Saturday, December 26, 2009

books acquired in the last 60 days

1. Don Quixote, translation by Edith Grossman
2. Other Places, by Harold Pinter
3. Violence, by Slavoj Zizek

All found at Housing Works, NYC. And a book given to me for Xmas 09:

4. The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata, by Gina Apostol

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Manila in 6 days after 16 years.

Notes on a sort of homecoming.

A man suddenly steps in front of our car, gazing blankly ahead at us. My brother has to swerve deftly to avoid hitting him. The man doesn’t seem at all aware of our presence, or the danger he has posed to us or to him.

I’ve been wondering if that man is symbolic of my visit here, my first since I left 16 years ago. But what would he symbolize? Total obliviousness or indifference to danger? A desperation so deep he doesn’t care about his life anymore? A passive aggressiveness (run me over if you dare, and I will give you hell)? This country’s sense of frustration embodied in his emaciated body, his drugged-out stare, his seething silence?

There’s a new Manila and the old Manila. The new Manila is the Fort, Makati, Ortigas, with their highrises and malls, a sort of tropical LA. The old Manila is just older, more rundown and decrepit, the city’s old shell that it hasn’t been able to discard. The buildings are worn down, the wood burnt a deep dark brown; the concrete buildings seem to have acquired a thick layer of soot; the sides of the underpass towards Quiapo are encrusted with soot and dirt and don’t seem to have been repainted in years, the after-effect, I am told, of the recent flood which inundated this part of the city up to a story high. The streets are a chaos of cars, motorcycles, pedicabs, jeeps, street hawkers and pedestrians, and no order seems to exist. Everything seems on edge.

Every morning at the hotel I’m staying at, the breakfast room is filled with old or middle-aged white men and their young Filipina girlfriends or wives, plus the occasional girlfriend’s family. But the prostitutes are no longer in this area; I hear they’ve been moved up to Quezon Boulevard, where they start lining the avenue at around 10 PM.

My family’s street has become a crowded warren of apartment buildings and walled-in, heavily gated houses. The house next door burned down years ago and is now some kind of car repair shop. From my old bedroom, I can see right through the street running past it, something I had never seen before. On the other hand, a new apartment building has been built right in front of our house, blocking the view of the Manila Bay sunset I used to gaze at every afternoon, sitting at my desk and writing.

Most of the Filipinos here are a lot more gentle than I remember. I forget how gentle a people we are. And yet there’s always this hard edge among many others, a kind of hostility waiting to brim over, a tough live-or-die aggressiveness that’s waiting for a target. Others are as hardened as they get. At the sari-sari across my hotel, the woman eyes me suspiciously, sizing me up to determine if I’m a tourist, answers me curtly, and overcharges me for a pair of corn chips and an ice drop.

Dapitan Market: pure mayhem, lots of kitsch, but an occasional find, such as capiz plate overruns. You pay the watch-your-car man 5 pesos, and at Dapitan Market, they demand 20, because there are 4 of them in their barkada.

Along the highway called C5, drivers are advised to stay far from the right, where kids throw rocks at passing cars.

At the Aristocrat Restaurant, a candidate for senator, Rey Langit, a former radio reporter, sits at a long table with about 20 of his campaign staff, all dressed in black t-shirts with his name emblazoned on them.

Manny Pacquiao victory parade through Makati. We are always looking for something to be proud of, we are always looking for international affirmation. Excessive adoration leads to excessive ambition: Manny Pacquiao wants to run for public office.

Manny Pacquiao has a mistress, a smalltime actress who’s posed nude for a magazine. The papers are full of stories about her, and about Pacquiao’s long-suffering wife. Manny Pacquiao is now officially a Filipino alpha male.

Another source of pride and affirmation: the Makati Greenbelt system of malls. Some shops here have not even opened in the US; the ones that have are much tinier than the supersized stores here.

Filipino food is to die for. Even the value meal at Max’s is worth more than the 2 bucks it goes for, and the pinakbet with lechon kawali at my humble hotel in Malate is a work of art. The bibingka at the duty free shops is real galapong. The crispy pata at Aristocrat is sinful and the sans rival to die for. And Via Mare’s lunch menu (kare kare, bagnet, lumpiang sariwa, sugpo in coconut sauce) is divine; so are their bibingka with cheese and salted egg, puto bungbong, and halo halo. So worth the trip to the country alone.

Middle-aged American man with 7-year old Filipino boy. Pedophile or surrogate dad? So, in my hotel so far I’ve seen white trash males with young women, older women, young boys, and transvestites. Something for everyone, I guess.

Marina: where my sister and I have a bucket of oysters and bangus sisig for all of 10 bucks.

Tiendesitas is the place to go to for nearly everything, from antiques to clothing to handicrafts to classic suman and avocado cake.

Along a street in the back of QI, people spill out of their ramshackle homes unmindful of the cars, motocycles and pedicabs passing by. Most of the houses along the Manila-Quezon City border look like their walls have been burned, full of soot and dust. My sister tells me this is how it’s always been, and I must have blocked the memory. But I never recall this part of the city being this sordid at all. Was I not looking closely then?

Quezon Avenue, lined with strip bars and saunas, as I’ve always remembered it. A sudden downpour clogs the streets, and it takes us over an hour to get to Shangri-La, a restaurant where my youngest sister and brother celebrated their graduation from high school with our lola, and where my niece held her debut before her family immigrated to the US. We have peking duck, garupa escabeche, yang chow rice, spinach and tofu with toasted garlic, and one of my nephews gets the drink of the day, iced tea with lychee and grenadine, which comes with a free stuffed toy. Sweet.

Gave 5 pesos to a woman holding up a baby girl, telling me the girl’s sob story which I didn’t really catch. Will 5 pesos even help? Got stopped by a transvestite on Del Pilar, who told me, “Excuse me, your face is very popular to me…”

The administration ticket has asked Pacquiao to run for a House seat with them. Which will probably boost the administration’s popularity among voters. And will drive this country even further down to hell. If Pacquiao really cares about his country and has half a brain, he should support the party that really has serious intentions to try and fix this place up. But maybe that’s too much to ask of our public officials?

Two days ago, a friend of my sister-in-law lost her only son to road rage, an increasingly common malady in traffic-clogged Manila. Someone got out of his car and shot him pointblank on Santolan Avenue. The killer is still at large.

Two young women are sitting on the sofa of my hotel lobby. Some minutes later, a Japanese man comes in with another Filipina, who introduces him to the girls. He looks one over, and smiles broadly. Yes, yes, he says, and his Filipina companion books a room. He’s a bald, shriveled country bumpkin, totally crass and loud and disgusting. And he acts like the lord of all he sees, slouching back in the sofa and shouting orders to everyone in the lobby.

