Sunday, December 31, 2006

Loud Mouths

Can you hear Angie begging, "Save me..."

I've never been able to relate to other foreigners who say that they find the French distant, reserved, very polite. Most of the French I know, they're exuberant people of the south. Take, for example, Pierre's family. Christmas-eve dinner and Christmas-day lunch were, as expected, a riot, with everyone talking all at the same time and doing it throughout the meal, too.

At one point during dinner, the very beautiful but perennial malcontent Cindy, our niece, turned, rolled her eyeballs, and told me, "We're all going to end up deaf, with the noise they're making." I raised my eyebrows. "They? Cindy, you're shouting right into my ear!" I guess it runs in the family.

The volume was upped considerably by Pierre and his mom Jeanette. I always say that in a past life, they must have been married because, in this life, put them together in one room and in no time they're at it, bickering like children. No subject is too innocuous, they'll find something about it to disagree on. To such success that sometimes one ends up in tears, or the other walks out.

On the night before Christmas it was, aptly enough, firewood they got hot about about. (Of course, they had tried numerous other subjects before that, electric heating and children's party food among them. All in keeping with the spirit of the season, you understand.)

Jeanette said, pointing to the unused chimney, "Well, I was sick, so I couldn't cut firewood this winter." Pierre took the bait and responded, "You should have asked me to do it for you." Jeanette had the perfect reply: "And then I'd have had to wait a loooong time before you got it done. You're alwaaays busy." To which Pierre tried to retaliate: "But if you never tell me, it will never get done." And on and on and progressively louder for the next ten minutes.

Now, normally, I would've have just stared at my plate and folded in my toes, waiting for one or the other to give up. But I had had enough. It was Christmas. A time for peace, was it not? Summoning my newly polished language skills (I tell you, I managed to throw a couple of subjunctives in there.), I opened my mouth and uttered half a dozen carefully chosen sentences. Essentially, I practiced my French by screaming at my husband and my mother-in-law, "Shut the hell up!!!"

I felt immediate remorse, but to my surprise everyone carried on as usual, only a tad calmer. Jeanette gave me a warm hug and kisses before the night was out. When I asked him later if it was all right, Pierre told me, "Honey, don't worry about it." Then he went on to reassure me, "You're just turning into one of us." I smiled, but in my head I was still screaming: Oh! My! God!

Oh, And To Really Shock My Manila Friends...

Here is what your hot momma was up to on the afternoon of the 24th. Oh yes, I was baking peanut butter-and-chocolate cookies with Coco, Kaluna, and Angie. For Santa Claus, of course. (Are you guys dying yet?)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Why I Know I'm Getting Old, Part 2

I've started making my own holiday decoration!

2006's theme is kids' stuff, with felt stars and Angie's toys decked out in Santa hats, scarves, neckties, and edible necklaces. All this reminds me of when I was young and my family made it so that Christmases were all about arts and crafts. I like it.

Now a photo of the tree should be here, but, I've not gotten a very good picture. So let's use our imagination: It's all red glass balls and silver ribbons.

Merry Christmas to us all!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why I Know I'm Getting Old

I went to a party last Saturday, had three glasses of wine and three glasses of champagne, which back in the sturdier days of my youth would have gotten me quite happily drunk but would not have led to what happened in this, my feeble thirties. Sunday, I was so hung over that I had to spend the entire day in bed, too weak to do anything but whine to my husband that I will never, I repeat, NEVER, drink again. He'd get a break only when he'd have to help me up to go to the bathroom where I'd retch my guts out, eliminating all that wonderfully expensive bubbly as yucky gastric juices. (Sorry for oversharing.) A day later, at another party with friends, traumatised by the weekend, in this country where you go to any supermarket and there would be an entire aisle devoted to wine and another entire one devoted to all sorts of other alcohol, I was Mrs. Scrooge, abstaining save for a teeny little bottle of brown beer.

Happy Holidays to you, too.

Speaking of Brown Beer...

Punkbear has a taste for brown Leffe beer, thus the little belly, and would like someday to travel to Japan, specifically Harajuko in Tokyo, thus the orange mohawk. Unfortunately for him, he now lives with my sister-in-law Chantal, who is not much of a traveller but can probably be persuaded to bring Punkbear along when she goes next year to Guadeloupe for a vacation. How will Punkbear's green skin tan?

This adorable weirdo is my first needle-felted creation, accomplished some months ago, but it's just today that I found where I'd misplaced his photos. Punkbear has needle-felted cat cousins, Sandrine, Chantal, and Francoise. Maybe you'll meet them soon. Hey, reader Gina, we have something in common!

Monday, December 11, 2006

We Had A Book Launch!

Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology Volume 2 is out, girls and guys. My short fiction "Just Another Ghost Story" is in it. If you're my friend, I'm right now using emotional blackmail to make you buy it. If we don't know each other, take my word for it: It's an engaging read.

Dean Francis Alfar writes all about last Sunday's book launch here. Now I'm even more convinced that Dean is a terrific writer. Reading his entry had the miraculous effect of making me miss the great big headache that is Greenhills in December!

Dear Gwyn, it's to be found at Fully Booked, Mag:Net, Comic Quest, Ayala Museumshop, Filipinas Heritage Library, and Booktopia. Tell me what you think, ha.

