Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Living With Animals

What is Pierre doing? (The boy on the left is Mateo...
I think we scarred him for life.)

I will never read Neil Gaiman again.

Something you have to know about me is that I'm one of those flaky sorts who believe that if you think something hard enough, you'll make it real. It works both ways. You can make come true the good, the light, and the wonderful; at the same time the bad, the horrible, and the ugly. Just as long as you believe.

So, back to Neil Gaiman. I'd just finished reading his collection of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, and as I do when I read something very good I'd given his characters space in my brain for a few days. They got full play at night; I'd gone to bed with images of babies being used as lab animals, God setting up Lucifer for his fall, a child's fingers in a pool of wolfman's vomit, the monster Snow White feeding on her father's genitalia. Truly horrible stuff that used my head as a bridge to walk out of the pages of a book into the country roads of southern France.

Yesterday night the elegant black cat came, fur slightly dusty, a rat clenched between her jaws. She approached her sister, the smaller, nervous one, sleeping on my bed, and with a call like a crow cawing, woke her up so that together they could torture the dead. They moved to the living room and tossed the body around, poked its belly, pulled the tail, nibbled a little.

I shut myself up in the bedroom, barely able to breathe. I remembered myself, five years old, in bare feet going at night to the kitchen for a glass of water, but a few steps away from the fridge stepping on something warm, furry, and alive, feeling things cracking underfoot, then hot liquid on my soles. I turned on the light to find my foot covered with meat and blood.

After I'd spent an hour listening to the sounds of the cats' macabre play in the next room, my husband came home. I thought, "My savior, my hero." I asked him to get rid of the rat, please.

"In Peru, ancient kings considered rats a feast." (Yes, Dang, again he was in Yoda-speak.) I wasn't in the mood for his tales of travelling the wild lands, so I repeated, Come on, get rid of it.

Which he did. Holding the rat upside-down by its tail, he went to his mother's house next door. A few minutes later, he was back with something red and glistening packed in cling-wrap. I saw him feeding tiny bits of meat--was that liver and a heart?--to the cats.

Later that night, in the middle of a post-Christmas dinner at a friend's house, my husband got up and went to the fireplace. From his jacket pocket, he took out his cling-wrapped bundle and gingerly freed from it a string of meat. He put it in the fire and grilled. So while the rest of us feasted on oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, and duck, my husband, he ate like a Peruvian king.
Gutted and skinned.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


I'm spending Christmas as an Inuit on a black-and-white beach, enchanting dragons with a tusk borrowed from the silver walrus.

How about you?

Monday, December 12, 2005

The People In My Neighborhood #1

Nope, he's got the same nickname as my husband, but it's a different man.
Pierre--the husband--was the guy behind the camera though.

Pierrot lives in a big old wooden boat, a retired peniche, one of the lumbering cargo carriers that until the early twentieth century was essential to life in these parts. The Camargue, as this region is called, was a poor area that had not much roads, but made up for it by having connecting bodies of brackish water, les etangs. The peniche would move supplies from village to village, powered not by any machine, but by the muscles of the horses teethered to its two sides, the animals galloping on dry land, pulling the boat along through the narrow marshes that snake all over the region.

Given the must-see value of his abode, Pierrot occasionally hosts concerts and parties. One I recently attended was a period piece: come dress as a Gaul, the modern French's ancestor, and feast on wild boar roasting on the spit. Pierrot not being a very sociable guy, his events are considered a success if he manages to attract more than a dozen people. That one I went to had maybe twenty attendees--half of them dressed like Asterix and Obelisk--so I guess that it was a smashing hit.


You don't need a frontal view to know that the man in the old boat doesn't care much for depilation. This serving as my segue to a postscript:

Blame it on the wine, my amateur French, or my brain shutting down because it just! couldn't! take it! anymore! In my neighbor retelling the story the day after, I realized that I had missed an important part of Anick's depilatory adventures. It turned out that after slathering on the hot wax, she went chicken when it was time to tear her hair off. So she decided to leave everything where it lay, and went to work with hardened goo still stuck to her pubis.