Remedios Circle: visiting the old haunt, which is no longer its former self. Café Adriatico seems smaller. Penguin Café, where all the rebel poets used to hang out, looks rundown. The Circle is surrounded by places I don’t recognize and probably wouldn’t go to.

Fidel is the only person I want to see on this trip, outside of family. He overlooks my shortcomings, understands my craziness, believes in my work, and doesn’t castigate me for having chosen to live in the US. He makes absolutely no judgment of me at all. I haven’t seen him in all these 16 years; I missed him when he came to visit my office at NYU in 2000. When we meet, we just start talking again as if we had only seen each other yesterday, and we are just picking up yesterday’s conversation. Fidel’s cool.

I ask Fidel if I have become like those typical Fil-Ams who visit the Philippines and see only the negative, and have nothing good to say. He says my observations are spot on, I’m not imagining it, the city has become more decrepit and rundown, poverty levels are much higher than before, population is unstoppable as migrants continue to pour in from provinces and the birth rate keeps getting higher. The Catholic Church opposed a proposed bill in the Senate to institute birth control, and has successfully campaigned against politicians who dare oppose them.

Towards Nagtahan, the river is so clogged with refuse and debris you could hardly see the water at all. There are weird-looking lampposts along the avenue, grotesque monuments of ugliness that seem straight out of a sci-fi B-movie, each of which was a project awarded to cronies who got huge kickbacks.

I’ve lost count how many parties are running for office in May. There’s Villar/Binay, Nonoy/Roxas, Erap/Vi, Gibo/Whatever, ad nauseum--so many candidates, but no platform, no ideology, no vision.

Our politicians keep messing us up, yet we keep voting the same types of people to office. Is all this mess our own fault then? I remember what my friend Marilen said a year before I left the Philippines, that what the people really need is education. I’ve been thinking about that all these years, and I realize Marilen was right. Or I hope she is. But would better education make us choose better leaders? Would it make us more vigilant, and help us keep our leaders accountable? Would education find us our philosopher king? But aren’t we a highly educated people to begin with? So is there something else wrong, some inner demon we haven’t dared to look at? Maybe what we need is not just education, but a Dostoevsky to make us gaze into our own darkness, and not blink.

Darkness. Brownout during our family reunion: something that hasn’t happened here in a long while (brownouts were one of the many reasons I decided to leave; when I left, the city practically had no power, due to rotated 8-hour brownouts). Fortunately, this one lasts only for about 15 minutes, not enough to drive me away a second time. My siblings have gone the whole hog to let me savor the tastes of the Philippines I’ve missed all these years: lechon from Elar’s; my sister-in-law’s baked bangus, lumpiang sariwa, and ube hopia; chicharon bulaklak; sapin-sapin and Arce mantecado, queso, and avocado ice cream. We are having our reunion at my brothers’ house, which used to be my lola’s house, which was built by my grandfather in the early 1900s. Much has changed, of course, but here and there my brothers have kept the old furnishings, the original windows, even lola’s little altar to the Sacred Heart. This house has four generations of memories, and I wonder, as I look at my nieces and nephews, if these memories are as important and crucial and defining to their lives as they have been to mine.

I’ve been wondering these past six days if this is really where my roots are, if this is what I am and what continues to shape me: this innate desperation, inescapable suffering, aimlessness and bleak future. Then, after our family dinner—my last meal with my entire family before I depart for Hong Kong tomorrow, and New York the day after—my brother shows us an envelope he found in his bodega, along with old family pictures: lola’s collection of sympathy letters she received right after lolo’s death in 1929. The letters are crisp with age, some so brittle we dare not unfold them. One is a personal note from Eugene Allen Gilmore, Governor General of the Philippine Commonwealth, praising lolo as one of the finest and most promising lawyers in the country. Another comes with a news clipping analyzing lolo’s brief but brilliant career, stating lolo was being groomed to be the youngest supreme court justice ever. Lola never had the courage to look at them again and kept them even from her own children. Lolo’s sudden, tragic death changed her completely, and she shut down. Once, my mom and her siblings found lolo’s gramophone and records in the bodega and played it; lola went berserk and went around the house like a madwoman, throwing pillows and stuff around in grief. How hard it must have been to face all this future suffering alone, to be so bereft, and to know that nothing will ever be the same. Again, is this another symbolism? I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what this trip will mean to me in the next few days, in the next few years. But I know this last discovery has made me feel better about my history, and my future. And maybe, since I am inextricable from my country no matter how far I go, this says something about my country’s history and future as well. Who knows? All I can say for certain is that a voyage is worth it if you discover something new about yourself.

Monday, October 12, 2009

books i bought for my birthday

1. The Fanon Reader, edited by Azzedine Haddour
2. A History of Writing, by Steven Roger Fischer
3. Simply Philosophy, by Brendan Wilson
4. Ecrits, A Selection, by Jacques Lacan, new translation by Bruce Fink

(all bought at Book Culture near Columbia)

books acquired in the last four months

1. Vita del Cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernino, by Filippo Baldinucci
2. Bernini: Sculptor and Architect, ATS Italia Editrice
3. Bernini: Mini-Monographs, Romaeditrice
4. Bernini, by Howard Hibbard
5. Italian Cinema from Neo-Realism to the Present, by Peter Bondanella
6. People on the Run, by Tiziano Rossi
7. Introducing Philosophy, by Robert C. Solomon
8. Poems, Anna Akhmatova, translated by Lyn Coffin
9. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Manila I Want My Kids to Grow Up In

Last weekend, I came across this facebook status of a friend: "This is not the Manila that I want my kids to grow up in!" The impact of this statement brought to mind the callousness of some people in light of the tragedy and disaster around them.

This statement came from someone who was sitting safely on the 9th floor of their condominium unit while the rest of the metropolis was wading in flood waters that destroyed their homes, claimed lives of their loved ones and swept away their dreams, their past, their years of toil.

My initial reaction was to write a comment "so what are you still doing here in the first place?"

We do not need a nation of whiners, those who cannot see beyond the comfort of their airconditioned houses, treading the paved main roads with their newly bought shoes, carefully steering clear of the mud along the side roads. In situations like this, we need people who can rebuild their lives and make it better and not bring down those who are toiling to make it so.

Today, the rest of the people who were affected by the storm came to office after one week of trying to restart their lives again. Tales of heroism during times of adversity, small acts of kindness surface again and again.

People who reach out to strangers, and attempt to share whatever they can give, and who prefer to remain in the shadows of anonymity, not the politicians who stamp their names on relief goods and have their pictures taken for media to pounce on.

The people whose lives were severely affected but who can now smile and laugh and say "ganun eh" and continue to move on because they know they can.

Those who learned from their experience and vowed to make a change no matter how small it is.