Monday, December 04, 2006

UN Moments

Because I am unfortunately not the kind of girl to discuss Turkey's inclusion in the EU, here are the bits of international news that I've instead been picking up from my classmates:

1. If you ever go to a Brazilian beach, no matter what you may have heard, DON'T WEAR A THONG BIKINI. The locals are still going to be very friendly (normal, what with your bum cheeks in full display), but they'd actually be thinking, "Poor girl, she is so 1980s!"

2. Don't go saying "Kawaii" in Harajuko now. These days, the Japanese girls are screeching, "Cho kawaii!" From simply "Cute," now they're looking for stuff that's "Very cute."

3. Still in Japan and wanting to insult someone? I don't remember the exact words, but if you know some Niponggo, say the equivalent of, "Your mother's an outie!" Apparently, the Japanese are so polite you can malign someone by the state of his mom's bellybutton. (Because Kat alerted me: an "outie" is someone with a bit of flesh extending out of the bellybutton, while an "innie" is someone whose bellybutton is but a lint-filled hole.)

4. In the streets of Maryland, Virgina, in the US, always expect a certain amount of street harassment. If somebody starts wooing you with lovely muttered lines like, "Do you want to drink my love juice?" I have it on great authority that looking the pervert in the eye and shouting, "Does that get you dates?!" always works to scare the sicko away.

More of this kind of in-depth research on cultural behavior to come later this week. And acknowledgment must be extended to Prof. Abi, Ph.D.F.Ris.Bee for the title of this report.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Know, I Know...

... I've got to stop it with the language thing already, but it just hit me again how cool it was, when there we were, a Filipina, two Brazilians, a Russian, a Suisse, three Japanese, and a Swede, drinking cups of coffee under the autumn afternoon sun, honestly enjoying each others company in a way we could never have managed had we all not decided to learn another foreign language. Parler Français rocks.

P.S. Katrina, you're right. If you ever have kids, you have to raise them elsewhere. The twentysomethings I'm hanging out with actually have opinions about such things as whether Turkey should be allowed membership in the EU. I can just see them start hemmorhaging from the brain if forced to watch Eat Bulaga!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Something That Makes Me Uneasy

I've always had this nagging feeling that I'm living in macho country. Little things I've noticed, like how one neighbor called Pierre to ask if I were allowed to go out without him, and to practically ask his permission to invite just me to a girls-only dinner party (His great reponse, "She's 33, not a child, and even if she were, I'm not her dad."); how when a woman is out with a man, the waiter and maitre'd will maintain eye contact with only the guy; how when we bumped into a group of neighbors celebrating a children's party at a fastfood in Montpellier, I noticed that instead of mixing all the mothers were together in one table and all the fathers were in another. Now there's a study proving my gut instincts right. Read about the Gender Gap Index here. The Philippines is in the no. 6 position while France is way down there at no. 70. Now I'm even more fired up about convincing Pierre to vote next year for socialist party candidate Ségolène Royal. I think this country could use a woman president.

P.S. Last night, Saturday, having dinner at Timgad, I asked restaurant owner Karim about observation no. 2 above. He looked a little bit confused at first, said he never even noticed he'd been doing it. "I guess it's a sign of respect?" he tried a response. "To the man," I said, "but could it be a sign of disrespect to the woman?" "But no!" he protested. "That is just how it's done." Then he gave us a cute little smile, and since he really is a very handsome guy, I decided not to annoy him anymore and said nothing as he escaped to the kitchen.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What I'm Learning

I'm back in school for four short weeks, primarily to improve my writing skills and the correspondence of my tenses. My mind gets blocked when it's required to conjugate too much, so good thing that first-day lessons dispensed by fortysomething teacher Patricia were not limited to questions of language. She also delved into the rules of loving, the French way.

Teacher P: A (a young Hungarian male student, absent for the day) has recently become much more extroverted, hasn't he?

S (a Swedish female): Yes, now that he can speak some French, his pick-up line with girls is, 'How do you say this or that in your language?'.

P: He has found a girlfriend?

E (an Australian female): Oh, but he has one already!

P: But she is in Hungary, so it's not the same. When you are young, it should be like this, shouldn't it? You should leave such things like being faithful to just one person for when you're much older. (Then a visible sigh that says she doesn't understand why she must explain something so obvious.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hello, It's Me

They see my Asian face and automatically the majority of people here think that I'm sympa, gentil, douce. Translated, it basically means that solely on the basis of race they believe that I'm mild-mannered and super nice. A very good stereotype, you probably think, but being put in a box and easily labelled is just not my thing. My friends will tell you that while I am kind (or at least, I try to be), I am not at all sweet. I can mouth off almost as well as your average southerner.

One night, I saw a video clip of the comedian Patrick Bosso, who gets his material from his growing-up years here in the south. One of his skits had him saying that in Marseille, where swearing is an art form, people have even gone as far as replaced their commas with "putain" and their periods with "enculer."

That gave me an idea.

The following day, while setting up my stand at the market, the usual morning ritual began: one after the other, fellow vendors came to chat before customers arrived. One was in a particularly playful mood, and kept rearranging my necklaces.

It was late, I was running out of time, so I said, "Lee, arrêtes tes conneries." (Lee, stop your nonsense.)

He looked mildly alarmed. A sweet Asian lady shouldn't be saying that. "C'est vulgaire," he told me. (That's vulgar.)