The next time you see a postman, wonder if she (or he--why not?) is carrying more than just your mail.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

New Parents

PIERRE (standing in the kitchen corridor, watching the little ones have lunch): They always have a good appetite, no?

ME (walking up to stand next to him): Yep, they eat all the time!

PIERRE: They're growing up so fast...

We look at each other fondly, with wide smiles, then continue watching the girls.


PIERRE (talking to one of the girls in French babytalk that we try to translate here): Ooohhhh... yes, that's my moomoon. Moomoon loves her Papa, yes? Come to Papa now... My moomoon...

ME (looking at our other little girl; then, in English, so that the barely bilingual children don't catch it): Honey, that's why this little one is developing an emotional problem. She knows that the other one's your favorite.

PIERRE: Of course, she doesn't know!

He thinks for a second, then goes to the neglected little girl, resumes his babytalk.

PIERRE: Yes, my moomoon. Come to Papa, moomoon...


ME (at night, in bed): Where are the girls, honey? Can you bring them in here?

PIERRE: You know, you have to start learning to let go. One day, they're going to be all grown up and won't want to sleep with their Mommy anymore.


PIERRE (early in the morning, in bed, just woken up): The girls are crying, honey. Maybe you should see what it's about.

ME (half-asleep): You go look, hon. I take care of them the whole day, now it's your turn.

I go back to sleep, Pierre gets up.


Meet the girls, that's Sally on the left and Dolly on the right:

I know, we're sick.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Spaceship Has Landed

Now that you have the map, come and save me.

Last night was girls night at neighbor Violette's house. Now "girls" may not be very accurate here. I was a good ten years younger than everyone else, and I'm at an age when some mornings I actually spend time checking for wrinkles under my eyes. The conversation, however, was decidedly female (and don't be going feminist on me on this one!).

Ever since those times in Mandaluyong that I spent with Maya and Tara, often over coffee, sometimes over wine, occasionally over harder stuff, talking about our jobs, our dreams, our loves, our writing, and, yes, about other people, I have learned to appreciate female-bonding sessions. This time, somewhere in southeast France, I don't think I bonded with anyone.

"Don't expect to be discussing art and literature," Pierre had said, sending me off, the anxious husband thinking that for her sanity his transplanted new wife has got to start finding girl friends to replace her old ones. Of course not. Just art and literature would have been a bore. Pierre, however, did not prepare me for this:

There we were, first with our aperitifs of white wine (that would be me and another dark-haired guest) and whiskey coke (the four tougher mommas), later attacking the raclette and green salad, talking about: where to get the right bra for big bosoms, how much the shrimps went for at the just-opened supermerket, stockings or tights for the winter, the place to shop in Montpellier, what exactly is a bag tag, and where to go for tequila and rhumba. The high point of the evening was Anick the postman entertaining us with her depilatory adventures. (Are you ready for this? I sure wasn't.) All flushed with the excitement of remembering, she recalled the pain of waxing her own crotch, of chickening out halfway through the torture, and so living for a few weeks with the dire consequence of having half her vaginal triangle hairy as usual and the other half smooth as a baby's butt. Nowadays, she just lets it all grow wild.

As Abi would say, Hindi ko kaya...

Friday, December 02, 2005

But He IS Cute!

No, Pierre is not pushing 50! And neither is he without any chin. I admit, my husband is not a very photogenic fellow, and his skin is somewhat sun-damaged, but he does have his charms. That includes his integrity, intelligence, kindness, and, yes, his abundance of body hair. I find him hot. Just to prove you wrong who've said Pierre is pangit, I've put together some of my favorite pictures. Di ba okay naman siya?

(Above) Sailing the Atlantic.
(Right) Life as a beach bum.
(Below) His everyday face... Oops! Eh hindi nga photogenic...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Keynote Speech #1.1

At left: The happy couple...