These are the true souls who make a life worth living and a nation worth rebuilding. Not the people like the facebook user who announces to the world the narrow-mindedness of her view and the callousness of her soul.

-- Sent to this blog by my sister in Manila

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

eileen at 102

Guess who took the pic for Eileen Tabios' landmark new book. Follow this link to read more:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

alexis tioseco

I never met Alexis Tioseco, except through email. He said he wanted to interview me for his web site, Criticine, about my short films. I never usually like being interviewed, much less being bombarded with emails, but I enjoyed Alexis' countless emails and follow-ups because I soon realized this was one person who really understood what I wanted to do, and who was also an intelligent writer. He was, I must confess, the first person who was interested more in my ideas than in mundane "chismis" details. And he was perhaps the first critic to ever take my short films seriously.

Recently, filmmaker Lav Diaz blew into town and told me Alexis wanted to ask for a DVD of my short films, because he wanted to organize some kind of "festival" around my work. I thought that was really nice of him, and I told Lav I had to get a new burner as mine's busted. I added that I should have a copy for Alexis before Lav went back to Manila.

Last night, Lav emailed me about the guys who broke into Alexis' home and killed him and his girlfriend.

I really don't know what to say, except that I am sad and shocked and angry. I don't want to be angry at Manila, but I am. I don't want to say I hate Manila because it destroys and throws away the lives of its best people, but I do. I hate to think that people who have some kind of "power" within the city's weird, corrupt system had something to do with it, but I can't help thinking I am right. And I don't want to say that I suspect this is yet another tragedy that will remain unsolved and unresolved, but I think it is.

I never met Alexis, but I feel I have lost a very dear friend.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

why president's obama's health care campaign is foundering

1. Apathy. Obama's supporters are still suffering from campaign burnout. Grassroots organizing for health care--oh man, do I have to do that all over again? Or many of them are the one-time-only political supporters who believe once they get their candidate in office, they can sit back and relax and the world will take care of itself.

2. Bi-partisan opposition. Has anyone paid attention to the NY Times articles linking Republicans and Democrats to insurance company money? Is it any surprise that Congress won't ever pass a bill that would make these companies earn less?

3. Health care was never a real issue. If you listened to Obama supporters during the presidential campaign, you'd have noticed that most of them didn't really think universal health care was a prime issue. Why? Because most of them already had it, and could afford it. The issue was Iraq, man, not your health benefits. War is sexy. Health care ain't.

4. Media. The conservative spin. "Death panel"? Socialism? Give me a break. But the media loves to play fair, right? "Equal" airtime for all sides of the issue.

5. Idiocy. Most Americans believe what they hear. They don't fact-check. They've probably never read a single work on socialism. They probably have no clue. So when they say they don't want the country to turn into Russia but demand that the government do something to give them affordable health care, you know the culture of idiocy is at work again.

6. Irrational fear. Universal health care will open the floodgates of other mortal sins. What next? Abortion? Gay rights? More freaking immigrants?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

italia, day 10, or what happened when I missed my flight

I must have said "ho mancato il volo" ten times today, not to mention once in English to an Australian tourist coming in on the Leonardo Express who's in Rome because he's just converted to Catholicism. Say wha?

La Casa di Amy was nice enough to tell me "maybe we can find you a room," and turns out they had no vacancy but referred me to another B&B in the same building, Hotel Malu. Not as chic as Amy, I must say; the decor seems to have never recovered from the seventies. Still, the room has a floor to ceiling window and a terrace that looks out on the courtyard, which means no traffic noise tonight. Also, the receptionist is kinda cute... (via Principe Amadeo, 85/A)

Well, since I now had a full day in Rome, what else to do but continue my research, no? So here's what I did during my extra day in Italia:

Visited Bernini's grave again; sat there for like 30 minutes. Luckily, the Capella Paolina was also open (not sure about this, but I know he designed one of the chapels, and this seemed like the most likely that he worked on). Also found out that the statue of Philip IV at the doorway was also his work.

Here is what's written on his grave: IOANNIS LAVRENTIVS BERNINI / DEVUS ARTIVM ET VRBIS / HIC HVMILITER QVIESCIT. Makes you wanna cry.

I also found my way to Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, the church that he designed. This is known as the Pearl of the Baroque era, and it's easy to see why. As soon as you walk in you're overwhelmed by the lavish magnificence of the place. Bernini kicked Michelangelo a notch by turning art three-dimensional, fusing painting, sculpture and architecture. Have I said he's the first multimedia artist? With Bernini, you don't just look at a flat surface, you see clouds and angels and metallic light bursting out of the walls. And when you look up at the cupola, it feels like the heavens raining down on you. Can't tell you what it feels like. You must be there to experience it, because Bernini is not just about looking at his work: you have to be there and experience it.

Passed by the Tritone fountain, one of his weird (and in my opinion, whimsical) works. Then, since I've run out of clothes to wear (unless I wore a really sweaty t-shirt tomorrow and stink up the plane), I got a Juventus polo shirt at the open market off Villa Borghese. It's so cheap it's probably fake, but who cares (it's made in Torino...does that mean anything?).

On to Villa Borghese, where I was able to book a 5PM ticket this morning. One more chance to look at all the Berninis there. Finally saw all the works in my catalogue, but of course I spent most of my time studying his David, the subject of my novel. Probably spent a good 45 minutes looking at the statue, until the staff started closing the windows (and looking suspiciously at me).

Next stop: dinner at Hostaria I Buoni Amici way down at the Mazzini stop of the metro. Got this info again from Let's Go. Had the spaghetti ala vongole and 2 glasses of wine, a little apprehensive because the owner wouldn't let me know what the price of the wine would be. In the end, the vongole was really good and the bill was a real bargain (2 euros for the wine!). Next table were a couple of African American ladies from Maryland and New Jersey, who I chatted up and who were thankful I told them which way to get to the Termini station from their hotel. (I Buoni Amici, via Aleandro Aleardi 4.)

Finally, a little walk around the Coloseo, where I decided to hop on the bus and check out one more Bernini: the Palazzo Montecitorio. With the help of some carabinieri, I did find the place at Chigi (kept mispronouncing this and giving the guys a hard time -- it's KEY-gee). Turns out I've been to this place the first time I was in Rome, way back in '92. Or was it '91? In fact, I've been inside it -- I interviewed the then labor minister during my apprenticeship at IPS.

Satisfied with my full day, I headed back to my neighborhood where I just had to have another Orso Bianco (sesame/miel, melone, orso bianco -- some kind of vanilla with lots of biscotti in it). And one last glimpse of Santa Maria Maggiore and its spooky belfry, where the love-crazed Gianlorenzo once chased his brother Luigi up and down with a sword -- the scandal of all Rome.

Good night, Gianlorenzo. Tomorrow I really, really have to go home. Pero credo che ritornaro subito, solo per ti, il mio amico pazzo. Ciao.