Putting on my sweetest smile, I told him, "Pas du tout." (Not at all.)

I continued by replacing my comma and my period as the comedian had taught me. "Comme ça, c'est vulgaire: Lee putain arrêtes tes conneries enculer" (Like this, it's vulgar: Lee fuck stop your foolishness assfuck)

His jaw dropped, but he finally left my necklaces alone. I smiled sweetly once more.

P.S. Don't worry, the guy grew up here, so we're still friends. I think.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


It's not enough that Borgy Manotoc is pouting his way all over fashion ads back home, now his grandmother Imelda Marcos is launching her own fashion label. Read the story here (the link of which I'm filching from Carlos Celdran's blog). I won't be surprised if she sells well and you see people strutting around Greenbelt in pink sneakers with diamond-studded laces. Martial Law has been dead 20 years, and the old dictator is himself refrigerated away in Batac, so, what with the Filipino's infamously short memory, let's forget about the whole awful of episode of thieving and murdering, why don't we. Let's make the Marcoses cool again.

Opposites do attract, however, and my husband is still reeling from what the Hundred Years' War has embedded on the collective French consciousness. Centuries after his ancestors made peace with the neighbors, Pierre is still disliking all things Brit. Some of his notable quotes:

"You just have to ask about the poverty of a culture whose national food is fish and chips."

"I ordered bread, they gave me bread. It wasn't bread. There was only air inside."

"The accent! The accent! Even when they're speaking French, they still have a British accent!"

"I don't dislike them, I just have bad chemistry with the entire country."

"I asked for some salt. Believe me: Their salt is not salty."

Such is his conviction that one time she was here on vacation, his daughter Angie, before flying off to where she lives in England, reminded me at least two times to please pack in her suitcase a box of the French salt, fleur de sel. She was, after all, going back to a place where the salt is not actually salty.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I like this picture Nicky Sering took of me. It has innate dramatic potential, don't you think? I wouldn't dare ask my mom, though. She would probably say that this is the statement the photo makes: "Excuse me, I need to go. Hinahabol kasi ako ng plantsa, eh!"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ain't It Funny?

That it's a Halloween party, you're all a bit drunk and dressed too weird, there's been some very funny jokes told and you're a little tired from laughing too much, so you decide to sit quiet for a while and watch: your friend, dancing with her estranged husband, in a flirty-sexy-lovely way that tells you that no matter how many times she's told you that she's quitting the guy, these are two people still in love. You feel all giggly, and blame it on the wine.

Slow on the Fastfood

It must be all those long dinners and lunches. (I've been to lunch at a neighbor's that began at one and ended at seven!) Something in the French brain makes it so that they don't understand the concept of fastfood, so even if Pierre claims to like McDonalds, I can never let him order alone. There's always an incident.

One time he announces, "I want a Best of Menu." "What kind, mister?" the counter girl asks. He just looks at her. "A Big Mac, a Royal Deluxe, a McChicken, or a McNuggets, mister?" His eyes open wide. "Oh, I have to choose?" "Yes, mister" she responds. "Big Mac, please." He looks content with himself. "With what, mister?" the girl continues. "What what?" says my husband. "With what siding?" (She seems to have lost some respect.) Long silence. "Regular fries, fat fries, or a salad," she enumerates. "Fries." "Regular or fat?" He starts to look confused. "Uhmmm..... regular." "And what drink?" I finally butt in, "Just give him a medium Sprite."

Another time he was torn between two sandwiches, I forget which ones exactly, let's call them Royal Burger A and Royal Burger B. "How is A different from B?" he asks the hapless boy at the counter. "Uhm, the sauce, mister." Pierre is not content. "What about them?" The boy tries to appease him. "One is barbecue," He doesn't succeed. "And the way they are cooked," Pierre continues, "one is different from the other?" The boy glances behind him, looking for help, I imagine. I oblige. "It's McDonald's, honey." Pierre just looks at me. I take a deep breath. "They just take it all out of cartons and plastic bags." I speak slowly. "It's. Not. Real. Food." "Oh." He finally kind of gets it, I start to think. Until he begins again. "They taste how though?"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

People In My Neighborhood #2

Spying on Aigues Mortes.

On the road to Montpellier, where the road curves and you have to slow down to 50, a green van is parked strategically. The first time I drove past, its color was red. Probably realizing the awful cliché, the owner got a paint job.

I see her sometimes. Bombarded by intensely costume-directed films from Hollywood, I am disappointed by her perennial sweatshirts. Where are the bustier tops? The spandex and spaghetti straps? Mid-fortyish, maybe she thinks she is too old for them? The closed door blocks my view of the rest of her, but I don't suppose that with the baggy top she sports a mini-skirt and fishnets. More like jeans and old trainers. She wears eyeglasses.

So in her ordinary clothes, she does very ordinary things. Two times I saw her reading a book. Another time she was giving herself a manicure. Once, just once, did I witness something slightly interesting. A car slowed down, and the young man driving parked beside her. What happened next I could only imagine as I drove on to buy fluorescent yellow paper.

I suppose she has regular customers. Truckers, away from their wives for days at a time, using this road regularly. Sad men from the surrounding villages, Grande Motte, Le Grau du Roi, Aigues Mortes. My husband denies any knowledge. I would like to ask Momo, old and unmarried, if he has met her, but whenever I catch him at the bar, he is always already drunk. He makes incoherent noises.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


"Sabihin mo sa kanila, sa atin kapag may ubo, baso lang ng tubig ang katapat nun."