If you need more convincing, if you still do not think it wise to stqy qzqy fron the French, then look qt ny blogging; They insist on being different, the cheese_lovers, even zhen it comes to computer keyboqrds; Thqt meqns thqt these dqys, qith ny old, Philippine_bought conputer sold qnd replqced zith q French model, just spemming ny words right hqs becone an exercise in pqtience qnd concentrqtion; Thereùs q Q where there used to be qn A, qnd q Z zhere before there zqs q W; It gets zorst becquse K, L, qnd M qre qll nixed up; Don,t even qsk me to do qny mqth noz. If I zqnt to type the nunber five I get (, instead of the nunber eight there is _; Wondering zhy I end my sentences zith q semi_colon/ Thqt,s zhqt I get zhen I press dozn on the button zhere ny period used to be;

[Translation: If you need more convincing, if you still do not think it wise to stay away from the French, then look at my blogging. They insist on being different, the cheese-lovers, even when it comes to computer keyboards. That means that these days, with my old, Philippine-bought computer sold and replaced with a French model, just spelling my words right has become an exercise in patience and concentration. There's a Q where there used to be an A, and a Z where before there was a W. It gets worst because K, L, and M are all mixed up. Don't even ask me to do any math now. If I want to type the number five I get (, instead of the number eight there is _. Wondering why I end my sentences wih a semi-colon? That's what I get when I press down on the button where my period used to be.]

Friday, November 25, 2005

Keynote Speech #1

So you've heard all about why interracial relationships are difficult, right? So I don't have to tell you anymore about it, yes? Well, I just gotta.

If you absolutely have to marry someone from another country, at least make sure he comes from somewhere they speak the same language as you do. That way you don't have to suffer a 30-minute argument because you and your husband are going out for dinner, you've put on mascara and high heels that's how much you're looking forward to the evening, you've even sprayed on some vanilla perfume because you know he loves the scent of this sweet stuff, and then you ask him, "So where do you want to eat, honey? Cafe Bouzigues or should we try someplace new?" In response he looks at you in what you will very soon interpret to be a bored manner and says, "You choose. I don't care."


You think about that. Allow the words to bounce around in your head for a bit. And then, a full minute after, newly-married, sensitive you, shrieks, "You don't care?!?!" You repeat the noise one more time, and then continue. "We just got married last June and already YOU. DON'T. CARE. ?!?!" You're not done: "If you don't care, then why are we going out anyway???!!!"

It takes 10 minutes of you sulking, not saying anything, and him trying to make you stop pouting, and another 15 minutes of you both discussing the nuances of language before man and wife finally figure it all out.

Pierre tries again. "You choose," he begins slowly. "I'd like to eat at Cafe Bouzigues, but we can also try another restaurant if you want. I. DON'T. MIND."

P.S. Also try to look for someone who doesn't come from a country with such a thriving and independent-minded film industry that many of its citizens know nothing about Hollywood movies.

Me, at the film rental shop: "Hon, I heard this is a good movie, do you want to get it?"

Pierre glances at the DVD jacket, looks at me funny, and smiles: "What are you planning for tonight?"

Me, not getting it: "What do you mean?"

Pierre looks at the title of the movie, examines the pictures of a sweaty Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in a kamiseta, then taps his finger against the lettering on the jacket that proclaims, "Monster's Ball." He says: "This is a kinky movie, no?"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Third Time's The Charm

Thick walls, deep resentments

(The explanation for the title: Twice last week I tried to blog about this subject, but my efforts were botched by computer troubles. Here's wishing me luck this time...)

Even before the rioting that went on for three weeks made the fact of racial tension inescapable, I would already occasionally feel their discomfort, this pervasive unease.
Nico, who helped build our terrace, telling another story of how he had gotten into a fight with Beurs, second- and third-generation Arab immigrants, a fight that like the others that preceeded it, his anger, heft, and military training made sure was bloody. For my benefit, he added in English--quite unnecessarily, because how could I miss it?--"Me no like Arabs."
On our first visit to an Asian-goods supermarket in Nimes, Pierre warned me against ever coming alone, especially not at night. We were crossing the parking lot closed in on three sides by square, ugly buildings, and he told me of how he had grown up in places like this, the slums of France, inhabited mainly by Arab and North African immigrants. Pierre's eyes were alert, resting a few moments on a young man with brown skin, black hair, dark eyes. He knew this type well, he said, especially the feel of his fist against his face. Pierre was the son of a policeman, and until the age of 15, he was almost every day assaulted, sometimes verbally, often physically, by Beurs who wanted to get back at the older Mister Masssebieau and the establishment he represented.