Friday, August 7, 2009

italia, day 9

My last morning in Venice, the cappucino in the monastery's vending machine wasn't all that bad; a brief walk around Campo Santa Maria Formosa, mostly to find an ATM; then off to the Ferrovia on the vaporetto, taking lots of pics, and finding a few minutes to check out the nearby Chiesa degli Scalzi before hopping on the Eurostar to Rome. Got a single seat to myself, trip took less than 4 hours; had a tramezzino bought at Suve in Venice for lunch and finished Baldunacci's biography of Bernini. View from Florence to Rome was spectacular.

Been getting a lot of luck with B&B's in Rome. La Casa di Amy (Amy being the acronym of the owners' three kids' first names) is tucked away in the crazy Termini district, a hop away from the station (convenient for me, as I catch an early flight tomorrow). The room is elegantly furnished, and looks out on the street below. The B&B is an apartment in an old, elegant building with an interior garden. There's a small but efficient bathroom, and a nicely furnished breakfast area, and when I asked to have my breakfast an hour earlier, they offered to deliver it to my room by tonight, with a water heater. Only catch: what's with Italians and instant coffee? They think everyone from America loves this Nescafe shit. But as though to make up for it, I also got a basket of stuff, from yogurt to juice, fresh fruit, crostata and biscotti, a croissant, Nutella and honey, and nice Ikea cutlery. Gee, and all I wanted was an espresso.... (Via Principe Amadeo 85/A, 00185 Roma.)

Since I only had an afternoon in Rome, quickly did my Bernini research:

Santa Bibiana, where I walked like 2 miles along via Giolitti's seediest quarters only to find it gated and closed (and scrawled all over with graffiti.)

Santa Maria della Vittoria, to take a look at the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa again. Okay, can I take it home with me now?

Santa Maria di Popolo, where as my luck would have it, the Chigi Chapel was closed for restoration. I do remember coming here the last time though, and touching the feet of Bernini's Daniel. Also had a chance to check out Caravaggio's totally homoerotic Conversion of Saint Paul again.

Passed through a bunch of churches designed by Rainaldi, who was influenced by Bernini; you almost couldn't tell it wasn't Bernini until you looked closer--Rainaldi didn't have the master's touch with detail.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, to check out Bernini's elephant and Michelangelo's Savior, possibly the most buff Christ ever created. And this is where all my freaking batteries finally ran out, and where my pic album ends.

Brief stop at the Pantheon. Crowds freaked me out, and I fled. Found a Punto (a supermarket), got myself some Segafreddo to take home. Yey.

Wanted to go back to Cacia e Pepe for carbonara, epecially after last night's disappointing version at Al Nonno, but my feet were hurting (damn these Superga -- they're useless on Rome's cobbled streets) so decided to just have porchetta at Campo di Fiori. Which of course took me forever to find. Last time I was here, Ristocampo had excellent porchetta. Now the place has totally gone commercial, they give you a pinch of pork and tons of add-on stuff, and the girls who serve are just a bunch of young little bitches who probably couldn't find better work for the summer (and who spoke absolutely no English). If you want wine, you have to order it next door, which is their sister bar. There the girls are much nicer. Which goes to show, if you do pork, it's just work; if you do wine, you're fine. Whatever. Word of warning: it's not OK to have picante salsa with your porchetta. I asked for "un pochino solo" but the little bitch slathered it all over like mayo on a Big Mac, and I could barely taste the porchetta until the last bite, when I finally got to the crispy skin. Still a good bargain: porchetta, 5 euros, glass of red wine, 3 euros.

Grabbed the bus back to Giolitti; couldn't bear to stay up; decided to just watch Italian TV at the B&B. But since the stop is just a block away from my fave gelato place, Orso Bianco -- perche no? Had sesame/miel, hazelnut and pistachio while the Santa Maria Maggiore tolled the hour.

Sleep, Gianlorenzo, while I stay by your side.

last day in venice

According to a gondolier, there are about 500 gondole in Venice.

My last night in Venice.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

italia, day 8

While waiting for the vaporetto to Torcello, checked out the Moroccan exhibit of the Biennale. Fathiya Tahiri and Mahi Binebine have some very strong work at the Chiesa Santa Maria della Pieta (riva degli Schiavoni, Castelo). I especially found the blurring of borders between the illicit erotic and pure affection intriguing. Fathiya and Mahi, you guys rock....

Whereas the Ireland and Northern Ireland exhibits were totally bland: what the f? Yeah, I know, the sterile life of capitalism yadda yadda yadda. But minimalism doesn't mean you must be deliberately boring, you know....

Torcello. Mamma, that's the longest ferry ride ever. But when I got there, the visit to Santa Maria Assunta was worth it. Veneto-Byzantine church (11-12th centuries). Took lots of notes for my novel. Otherwise uneventful trip, save for a brief stop at Burano, where I took lots of pictures. Sono stanco morto. Pics later.

On the way to Canaregio, got waylaid by a megasale at Gas and splurged on a new pair of jeans and a fall muffler. Oh well. 

Last dinner at Al Nonno Risorto, tried their carbonara, got a little disappointed. Well, carbonara is a Roman specialty after all. Should have known. The waiter also remembered me, and sat me at the same table. They added a coperto this time. Maybe I looked like a tourist with my Gas shopping bag?

Vaporetto to San Stae, then to San Marcuola. Found my way to the Ghetto Vecchio. Passed Rizzo Pane along the way and tried their famous Casanova gelato. Took pics of the ghetto. Strong military presence (3 cops in 1 piazza). Paranoia even in Venezia?

Sat at a Molo, a docking area for gondole at San Marco, all by myself, watching the full moon rise over the Grand Canal. Great way to end my time in Venice. I am so freaking lucky.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

day 7, continued

After trying to look for the post office at Rialto (an entire palazzo, hard to miss, duh), took the vaporetto to Giardini, found the Biennale closed for the day, walked around sestiere Sant' Elena (nice nabe, quiet streets, no tourists, large mansions and full of old people), found a jungle gym in the park and did a few chin ups and roman chair leg raises (yeah right, 5 chin ups and 10 leg raises), took the vaporetto again to Accademia where I shot an instant short film, saw that my fave cicceta place is closed for the summer, and so is Trattoria San Trovaso, another fave, but found a nice bar called Cantine del Vino (via Schiavi 992). I swear I must have seen this place in Globetrekker. It's the one with the Vini al Botegon sign over it. Caveat: I noticed I was the only non-European in the bar and the bartenders were pointedly ignoring me. So all you colored people of the world, run don't walk to this place (because it really has awesome cicceta and good wine), but you MUST insist that you be freaking served. Teach these freaking Venetians a thing or two about diversity. Remind them we're living in the freaking 21st century. Oh well, can't really blame them, Dorsoduro after all is practically the boondocks. And after a glass of rose wine, campari soda, and five cicceta (baccala mantecado, anchovy with pickled onion, ham and pepper, etc.), I really didn't give a fuck.