Wise kanto-boy words from my sister, who gave the advice while I was whining on voice chat about being made sleepy by all the flu medicine I had to take. So today I'm rebelling. Am taking nothing but the vitamin C, and driving off to Montpellier to do some shopping. Then this afternoon I might make a hat. Hey, I think I'm feeling better already. "Pssst.... Isang baso ng tubig nga diyan!"

Monday, October 23, 2006

Goodbye (Sort Of)

Kala snapped by Makis during an alien encounter.

"... Maybe there aren't any differences in the world, only subtle alterations, maybe between smiles and frowns there are no differences, a frown is just a smile upside down..." so said Kala in one of my favorite blog posts ever. Let me second that motion, because I'm currently finding out that it doesn't matter whether you catch it in the Philippines or you catch in France, a flu is still a bitch that gets you feeling too cold that you wrap up in blankets only so that five minutes later you're too hot and sweating beadlets. On the side it gives you headaches, makes your nose run, has you coughing so that your throat is scratchy and you're spitting small globes of viscous green. The subtle alteration to this particular frown is that over here it's not just a matter of every few hours popping a Biogesic. They've given me three different medicines, one white, another pink, the third a sicky sweet syrup thats tastes of corn. And let's not forget the morning's mega dose of vitamin C. Ah, to live in the over-medicated First World... Allow me to interrupt my own too-early whining (eight a.m. and already I'm awake--now this is what I call sick) to say: Goodye, Kala, may Paris give you a life so busy that you won't have any more time left for thinking about undressing turtles and why the chicken crossed the road.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


When I'm not being crafts artist, I write. And in that area, Dean Francis Alfar impresses me. "Art is will." I think it was Ayn Rand who said that, and the way Dean goes about his writing career tells me he subscribes to this belief. Such focus and determination! He applies the same energy to his publishing ventures, it seems like.

When I decided that I wanted to get into fiction, his Kestrel Publishing's Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology was one of the markets I had targetted. So when in April he issued a call for submissions for the second volume, I made sure to send a short story before the September 15 deadline. From there, things moved along briskly. A short few weeks later, he had announced who made it into the book, sent letters of acceptance and contracts to the authors, and asked for revisions where these were necessary. Now that he's done editing, he's even sent the works back to the writers, for final corrections.

Okay, my experience is with magazines and newspapers, and I have barely any knowledge of how they make books, but still, the way this guy is going about it strikes me as imminently professional. You can feel that he's really there, working on the project. As a writer, you feel reassured, that your story is in good hands.

All this inevitably leading up to a plug: Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2 is going to be launched in Manila in December, and you can find the table of contents here. ("Just Another Ghost Story"--that's me! I'm so happy I'm in it!!!) A bit of fantasy, some horror, short stories of a different sort, all making for a funky Christmas gift idea. Buy it. (I'm now sounding like a magazine writer, I know.)

P.S. I recently got word that Milflores Publishing is launching the anthology Sawi on the same month, December. (Another great gift idea!) It's all stories about heartbreak, and my contribution "Six Tales From the Single Girls Strip" is for my dear from-Boni-Avenue-to-Pioneer-Street friends. I'm sounding like I'm nagbubuhat ng bangko, but I'm just really made ecstatic by all this news.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why I Must Be in France

How Much?! Is what, in your head, you're almost always exclaiming. And the loudest I've recently screamed was at China Vina in Montpellier, where I made a first visit last Thursday. Pierre had been forever telling me to buy it, if I ever happen upon a green papaya, for he'll make me one of the best dishes I'll ever taste, a salad he learned to make on the border of Thailand and Laos. And there it was, in the Asian grocery's vegetable section, long and just big enough. With a basket full of other purchases I went to the cashier, and swallowed my surprise when the lady weighed and put a price on the fruit. Four euros ninety-nine cents for a papaya! Excuse me for being Third-World and gauche, but I still occasionally do the conversion, and that adds up to almost 350 Philippines pesos! Back in Manila I'd pay just 20! I went home and handed to my husband the prize, which at dinner time he returned, on a plate, grated and mashed, with peppers, tomatoes, sugar, and lemons, fresh and tangy, the world's most expensive atchara.

Shut Up! Is the other thing you most want to shout. But do not. It's an Asian thing, to smile and want to make personal interaction go smoothly. So last night at a dinner party I threw, when everybody was for some odd reason talking about the ragondin (a large rodent ubiquitous in the Camargue) and bears, and guest Fabrice put forth the opinion that they were very much alike, I smiled politely and made the noncomittal sound, "Uhm." The other guests--French and a North American--would not let it go at that. Essentially, they told him, "What an idiotic thing to say!" He grinned, explained that he thought we were talking about the ragondin and the lapin (rabbit). All was well. Until, a few minutes later, an argument began between my friend Cindy and my husband Pierre, a full-blown one, complete with raised voices and an insult thrown in. I tried to mediate, but they would not be stopped. We all just let them at it. I started thinking how this would end if we were back home. Somebody would scream, maybe cry, and then very definitely end it by walking out. The adversaries would never speak to each other again; my own relationship with my friend forever strained. Ten minutes later, it was done. Cindy and Pierre were friendly again. Everybody else went about the evening as if this were all completely normal. Everybody, except for one, who excused herself from the table to chew an antacid tablet, calming a nervous stomach. Asian I.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I'm in Love!