Often Pierre would say to me, "I've travelled everywhere, but nowhere do I fear violence as I do in my own country. Out there, you know that when they attack you, it's because they want something, your wallet, your jewelry. Here, they'll do it just because they hate you."
Malika was the first Frenchwoman of North African origins I met, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants. She's in her forties, educated, single, working as a production manager for theater productions. Being those things has made her an outsider in her own ethnic community, where even now living outside their country women are expected to do nothing but marry their own kind, stay home, and raise children.
Lawrence, a social worker, invited us over for a grilled fish dinner where talk inevitably turned to the rioting. Everybody seemed to agree that the violence got as bad as it did because the resentment that the young rioters had inherited from their immigrant parents have, in this generation, transformed into anger, even hate, because, yes, they really do not have the same opportunites as the blancs, the "whites." Lawrence had no trouble convincing us how hard her job is. She engages the interest of youngsters in the banlieus, the slums, so that they are motivated enough to enter into a training program. Then she has to help them find jobs. Are there any for these sons and daughters of immigrants? She shakes her head, "Rien." Nothing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Not Another Wildlife Story

The ducks may be gone, Tara and Maya, but the cats still meowl.

Here is a picture of Dolly, back when she was two months old (she's four months now); or can it be a picture of Sally, who would have been an hour younger. They just look too much alike. (Or maybe I am addled by dinnertime's Bordeaux?) .

Daughters of ginger-haired Marmounette, they are two balls of black fur rolled up beside me on the bed as I write. One is near my feet (that would be Sally... or is it Dolly?), the other is to my right (pick a name and place it here). Now they yawn and they stretch, at exactly the same time. If they weren't so sleepy, I'm sure they'd want to say "Enchanté, pleased to meet you." (Yes, they're bilingual).

Now to my left, just a little less hairy, and splayed out instead of rolled-up, is multilingual Pierre. If he weren't in deep sleep, I'm sure he'd still be incommunicado. Three a.m. is much too late for him to be exchanging pleasantries with anyone.

The quacking out in the marsh may have been squashed, but here under the blankets, the husband still snores.

P.S. Neither animals nor humans were harmed in the taking of any of these photos.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

In Memoriam

Goodbye, feathered friends!

It was but a mere week ago that we would open our doors to the rowdy quack-quacking of the family of ducks that lived in the marsh out front. Wild they were, the types you'd see with jewel-green feathers, but not wild enough to resist the day-old bread we'd toss them. The ducks developed such a liking for the dry baguette that they would have given those dogs in Pavlov's experiments stiff competition.

Every morning it was like clockwork. Pierre, crumbly offering in his hands, would come out and whistle a high note. Three short bursts, and the five canards would come paddling, tracing a swift diagonal line from where they stayed on the other end of the marsh to where our terrace ended. Voila! Breakfast is served.

Now there is only silence. We have come to accept that the quacking came to an end when the gunshots began. For a period of three days, from the left of the property, where the marsh connects to other bodies of water that the ducks no doubt fished, we kept hearing loud blasts. It was hunting season.

Our fowls have fallen. I imagine them now, stripped of feathers and webbed feet, swimming in bile, digesting in some fat Frenchman's gut. Their only consolation the fact that pieces of their beloved bread are no doubt being digested along with them.

I make my statement now: I protest the violence in France.

P.S. I know. I am too flippant. France burns, and I make a joke. What do I, an immigrant of less than six months, make of the violence in the cities? I make of them many things. Tonight ends my mourning for the duckies, tomorrow I write more.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Postcript

I guess this guy never heard about jumping into the water.

Two Sundays ago was the last day of the revivre, "the revival" or "the rebirth," the weekend when, after a five-day break from a full 10 days of partying, the entire village of Aigues Mortes rises up again, nursed to new life by the steady stream of yellow liquid flowing from the bars, pastis, 90-proof milk of Provence, which the locals suck steadily from morning to night, only weaned away by spectacles involving men riding horses or men either chasing or being chased by bulls.