There's a new Hard Rock Cafe and Burger King in piazza San Marco, aside from the MacDonalds that opened several years ago. What next, a MacDoge? And is this because Americans are so xenophobic and afraid to try new food and get stupidly homesick if they so much as not see a Hard Rock Cafe that they had to freaking open these stupid places here?

venezia senza i turisti

italia, day 7

Racommendata di giovanni nel Instituto: per colazione, Forno di Italo Didovich in Campo San Marino: buon espresso e buonissimo dolci Veneziana.

Photographed Venice before the tourists came. Garbage collectors, construction people, delivery boys, etc.: the real people behind the glamour.

Had to buy Italian shoes, no? Ho comprato Superga -- in rosso. Yey.

Checked out a lot of places where tourists don't go. More pics for album. Checked out a Taiwan exhibit for the Biennale, an exhibit of comic superheroes as Buddhist gods. Clever but boring.

Where in blazes does one find a bubble envelope? (Finally found one though. Must mail maille to Diego.)

Discovered Libreria Acqua Alta, which describes itself as "the most beautiful bookshop in the world." Which it probably is. Imagine a real gondola filled with books, and, in another room, a bathtub filled with comics. And a back door that leads out to a canal. And a bed and breakfast. Calle Longa S.M. Formosa 5176, Castello. Owner is Frizzo Luigi, a most charming Venetian.

Finally found Cip Ciap (La Bottega della Pizza). And yes, Let's Go Italy, the pizza was awesome. Had the cinque formaggi -- formidable. Tip: this place is easy to miss as they have no sign. Go towards the Ponte di Mondo Novo but do not cross the bridge: the pizzeria is on your right.

Home for siesta. Yey.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

day 6, continued

What the f's with Venice in summer? You have to pay at least 2 euros to get inside the church, which is why "Posso entrare solo per preghare?" is now my favorite line. Preghare my foot. Thing is, you can't even photograph anything anymore -- they want to make sure you spend every euro on their kitsch postcards and souvenirs. 

Walked miles and miles trying to recall where my favorite restaurant is. Turns out all I had to do was ask. Al Nonno Risorto (Santa Croce, near Campo San Cassiano) has the best spaghetti al seppia di nero, and with the house prosecco it's divine. Soon as I got in, the place got packed (not because of me) -- they actually had to add more tables in the garden.

Checked out where to go to see Biennale art tomorrow. Took lots of pics for an album I will call "Venezia senza i turisti." Wishful thinking.

The freaking espesso vending machine in the monastery ate my euro. Damn. 11 PM curfew. Double damn.

italia, days 5 and 6

Rain all day! Nicer, cooler weather though. F's mom again cooked up a storm, gnocchi and stewed chicken and lamb and veggies, plus her home-made biscotti and cherry wine. Later this evening we head out to Ancona to look for amaro tartuffo (no luck) but find incredibly cheap brunello to take to Umberto and Gemma's home for dinner. Stopped by the duomo, got chased by the rain into the nearby bar, where I had my second Americano in Italy (campari, vermouth, orange -- getting a strong liking to this aperitif). Later at U and G's house, Gemma filled us up with her signature spaghetti a la scampi, plus mussels and seafood kebabs, followed by the Sicilian cake we bought at Tavernelle (kind of like a humongous canolli) and G's apple strudel. Came back after midnight to pack for this morning's train ride to Venice.

Am now at Instituto Giuseppe, a monastery right in the heart of San Marco, awesome palazzo with supercomfortable rooms and, blessed be, wi fi. Had quick lunch of prepared sandwiches bought at the supermercati (too lazy and spoiled now to even think of lunch...). Gotta take a quick nap before I explore my favorite city. More later.

Monday, August 3, 2009

italia, day 4

At Mezzavalle all day, swimming and getting sunburned; Fausto's mamma baked about a dozen kinds of pizza for everyone, and we had dinner with the entire family (babbo, zio, zie, and various friends, including Luglio, who brought a bottle of his own artisanal wine), followed by 3 kinds of liquers -- limoncello, cream limoncello and "applecello"; jazz concert at Offagna (town was interesting, concert was not), met up with Ubaldo and Betti, then packed off the kids to the stazione where we checked skeds for the next leg of their tour (Firenze); brought the kids back to Betti's parents' gorgeous house by the Pasetto; then with the kids gone, Gina, Ken, Ubaldo, Betti and myself hunted around Ancona for a place open after 1 AM (Lazaretto Bar, by the pier); had an Americano (vermouth, campari, soda). So far, learned 3 words for "drunk": ubriacco, mbriago, chucca.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

italia, day 3

Fausto's mamma cooked us lunch, which was possibly the best meal we've had so far. Penne with broiled cherry tomatoes for primi; stewed mussels, bruschetta and pickled sardines for secondi; and year-old cherry wine and melon for dessert.

Over lunch, had an interesting conversation (entirely in Italian) with Fausto's babbo and zio on the pros and cons of organic insecticide on the farm, and how it attracted new species of pests and increased resistance of the older ones. And on how to make cherry wine, preserve cherries, the normal number of siblings in Italy, the "gift economy" between neighbors (they give them fruit and vegetables, the neighbors give them tons of fish), and so many other topics I don't remember bow after all the vino.

Afternoon in Osimo: exploring the underground caves, the "Vestu Auximon."

Picked up Stazie and her pals at the station in Ancona; dinner at La Forte, where we waited for over an hour (this is, after all, Saturday in Ancona) and finally had our pasta (mine was Taggliatette Mare Bianco).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

on cory aquino

Cory Aquino was the most revered and most maligned leader in Philippine history. All through her presidency, Filipinos kept the infantile belief that she – one person alone – could bring the country back to normalcy. Right after the “people power” revolution, we wanted to get back to our normal, post-Marcos lives, while we expected her to keep house, make peace with all the warring factions, bring the economy up to speed, “make us proud again,” etc., in other words, to create a heaven out of our hell. When that didn’t happen overnight, the far left and the far right took advantage of the situation to say I told you so. To this day, they blame her, and her alone, for not having solved the country’s problems. Which, as we can all see, has always been their way of diverting attention from their own romantic visions of revolution. The left, with its hopelessly idiotic (and paranoid) leadership, has devoured itself, while clinging to its naïve hope of replicating a petrified ideology within a social and cultural landscape so unfit for it. The right, dazed by their idealistic notion that they can re-create a better, improved banana-republic dictatorship, continued to rumble against a social structure so unwilling to try another Marcos-style military democracy. And in the center is the country’s pervasive corruption and moral decadence, where no system, no matter how efficiently conceptualized, can survive.