I am the product of a deprived childhood. When my siblings and I were young, my parents, thinking what terrible things could happen to their four precious girls, would forbid us from leaving the house save to go to school. Playtime was almost strictly always indoors. So we learned to entertain ourselves, for example making paper dolls for which we fabricated elaborate lives, complete with Spartan-tsinelas automobiles and Safeguard-box furniture. Come Christmas, we'd be making all sorts of gifts for relatives. The most famous were old neckties we stuffed to make soft-toy snakes. Unfortunately, a cousin with no imagination only got scared upon opening his present, and proceeded to very loudly cry.

Now a grownup I have predictably enough transformed into one of those girls who like making things with their hands. I make jewelry, I sew, I can even knit and crochet, all that corny stuff, you know. When Nicky, Mirren, and I were exploring Arles last week, we happened upon a little market devoted to craftsmen of all things woven and knit. There were sculptural dresses, artsy wraps, impressive coats that wouldn't look out of place in an art gallery. Mirren tried on one of the funky hats:

While Nicky was snapping pictures, I got to talking to a lady who told me that the hat was made through a technique called feutre de laine, which in English would be felting, I think. Someone was offering a course, but 180 kilometers away from Aigues Mortes. Through the magic of Google, I found an artisan closer to home here, and a few days later I was attending one of Madame Pouget-Gavriloff's workshops. She gave me balls of quite uninteresting wool, had me work at them with soap and warm water, and, an hour later, I had made myself this cute little bag:

As they say back in Manila these days, Ahlavet! So, sometime in the near future I'll be making a second blog where I'll be posting pictures of all my new felted creations, to save those bored by all this the spectacle of me waxing ecstatic over wool. To those interested, watch for more bags, some jewelry, a few scarves, and maybe even my own hat.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I woke up Thursday night to my bedmate making a sound, so loud and so strange that it woke both of us up.

"Was that you?" I trembled in the asking.

"Uhm, yes," he replied--I have to give you a clue now--with a sheepish smile.

Then he burrowed his head back into his pillow and was back asleep soon enough. Not I.

I lay there in the dark, thinking: My tough Camarguais, my real man, the guy I have to admit I married partly because I was tired of having to deal with mere boys, and this one seemed so alpha male, the lion at the head of the pack, in the middle of the night, at REM time (rapid eye movement, not the band), he doesn't growl and neither does he snarl. Instead, he dreams that he is cattle, and moos like a cow.

Monday, October 09, 2006


I've been organizing new photos the past few hours, and this is one of my favorites. I call it Beauty and the Beast, but with the genders reversed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Welcome to France!

I did the tour guide thing with my parents last year, to disastrous results, so I told myself next time it will be better. Many promises to visit by friends never realized, finally a few days ago two made it. Nicky Sering, a good friend's brother and a talented photographer, and Mirren, his very charming girlfriend and a mean shot with old Provençal hunting rifles (a story I'll tell another day), took the train over from where they'd been vacationing in Barcelona to see a bit more of Europe. I'm posting some photos for the Serings back home. (I know, Tita Ning, there's more of me in the pics than of your son and pretty Mirren. But, hey, I'm vain.):

Tour guide explaining verveine at the Arles market.

Tour guide (with the help of niece Cindy), trying to get guest drunk at the Aigues Mortes fiesta.

Tour guide trying to kill guests at Les Baux de Provence.
Tour guide on a lip-gloss break waiting for friends at Fontvielle.

P.S. Thanks to Nicky for the last and first two photos. And Abi, your fig jam is on its way.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why I Must Be in France

Is that a Monsieur or Madame Chicken? It's true what they say, the French are very picky with food. I first found this out while on vacation here a few years ago. I was grocery-shopping with my then future mother-in-law. "I'm going to cook you adobo," I said, walking to the chillers to look at the poultry. I couldn't understand what it said on the labels, so I was just poking at the yellow skin-covered meat, looking for a plump specimen, when Jeanette interrupted with, "Une poule ou un poulet?" I asked Pierre what she meant. "Do you want a female chicken or a male one," was the question. Glimpsing a future full of life adjustments, many of them small but with great potential to annoy, I sighed and replied, "You guys are really not going to make this easy for me, are you. It's hard enough with your nouns, but must your chicken dishes be gender sensitive too?"

Fish is a luxury. Back home, when you talk of food for the masses, you talk of fish, like tilapia and galunggong. Over here, if you have not much money, you're better off buying meat that in the Philippines would be expensive, cuts of calf or lamb maybe. One time we decided to make kinilaw for friends, and off I went to buy a kilo a swordfish. I still convert, so I gasped when I saw my bill: 25 euros. If I were still in Mandaluyong, those 1,600 Philippine pesos would have been a week's worth of groceries. Next time I'm serving them pizza...

Even their pigs fall under the French paradox. Reading Ianne, I remembered that in the beginning I'd cook Pinoy dishes and find them always lacking a certain something. My sinigang was not as tasty; my crispy pata lacking the pumuputok-putok goodness of the same dish back home. It was only when I looked closely at the pork offered at the supermarché and boucherie that I figured out why. Missing is that solid inch-thick layer of yellowish fat between skin and meat that you'd get at the neighborhood talipapa. Instead all you have are a couple of millimeters, meager little strings of white. What nonsense, I exploded. Whoever heard of pig, non-fat?!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #5

One thing I miss: the palengke.