An excursion at the beginning of the village festival taught me too well why one of the French terms for hangover translates to "my hair is pushing out of their roots," so I exempted myself from the rest of the mayhem. I stayed home most times, even giving up my thrice-weekly evening runs because the festival horses trot twice daily down our stretch of country road, and zig-zagging steaming manure is just not fun exercise.

But that time, two Sundays ago, I decided to have my own little revival. Horse shit be damned, I declared, put on my gray trainers with the neon-green swoosh, and sat down my husband for a serious talk.

"What do I do if I encounter a bull?" I asked in what I think now to be a plaintive tone. (Of course I was worried. Remember that Jeanette had warned me to keep the gates firmly closed lest a creature comes to kill me. She warned me twice.)

"Jump into the water," Pierre said, referring to the canals of brackish water bordering the roads hereabouts, runoff from surrounding marshes. "Bulls hate the water," he added in that quiet way he has of making mundane pronouncements sound somehow important, reminding me of Yoda, if instead of jumbling his words Yoda spoke with a French accent.

Armed with this wisdom, and before I could change my mind, I unlocked the gates and sped off. I was panting after two kilometers, my body having quickly forgotten what a jog was about, and I let down my guard for a minute to gawk at a swarm of swallows overhead so that I stepped on green-brown feces, but the half-hour passed largely uneventfully. Had I dilly-dallied and jogged a little later, this blog would have ended differently. Or would have ended for good.

I had just sat down in the garden with a glass of water, trying to recover, when through the barred steel gates I saw what should have been a hallucination. A bull loose on the streets. As these animals go, this one was only medium-sized, not the massive toro for the corrida, but one of the more slender varieties they use for the course de toro. They were smaller. And quicker. With horns no less sharper. Its passage was announced by the thuds of its hooves hitting the ground, 300 kilos of angry beast looking for a way out. I blinked, but the mirage would not go away, only continued by a throng of men riding their horses fast. These were the gardiens, keeper of the bulls, who had just lost one.

When the frenzied entourage had gone, and once I had managed to pick my jaw up from where it had dropped on the just-cut grass, I looked down at my Nikes and felt immense relief that they didn't have to get wet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Keeping An Eye Out For Bulls

"Matulis kaya? Check ko nga."

"Naku, na-im ang bull!"

"Swear ko, I only really need one asshole..."

(Photos taken at a local Course de Toro)

Last weekend, the beginning of Aigues Mortes's 10-day-long village festival, mother-in-law Jeanette told me that in the coming week I should never leave the gates to the property open. Keep them closed, she warned, locked even. Why? Bulls are running the streets, was the answer, they might come in and gore me.

And I thought life in Manila was wild.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

For Marie

The last time I saw you, we promised to meet up in Paris. I thought maybe we would play tourists and see the sights, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, The Louvre, Musee Rodin.

Deciding to be adventurous, we'd get on the metro; buy the discounted pack of ten tickets, pretend to be cosmopolitan, and ride through the lines. Inevitably, we would miss a stop and end up in the suburbs. Mairie de Montreuil, perhaps, where we will find that in the center of France you can discover Algeria and Morocco.

One evening would be spent sharing pitchers of rose, drunk on the sidewalk while marveling at the serendipity that had put us in a glamorous foreign city together. Marveling, too, at the opportunity to take up a friendship just barely begun those many years ago, in our own city thousands of miles away.

But it all never happened. As it was when you started climbing mountains and I was still selling words, life got in the way. So: Maybe next time. Or maybe never. Instead of memories of Paris, forever just a slight regret for missed connections and for journeys never taken.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Meet The Neigh-bor... (title channeling the spirit of maya calica)

This fellow lives right across the street from us, our nearest neighbor on a country road where house numbers are really only optional. (With only four homes to choose from, the postman has got to have overdone the lunchtime wine to make a mistake.) Keeping up with the Joneses now means I've got to start running faster than my current eight kilometers an hour!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Words Fail Me

(Somebody just please bang my head against Aigues Mortes's Medieval walls.)

I dreamt that I was cutting chunks off my upper legs and tossing the meat into a boiling casserole already half-filled with red matter--more of my thighs, I assume, and some tomato sauce.