Cory Aquino misunderstood all this – she herself just wanted to get back to normalcy, i.e. bring things back to where they were before the Marcoses looted the country – just as we all misunderstood her. She was no politician, thank goodness. She was, possibly, a yurodivyi in the Dostoevsky sense, until we told her to be smart, and she tried. For despite her stubbornness, she was a political blank slate. Every faction knew this and wrote its own self-serving agenda on her. When she began speaking on behalf of one or the other, we blamed it on her, not on the people who were using and re-creating her.

We wanted Cory Aquino to be strong so we could remain passive. We wanted her to save us so we could refuse to save ourselves. She was there so we could continue the infantile neurosis that has always sustained the Philippines’ need for a “guiding” power – God or a dictator, choose your daddy – and has always justified its corruption and poverty. She was, as so many predicted during the heyday of the people power revolution, our Joan of Arc. We knew we would burn her for allowing us to corrupt the vision we wanted her to sustain. We forgot so soon that she had achieved what no man in our supremely machismo-obsessed country had done – to get rid of the Marcoses. For that alone, we should be grateful. If the Philippines never rose from the “long nightmare” after she took over the presidency, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

italia, day 3

Walking around Ancona; a taste to caffe il nonno at Rosa (sort of like a coffee milk shake); lunch at Il Vigolo, the city's best kept secret (only local stevedores come for the incredibly cheap and hearty 3-course lunch, with 2-euro-carafes of wine); shopping at all the saldi; a little swim at Pasetto, underneath the Mussolini monument and the poetry graffiti; a quick zip down to the stazione for my Venice tix; a short stop for a shower at home and then dinner at Il Belvedere overlooking the town and coastline of Sirolo, where we had grillata misto, pickled garlic and anchovy-stuffed peppers, Rosso Conero, and cherry wine with biscotti and tiramisu. What a life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

italia, day 2


Slow Trenitalia local train, filled with boy scouts (apparently the time when they all come out to camp in the woods).

Picked up by Ken, Gina and Fausto at the stazione, staying at Fausto's farm, where his Mom has all our meals scheduled for the next few days.

Swimming at Porto Nuovo, by the Torre, where we met Fausto's moglie, Elena. Aperitivo at the garden overlooking the sea at Hotel Emilia, where we bumped into my friends Umberto and Gemma, who will be joining us in the next few days.

Back in the farm for some home cooking, last night's frito misto leftovers specially for me, and carbonara (decision for dinner decided by my telling them about Cacia e Pepe).

Stayed up watching the "hunchback moon" (can't remember the Italian term) rising over the farm.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

italia, day 1 pics

St. Peter's, closing time.

Self-portrait with Bernini.

Castel Sant'Angelo.

Bernini's baldachino at St. Peter's as an alien from outer space.

Rome, 10 PM.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

italia, day 1


There's a man on the Leonardo Express who looks exactly like Alain Delon in Antonioni's Eclipse.

My B&B is outside the old walls, in the neighborhood of Penestrina. You pass by the African and Chinese ghettos at Vittorio Emanuele to get here. At first I thought uh-oh, what did I get myself into this time. But this neighborhood is all artists and students, sort of like the East Village, but not as crazy.

My B&B is probably one of the coolest places to stay in Rome. It's got the unappealing name of About B&B in Rome, but it makes up in decor what it lacks in creative self-christening. It's kind of like the Mercer Hotel, but with nicer people. Grey and orange stucco walls. Glass-walled bathroom. Ultra-modern features (took me forever to figure out how to use the shower). A garden and wi-fi all over the place. And orange blossom shampoo. (About B&B in Rome, via Braccio da Montone 85.)

Recommended by Erica, who owns the B&B: Necci Caffe/Ristorante (via Fanfulla Da Lodi 3/a). Quite possibly the best spaghetti di fruti di mare in the whole world (7 euros!). Lovely garden dining. Cute staff too.

Finally found my idol Bernini's tomb. Not down in the papal crypts as I suspected, but just discreetly tucked on the steps to the right of the altar. A simple slab of marble, so humble a grave for the man whose monumental genius created this city's character. Sat beside the tomb for a long time, missing Bernini for some reason.

Consoled myself with sesame-miele gelato at L'Orso Bianco, my favorite gelateria (via Carlo Alberto 7).

Did my Bernini pilgrimage. Saw the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa again. Prayed that I be blessed enough to experience that ecstasy at least once in my life. Bought a couple of Bernini books and postcards.

Off to the Vatican, where I hoped to catch vespers, but an overzealous (and over-Catholic) security guard refused to let me in because I looked like a tourist (guidebook, water bottle), even though I argued with him and asked him to give me a reason why I couldn't be allowed to hear mass. Maybe he knew I wasn't really there for the mass, but the music, which was lovely as usual. Saw the Berninis, except the monument to Pope Urban, which must be sealed off somewhere as I never seem to find it anywhere in the Vatican.

Did manage to find Cacio e Pepe again though, where I had the best carbonara in the world two years ago (via G. Avezzana, 11). The twins who served my table then are now totally grown up (as in middle-age-looking), but their sisters all look the same as they did back then. I told one of them I tried the carbonara 2 years ago and loved it and came back for it. She rushed in to tell the cook (their brother?) my story and one of the twins came back with a heaping mound of pasta for me, and a half liter of red wine. In short, got so stuffed and drunk but made the family happy when I said the carbonara was exactly as I remembered it.

Got lost looking for autobus 70 to Piazza Navona, but found my way to Castel Sant'Angelo by foot anyway, where, still drunk silly, I stood under one of Bernini's angels and wept shamelessly for so much beauty. I mean, really.

Did find my way to Piazza Navona. Too many tourists as usual, but the city's finally re-opened Bernini's fountain, which I haven't seen in over a decade.

Idea for my Bernini novel shaping up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

my poems in romanian

My friend Carmen Firan recently sent my poems to the Romanian literary journal Scrisul Romanesc for an issue on translations. You can follow this link to take a peek at two of my translated poems:

Of course, you can read the second poem in the previous post.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Beauty of Sorrow, after Pauline Oliveros

The best time to look at sorrow
is a quarter before midnight.

It looks dead from the ground up,
a single withered stick.
Then opens gently,
like the luna flower.

It bursts with all the radiant loneliness
of the desert,
a shock of moonlight that pulses
only once a year,

when you least expect it,
when you’ve forgotten
the intoxication,
the pungent scent of grief.


Reina de la noche
covers the arid valley
from here to the moon.

They open their mouths
like fish in water,
sucking in the dry air.
Their small tongues
are smeared with silver.

Such beauty can never last.


The best time to listen to sorrow
is anytime if you are
in the desert.