9. I've told you about how here they speak French with an accent, the way my father's people speak Tagalog with a punto. What I forgot to say is that in the Camargue it's not just a matter of calling bread "le peng," and hand, "le meng." Listen to the old folk talking, and you'll hear them agree not with a "Beh, oui." It's a "Beh-eh-eh, oui." It's also not "Et, oui," but "Et-eh-eh, oui." They want to interrupt you by beginning a sentence with"But...", they don't just say "Mais..." They prolong the argument, going "Mais-eh-eh-eh..." Oh my god, it just hit me: They really do have their own version of the Batangueno's "ala-eh"!

10. One of my sister's best friends grew up in Novaliches, in one of those communities where everybody knows everything about anybody, and they think nothing of stretching their heads out the window to ask a neighbor, "Oy, anong ulam niyo?" ("What are you having for dinner?") Here, though it's not as crowded, the tsismis (gossip) is still well accomplished. My mother-in-law would put down the telephone, and pass on that villager no. 1 is sick and that villager no. 2 was nasty to villager no. 3 at the association meeting. My husband would come home from a client, and say that he'd met villager no. 4 on the street, who'd whispered that villager no. 5's business was not doing so good because the guy is into inhaling prohibited white powder. Two different times, I put the two through the acid test and asked, "What are they cooking for dinner?" Pierre, to my utter relief, failed. Jeanette was up to the challenge. After a moment's puzzled pause, she answered, "Villager no. 3 is trying a new vegetable recipe."

11. Did your yaya ever tell you of the woman in her province who gave birth to the kambal na hito (twin catfish), or maybe you read in the tabloid of the maiden and her illegitimate son, the bangus (milkfish)? Well, I'd just been let in on a family secret. A long time ago, one of Pierre's uncles came home from a fishing trip and hid to surprise his pregnant wife. As she was coming up the stairs, he came running out of some cabinets, shouting "Boo!" and waving in her face a multi-kilo giant of a fish. The poor woman fainted. Months later, when she was in premature labor, out came swimming out of her a baby boy, who managed to live only a few hours. It wasn't really fit for life on land, they said. The infant had a body that elongated and finished into a cone, with the eyes and ears malformed. Up to now they only whisper about it: Pierre's cousin was born with the head of a fish.

[CLICK HERE! Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1, #2, #3, #4.]

Monday, September 11, 2006


Totally humdrum this blog entry, no angst, no humor, rien!

I just have to announce--because Cindy had been bitching about failing her driving test three times (despite having successfully managed the roads of three different countries!), Kala was complaining that her driving instructor slapped her on the hand, and there was a time that I'd be going to Tommpouce's blog and all he'd be talking about would be driving lessons--I have to announce that my French driver's permit arrived in the mail last Friday!

Yes, I know, I gloat... I'm actually so happy about this that I'd post a picture of the permit if it weren't such an ugly piece of pink.

Heard that normally it's not easy to get one. You have to go through hours of lessons and pass the exams, while doing that shelling out precious euros that would amount to about a thousand. That's half the price of my secondhand car...

Mine was the painless immigrant's path. It turns out that as long as our first one-year residency card is valid, we Filipinos can exchange our driver's license for a French one. So I went to the Aigues Mortes mayor's office, got the required form and filled it out; had my LTO license translated; had ID photos taken; photocopied my carte de sejour, and then submitted all the stuff back to the mayor's office. (I'm lucky that Aigues Mortes is cool like that; in some places you have to go to the prefecture to do all this.)

So thanks to Kala and Makis for insisting I get off my lazy flat ass to do it, pronto!, and to Analyse for giving me the how-to details. Now, Boots, I know that driving is the last thing on your mind right now, but you have to do this!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Wala Nang Pangit Ngayon"

I believe it was beauty journalist Ria Limjap who used to say that. She'd then go on to declare that it's all a matter of styling; you just have to know to apply the right makeup and wear the right clothes. I'm sure Ria is right, but let me add to her theory.

When I'm there in the markets, selling my handmade jewelry, I sometimes get to wishing that with me were Tara and Lea.

You know how it is back home, you're only pretty if you're a white-skinned mestisa. So both girls suffered growing up--Tara in Surigao, Lea in Pampanga--just because they were too brown. "Ulikba," Lea was cruelly teased. As a kid my mom swears I was a rosy-cheeked cutie, which may be why I escaped the bullies, but eventually the cuteness faded so that in my twenties a boyfriend told me, "Okay, you're attractive, but not beautiful." I should have retaliated, "Well, you're oily skinned, flat-nosed, and pot-bellied." Instead, stupid me carried the little hurt around for years.

Well, girls, I have a perfect cure for our insecurities. Buy yourselves a plane ticket and move to where we're all pretty! There's something about our black hair and brown skin that makes them do a double-take over here. Men and women alike. They stop at my stand to say, familiarly, "Tu es tres jolie," formally, "Vous etes magnifique," exclamatorily (inventing a word here, maybe), "Quelle est belle!", and even lyrically, "Vous etes ravissante."