Playing dream analyst I figure that the gory scene is my vision of life right now. A bit of self-sacrifice seems necessary.

The giving up of job, family, and friends is the least of it. I had been thinking to quit magazine publishing for two years; most of my friends were living and working in other countries; and in my family it's not unusual to not keep in touch.

What is hard is finding out that without any real disabilities I have become deaf and dumb. After working 11 years in media, writing for newspapers and magazines, hosting a television show even, suddenly I am unable to communicate. Imagine it.

I remember in the beginning I would be petrified to go out alone; in bars I couldn't even order coffee properly, so instead of my usual big cup, American-style, I had to learn to like espresso, a few potent tablespoonfuls in a demi-tasse.

My abilities have somewhat progressed ("Un cafe long," I have learned to say when I want the coffee diluted.), but it still takes tremendous effort. At parties, my brain is constantly working, synapses sending electrical pulses at great speed just so I can keep up with the banter. Two-thirds into the night, my brain is fried.

Sometimes I feel them, the mob of articles definite and indefinite; verbs regular and irregular; the question forms, the prepositions, and especially all those nouns whose masculinity and femininity I have always to determine, I feel them getting restless inside my cranium, the nouns deciding to use their gender to reproduce more of themselves, until I feel it so crowded up there that the foreign words are about to erupt out of my ears, or worse, split cracks in my skull.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mga Ati, Game!

Home is two mobile homes stranded on a field somewhere in Provence. They form an L on two sides of a wooden terrace where my husband and I sit with aperitifs to watch the sun set over the marsh in front (the same view you're getting on top), the wild ducks and egrets that nest there crying out, seagulls and flamingoes flying overhead.

When it's time to come in for dinner I find myself heavy-handed with the salt shaker, taste buds now sensitized because every second we breathe in the mineral. Just beyond the marsh are the pink Mediterranean waters and white saline hills of the local salt mine. The first harvest of the season they sell as gourmet seasoning, prettily named fleur de sel, precious at three euros and fifty cents for a handful.

I write self-exiled in the tiny bedroom, curtains drawn against the sight of the rows of grapes that begin just outside, the fruit already starting to burst on the vines. Last Thursday I saved some from this fate, cut a basketful and with my neighbor Violette made jam. We did the same with the black figs and almonds three weeks ago. Boiled them in giant pots of sugar and sealed them in glass pots. We neglected the prunes and white figs. Those dropped to the ground and wasted away in the summer heat, and for days there was the sweetish smell of rot. The apples now hang low on their branches. They will soon become marmalade and chutney.

We have high hopes for our first harvest of winter vegetables. Tonton Loulou was right about planting with the moon. Four days after their seeds were buried, at just the right moment of the moon's ascending, the tiny leaves broke through the soil. We have three kinds of lettuce, brune d'hiver, laitue a couper, and mache. Plus those growing wild on the land.

It was on a rainy morning last year, while I was here on vacation, that my future mother-in-law took me on an expedition. Armed with little knives and plastic sacks, we went hunting for little heads of chicory. I was told that we had to get them young, while they were "tendre," not "deur"; and that we had to look for a particular shaping of leaves, otherwise we'll be lunching on weeds. On the table at midday, I wondered if we hadn't made a mistake. The leaves had microscopic hairs that scratched the tongue and took determined chewing to macerate.

Giving in to demanding questions about when we'll have a baby, we adopted two black kittens and named them Dolly and Sally. They have been here a week and the first has adapted well, climbs onto my lap and stays there purring. Sally is not as easygoing. At night when her sister curls up to sleep with us, choosing a spot between entwined legs, Sally follows, but prefers to stay under the bed.

She finds there the 20 pairs of high-heeled shoes that are souvenirs of another life, shipped all the way from Manila despite knowing that high heels are utterly impractical in sandy earth and gardening soil, still worn occasionally, defiantly, to walk around the ancient village's cobblestoned streets that trip me up every few meters. One time I checked, Sally had settled beside dusty red leather wedges. All midnight fur and golden eyes, she stared at me in a way I knew well, for I imagine that I often sport the same expression. There the question:
"What the hell am I doing here?"