You can listen to it
in the just intonation
of summer, when everything
is one music, seamless and slow.

I like to press my ear against
your sternum, I like to hear life
being pumped all over you.

I like the way the sage
is always silent
and full of healing,
if we only knew.

It’s not like here,
in this shitty apartment,
where sorrow yells in your ear
and all you hear
is your heart opening and closing,

and only because
it’s supposed to.


I can live with sorrow
all day without you.
I’ve gotten good
at making it feel at home.
I think I will get even better
tomorrow, and the day
after tomorrow.

I will be so good I will have
rivals, I will evoke such envy.

I will wear it around my neck,
the way those pimps
wear a viper sometimes,
just to show they’re somebody,
just to show they’re special and mean.

I can live without you
sometimes, I can feel your name
scratched into my heart
like graffiti.

Someone must have left it there
in the dead of night,
when no one was looking.

I swear it wasn’t me.


If there’s a best time to eat sorrow
it must be now,
when your hunger gnaws so deep
it feels like having a soul.

You can let it take over you
like the spirit
the shaman wakes
with a single drum.

You can turn it into poetry
or religion, whatever
is easier to swallow.

Either way it remains
what it is,
a slow, elusive bloom
that opens your body up,

and you can’t help staring
at the dead light streaming
towards you,

the dead waking the living
with these small revelations.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

books i found in thrift shops in the last 60 days

1. Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
2. Dante, La Vita Nuova
3. Ovid, Heroides
4. Tom Stoppard, The Coast of Utopia 1
5. Tom Stoppard, Jumpers
6. Fray Ramon Panes, An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians
7. Playwrights on Playwriting, Toby Cole, ed.
8. Alessandro Piperno, The Worst Intentions
9. Essential Works of Socialism, Irving Howe, ed.
10. Jeanette Winterson, Passion
11. Jean-Paul Sartre, Essays on Existentialism
12. Blaise Pascal, Pensees

Thursday, June 4, 2009

two nudes in paris

My fave galpal in Paris, Bonnie Melvin, read this translation of my poem Two Nudes at the Sulyap festival recently. The poem was translated by Anne Latour and Branko Aleksic -- merci a tous!

Deux Nus

Elle craint Avril plus que tout, ce moment où la mousson
étouffe le peu de dévotion qui reste entre nous. J’en veux
à la mousson, pas à elle. Depuis Sarawak
quand il longe la côte sud ouest, l’air empeste le cardamome,
la laitance de crabe, les cadavres. Des soldats bombardent Pikit,
trois mille réfugiés musulmans affluent
dans les églises chrétiennes. L’ironie ne la frappe pas qui veut
que nous finissions toujours par soigner ceux
que nous maltraitons le plus. Elle est couchée sur le lit telle ma
république battue par le vent et la pluie, trop triste pour réagir
à la médiocrité de mon étreinte, à ce que ma jouissance
vienne ou trop vite ou trop lente. Vous pourriez croire que j’invente
mais elle m’a dit ce matin : L’argent
est le plus bel objet du monde.
Elle cherche à croire en quelque chose,
un au-delà de l’évidence trop claire, trop proche
pour être vue. Cher Eric , écrit-elle, je ne me précipite vers toi
que lorsque je suis sur le point de me désagréger.
L’été aux tropiques est un long carême, tout de repentir
et de résurrection, et il me rend malade. Elle colle ses pouces
dans les stigmates secs de croûtes de mes mains, sans douleur.
Elle me dit que l’on n’échappe pas à la guerre. Il faut bombarder
quelques villes si l’on veut la paix. Si nous avons des enfants
ils seront neuf sur dix qui jamais ne conjugueront le futur.
Pour quelque raison elle trouve cela réconfortant .
Lorsqu’elle est ainsi couchée, en position fœtale, un bras déplié,
contact avec mon visage, elle me rappelle le cap
extrême nord des Sulawesi. Elle me l’a montré une fois
sur la carte : une île jungle presque de forme humaine,
grouillante de terreur, incroyablement pauvre.

Traduit de l’anglais par Anne Latour et Branko Aleksic

Monday, May 11, 2009


He asked me why I was so distant
and I said it was because of
anti-matter. It’s because I have
x-ray vision or think I do
and the skeletons drive past
in their invisible automobiles
and I am not scared,
I drink the full red grapes
right off the vine, the women
from Guangzhou are counting
all the fish massacred at four o'clock,
and somewhere in the night
God exists in his own mind,
counting the quarks left over
from all the revelations,
true or false. I pray to this space
that opens before me, wider
than my soul can carry.
And in the dark I dream
about nothing, I evolve
into orangutans, my mind wrapped
in the silence before words
before illogic. I am primitive
therefore, I don’t know the signals
for love, I refuse the dress code,
I check in when I want to,
I have an open ticket.
Inside out the world makes sense
but only if you don’t live in it,
the spoons bending in the smallness
of non-space, language useless,
desire absurd. You say evil
and I say no, you say in emptiness
is where you’ll find it and I say
x is not x, my anger is for
all of you, all the self-delusion.
It is not pity, it is real, it cuts me
straight through. I can see behind
the glass. I can stick my hand in
and not feel a thing.
I can fly over the broken world
and never touch ground.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

among the exoplanets

The fade-out is not impossible.
You take the Acela
while I take the downtown B.
The stations will be packed.
This story has grown old.
Still I will close gently,
and let the credits scroll.
It will be torrid in the 80s.
The cold hearts glisten
in the waiting room.

The instructions will be simple.
On a clear night
in La Silla, Chile,
a goatherd looking for a lost kid
will look up to find
a mirror of the earth,
twice as big, double
all the sorrow,
all the epiphany.

I cannot hurt you any more
than I can hurt you.
There are secret wars
that need to be investigated.
You were never
here, you were the space
I was lost in, the light years
spun from a web between now
between then.
You were my nowhere.

The fade-out will not kill me
or you. We will remember
all or nothing.
Someone’s bound to discover 
life as we want it,
and for a moment
hope will return,
and longing. If I knew
what I really wanted,
I would let you know.