One time a tall blonde approached me, saying she wanted to take a trip to Asia, then asking, "Are all the girls as good-looking as you?" Answering truthfully, I responded, "I'm really just average over there." I savoured the look of doubt that stole over her ocean-blue eyes (the kind that we all grew up wishing we had), and couldn't help but laugh out loud when she said, "Maybe I'll be skipping the Philippines then."

Flipping hair over my shoulder, finally and once and for all, I swooshed away the White Goddess with my thick strands of black.

So, yes, it's a lot about styling, but also this: Beauty is a matter of finding the right address. Now, if only somebody could tell me where they like pot bellies and oily skin, I could send an e-mail to my ex...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Life in the Countryside

The reason I've not been blogging is we've been making jam. We live surrounded by trees and vine, apples, grapes, jujubes, almonds, prunes, and olives. The past years there's been no one to harvest, so much of the the fruit had ended up rotting on the ground.

Now here Pierre and I are. Being extreme creatures, predictably we have transformed from free spirits to sensible country folk. Why, said these two budding paysans, we can't let all that good food go to waste!

So we take a kilo of sugar and a kilo of fruit, put them in a giant casserole and bring to a boil, stirring all the while. Once all sticky, the mixture is spooned into sterilized jars that cool upside down. (We've done this so many times that these days, when I sweat I swear that my armpits smell of something sweet and syrupy.)

After all our efforts, we have now in stock, in glass containers of various shapes and sizes, some 15 liters of preserved fruit. Last night we looked content upon our cupboards, imagining ourselves waking up with the sun, sitting down to cups of strong coffee and plates of warm bread that we top with slabs of butter and spoons of our delicious homemade jam, fig being our favorite. It would be the perfect way to start a day spent outdoors, him doing things like mending fences and pruning trees, me maybe harvesting late tomatoes.

Then his phone rang, a client calling. A reality check as we remembered: we roll out of bed at ten to work all day in front of computers, indoors. And we don't even eat breakfast.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's Good Being Married...

... because one day you're home walking around in your underwear, and a light suddenly comes on in your husand's eyes. He begins to look at you with wonder and with awe. He's singing you praises: "Honey, you're so hot. You've got a body just like Shakira's."

The next minute you know that married life just keeps on getting better, because the man is looking at you longer, state of wonder and awe intact, in fact elevated as he exclaims, "Your breasts, they're lovelier than hers."

You stand up straighter, tuck in your tummy, stick your butt out a little. "I should have started those belly-dancing lessons," you berate yourself, but only lightly, because you're really having too much fun basking in the admiration.

Milk the moment for all it's worth is the thing to do on these occasions, because you know what they say: Good things never last.

There the husband is, still looking at you, but now a little less stupefied. "Except," and here he pauses, inclining his head to one side to get a better view of your behind. "I think it's all those years working in an office doing nothing but being in front of a computer." Another pause. "What?!" you half-shout. He continues: "Your butt, it starts out with a bump, and then it goes flat. It's quite flat, like your flesh forgot that it's not sitting down in an office chair anymore. You've got a flat butt, honey. Here, see," he points. "Look, it's flat."

Since they say that marriage is about compromise, and you know that hitting him on the head with a frying pan--yes, flat on the head--would make you feel too guilty, you just pull on a pair of jeans and tell him to shut up.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Teleporting via Casserole

Some kind of art shot of a yellow pepper.

Dinner tonight will be sinigang. Last night, it was Bicol Express. A few days before that, we spent a night with friends , and as I was the only one who had time to cook beforehand, we chit-chatted around a table laden with fish kinilaw, chicken adobo, tomatoes and onions chopped and drizzled with a patis-based sauce, and, of course, steamed rice.

Yes, a funny thing happened when I moved to France: I learned to cook Filipino food.

My father would have a hard time believing it. We Lejanos love to eat, but the gift for working magic in the kitchen had somehow been limited to my Dad, my Mom, my sister Bel, and, later on, my brother-in-law Alvin. Bel's twin couldn't cook as well, but was her kitchen helper, the eldest sister didn't seem interested, and me, well, my father never liked eating in my apartment: "Pasta again?!" he'd complain. Quick and easy cooking it was for me, I had a career to pursue. Besides, I could always just drive over to spend the weekend with Mom and Dad if I felt the need for pinakbet and crispy pata.

These days, I'd have to buy a plane ticket to get back to Las Pinas. Nearer are a few Asian restaurants, but they serve food adapted to local tastes. I was probably the only customer who complained when her chopsuey was placed in front of her: "Why is it loaded with meat? Where are the vegetables?"

While I would like to wax nostalgic, as food writers are wont to do, about divining the mysteries hidden in the skin of an onion while chopping vegetables in grandmother's kitchen, my experience is inescapably prosaic: I began by searching "siomai recipe" on Google.

Still, it works for me. I feel myself adjusting well to this foreign country, and I think part of it is because there in my refrigerator, spice shelves, and vegetable basket, although the sitaw is called le haricot and for lumpia wrapper I use this thing called la feuille de brick, any time I want to, I can work some magic and bring myself home.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Weekend with the Massebieaus (or why Makis, who claims to have lost all spontaneity, should come spend some time with us)

"As long as we don't have to paddle," Angie and Lea say.

Friday morning I get a text from friends living in Switzerland: "We're in France until August 14. You want to go kayaking?" I mention it to Pierre, who shrugs his shoulders, and we let it go at that. After lunch, he tells me. "Oh, Djannot called. The kayaking is for tomorrow." Okay, I say.

