press
    105 Lost Horse Lane
    Sandpoint, ID  83864

Phone: (208) 255 – 4410

An Urgent Request

Self has just returned from the hotel reception desk.  She decided she’d better pay for her room incidentals as she goes along.  She’s here for another two weeks, and even though her family is paying for her room, she is embarrassed at the amount she is undoubtedly charging, for laundry and room service and all those wonderful things that make a hotel a hotel.

The bill for snacks consumed came out to almost 1,100 pesos (approximately $25).  It’s mostly for Pringles and Pik-Nik shoestring potatoes.  As well as for a few KitKat bars.  And that’s only for what she’s consumed in the last six days !!@@##

“I wonder,” self said to the sweet young woman at the reception desk, “Is it possible to have all the snacks taken away from my room?  Don’t replenish the potato chips and chocolate bars.  Can you just take them all away?”

The receptionist said she would make sure they took away all the snack items, immediately.  Oh, thank the Lord.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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