If I knew what to search for
here, all the wrong moves,
all the enigmas. Or there, among
the exoplanets.
Maybe we can count on it,
a better world,
bigger, faster, double
all the promise. If I knew
it would make a difference,
I would let you know.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

books found in thrift stores (and elsewhere) in the last 30 days

1. Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, Volume 1
2. Albert Camus, The Rebel
3. Jean-Paul Sartre, The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre
4. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars
5. Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party & The Room
6. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Gambler
7. Machado de Asis, Dom Casmurro
8. Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea

Saturday, April 18, 2009

my secret agenda

I have a secret agenda.
I am building a rampart around you.
You have no idea this is happening.
All the world’s unhappiness
pools in the souls of people around you.
They don’t know what’s going on.
Their frazzled bodies corrode
from the inside out. They douse themselves
with cologne. I can tell who’s who.
I can tell the ones whose words
are toxic waste, whose eyes shine
with hate. I have brought the mortar
and the ammunition.
I have rolled out all the trebuchets.
This will be a battle between them
and me. I am your superhero,
secret, full of love so general
and abstract you don’t see it
in the frame. I am flying over you.
My shadow falls on your face.
The city is a dark place to live in.
All this is alien to me.
I don’t understand the cruelty.
The snide remarks. The false pity.
The walls are invisible now.
The rocket will barely miss you.
You will not be hurt.
Your heart will never be broken.
This is not a vow. This is a matter
of fact, because I will not fail.
The bullet will rip
into the very nucleus of me.
I will let it smash
all my atoms, crash into my heaven,
shatter the imperceptible jewels.
No one will defeat you.
I will lay down the earth
and all its imperfection
beneath you. And I will watch you
in your sleep. As though
you were not yet born.
As though the earth were still
open and forgiving,
and ready to receive you.

Friday, April 17, 2009

sono stanco

Sono stanco morto. 
Pero cosa posso fare? 
La vita e molto fastidioso. 
Anche la gente. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

kit smart on the VOICE

For SOUND is propagated in the spirit and in all directions.

For the VOICE of a figure is compleat in all its parts.

For a man speaks HIMSELF from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet.

For ECHO is the soul of the voice exerting itself in hollow places.

For the VOICE is from the body and the spirit--and is a body and a spirit.

--Christopher Smart, 1722-1771

Thursday, April 2, 2009

1-minute question to the G20 leaders

Have you included any provision on accountability for the $1 trillion you intend to dispense?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

where i was today (california time)

Change of plan: had to forego Land's End for lack of time; cruised by the Palace of Fine Arts instead. Then sumptuous HK-style dimsum at Great Oriental on Washington Street, and off to SFO. Watched Part 1 and half of Part 2 of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexaderplatz at the departure lounge and the (nearly empty) plane before my Macbook went prima donna on me again. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

san francisco, day 4

Sausalito: nice little town. Very small.

Muir Woods: getting there was half the fun. Hairpin turns everywhere. Live dangerously.

Sonoma, Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery: 2005 Secolo Reserve -- I think I'm in love. Runners-up -- 2005 Merlot, 2006 Barbera.

Napa Valley: Ristorante Alegria has the best lunch in the world. Calamari fritti; fetuccini with shrimp, scallop, sun-dried tomato; stracciatelli gelato -- to die for.

Napa Valley Center: virtually a ghost town, more than half the shops leaving, a fabulous antiques store with a closing out sale.

Divisadero: roller coaster ride.

Twin Peaks: breathtaking view, lots of ethnic kids smoking pot though.

Pier 39: OK, can we go now?

Fisherman's Wharf: a second visit to Sabella and La Torre, with lots of Filipino waiters looking after their kababayan.

Back to hotel, stuffed to my gills in food, packing up for tomorrow's flight back to NYC. But not before we get a glimpse of Land's End.

where i was today

Monday, March 30, 2009

san francisco, day 3

San Francisco: dead on Sundays.

Cannery Row, Monterey: not Steinbeck.

Fishwife Restaurant: good fetuccini Alfredo, but avoid the fish and chips like the plague. Generally incompetent staff. Blaring 80s rock (you have to ask someone to turn it down to not get a migraine).

17-Mile Drive: very cold, but worth it. Joe's Point, China Rock: apparently a lot of Chinese immigrants, outcast in their day, set up shacks by the rocks and actually survived. Lots of mansions up for sale at reduced prices. Madoff victims?

Carmel-by-the-Sea: totally Hollywood. Got a nice t-shirt anyway. Over-solicitous real estate agent wanted to know if we were thinking of moving into town; encouraged us to call (tomorrow, if possible) as soon as we made up our mind. Tip: if you see a house going for less than 700K, carpe diem.

Daly City: where were all the Pinoys? Sis gave me her signature 60-dollar haircut. Yay.

New King Tin, Stockton Street, Chinatown: move over, Sam Wo, this is my new fave. Yang Chow fried rice and Mongolian beef to die for.

where i was today

Sunday, March 29, 2009

poem written at 6 AM Pacific Time

There are many ways the human heart
endures. Three and a half centuries later
the stream of sorrows no longer flows
along Mission Dolores.
The grieving mother’s heart hangs
over the nave, pierced through
with swords for every possible hurt,
even the most mysterious,
visible, maybe, only to angels.
As for the angels, the Ohlone
must be among them now not because
they ascended but because they swiped
heaven off the sky and brought it
closer, ceiling-high, reachable
and real. And what is God
if not the God of baskets, corn,
brick and mud. Whoever watches over us
is the one we adore. Above me,
from the choir, The Gift of Finest Wheat
is still unfinished, every note a ladder
to perfection. There are seven sorrows
the heart must suffer.
Bereavement, because it fills the soul
yet works alone. Longing,
which makes the body weak.
Distance, the light years between
eye to eye, body to body,
soul to soul. Time, which turns
all mourning into silence.
Silence, the heart’s way
of reading the world. Death,
which devours the smallest
whisper. And love, which wraps
around it like a stream. There are many ways,
each one a lifetime’s breadth
and an inch away.  The heart
is the toughest muscle, the blade
cuts through and meets not resistance
but surrender, which makes the heart strong.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

san francisco, day 2

Walked along Fisherman's Wharf.

Bought silver ring from SF artisan at sidewalk flea market.

Took Powell-Hyde cable car to Lombard, took snapshots of the crookedest street in the world, with dozens of other tourists.

Got back on cable car, went back to Sam Wo for lunch (totally addictive).

Took cable car back to wharf, got sunblock at Walgreens (too much sun in SF!!).

Went to Ghirardelli Square, got asked by a bunch of Filipinas to take their picture, and was told I didn't look Filipino. Hmmm.

Got chocolate blueberries for the guys in the office.

Saw a small exhibit of Dali prints. Price range: $1,500-$6,000.

Went to Mission Dolores. Finally, this city is getting interesting. Visited the basilica, then the original chapel from the 1770s. Stayed to listen as a church chorister practiced an angelic Lenten song ("Gift of Finest Wheat"?).

Took the coolest cable car ever, the original Banca Italiana car with wooden bench seats and glass lamps. See pic below.

Found Boy Bawang cornicks at Walgreens for merienda.

Got picked up by sis around 7, had grilled swordfish and chowder dinner at Sabella & La Torre on the wharf.

Walked around Ghirardelli Square to burn off all the calories.

Waited endlessly for Earth Day lights out, which didn't happen (too much commerce to bother being green?).

where i was today

later this afternoon...