That evening I ask, "So it's an overnight thing?" "Yeah, " Pierre says. After which I'm told, there's no hotel, we'll be sleeping in tents, and there are probably no toilets either. "Huh?" I ask. "You pee and poo in the river." Oh god. So that night we decide, we'll just make it a day trip, paddle around with our friends a bit, then at night go back to home and the comfort of things that flush.

The following morning, we arrive at Djannot's and Malika's (at 10:15, when we said we'd be there at 8:30), and after some discussion decide, okay, okay, despite that I only packed a change of clothes each for me and Pierre, and three changes for Angie, we'll stay the night. The couple from Switzerland, Francis and Tonia, roll in at 10:30.

We have coffee, indulge in chitchat, then go to the supermarket for food. While there, we pick up a small tent too. We finally get to Ardeche and its kayaks at three p.m. Only to be informed: "Maybe it is not possible anymore,'" the lady at the tourism office says. "I don't know if you can get to the point where they close the river before six p.m." We think of all the food we'd bought, and I propose, "Hey, we can just bring all this back to Aigues Mortes and have a big barbecue!" (Back to the comfort of things that flush!)

No such luck, we find a guy willing to rent us kayaks at that hour, if we promise to move quick so we make it on time. We get four water-tight plastic tubs and in 15 minutes pack all we can into them, clothes and food mainly, but in the rush forget: flashlight, portable gas cooker, and snacks. For lack of space the other two couples leave their tents behind. Somebody French remember to bring the two bottles of red wine though.

After two and a half hours of paddling, sometimes against the cold mistral wind, we reach the camp. When everybody had gotten warm and dry, Pierre and I gloat. We have a tent! Then we open the thing and find out it has several metal pieces missing (don't ask me why). We end up using the tent as a duvet. (High point of the night: Discovering the camp had showers and toilets. Then a drop: The hot water had ran out.)

The next day Pierre and I wake up bright and early, make coffee and toast for everyone. While I'm fantasizing about the long, hot shower I am going to take as soon as we get back home, Francis comes walking up, announces, "I've studied the map, and it's going to take five more hours of paddling to get back to St. Martin."

"What???!!!" I scream. "You mean we kayak back? Nobody is going to come pick us up in a van right here, today?" Apparently not. "How come nobody told me about this?" Shrugs all around. Apparently, nobody knew exactly how much paddling we'd signed up for.

A lunch of leftovers and many cigarette breaks later, plus some stops to wait for the one kayak that kept turning over, at seven p.m. of the second day, we finally make it back to where we'd parked our cars. We're told that we had paddled a total of 35 kilometers. My body didn't need the number, it knew it had been punished. Why, even my toes hurt.

This weekend, we're planning to see the same people again. It's going to be just a day on the beach, they promise.

Friday, August 04, 2006

One More Shot

Just because, despite that she's all hair here, I think my stepdaughter
Angie is looking very cute harvesting cherry tomatoes in this picture.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


My recent blog entries have been missing spots of color; all words, no images. So here are some photos of what's turning out to be a very wholesome summer filled with (top to bottom) looking after children, saving dragonflies who don't navigate so well and trap themselves indoors, and rediscovering the exhilaration of slamming yourself into strong waves followed by rolling around in sand. There are also clam-picking mornings, lunchtime barbecues, afternoon dips in the pool, and trips to the amusement park that last till midnight. Oh, and I'm still very into vegetable gardening. All together now, let's say, Apol, welcome to domestication. Gosh.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Living Scared

Don't ask me why, but chatting with Tara, we somehow began talking about fear. Actually, I brought it up, telling her how it would be so easy, after moving to a foreign country, to just give in to the fear of all those things unknown, let yourself be paralyzed by alienation, and end up doing nothing with your days save nervously figuring out what maybe you could be doing with your life if only you weren't here.

I felt it strongly the first six months of living here. There it was in how I would tell myself in the supermarket to hurry, hurry, hurry, pack those groceries into those plastic bags quick, you don't want to annoy the other people waiting in line behind you, make them think you're an inefficient foreigner, because you can't explain that back in the Philippines where labor is cheap, young men hired by the store and called baggers would do this for you, so you never had to think before of such things as, do the canned vegetables go on top of the bags of fruits or below them?

There it was, too, in how, even if in my head I knew the foreign words, I could open my mouth but wouldn't let them escape past my lips. Pieces of uncertainty choking me: I'm not sure it's the correct conjugation. I wouldn't be able to pronounce the Rs the properly. Do I use vous or tu? Wanting to get it all exactly right, not wanting to sound stupid, I ended up sounding nothing at all.

Fear invaded my home, made me too demanding. Can you fill up these papers for me, Pierre? Can you make a phone call? Too clingy. What time are you coming home from work tonight? What time exactly? It also isolated me. I'm sorry, but I don't want to go to that party, it's going to be filled with, well, French people.

Now I'm afraid that this is going to start sounding like a "Go, Girl" kind of piece. Empowering, enlightening, oh-so-fit for Cosmopolitan Philippines. It can't be helped.

I don't know how it happened, but it did. I got tired of my own timidity. As I told Kala and Makis the day we met in Arles and they were surprised that I was haggling at the market when they don't think it's acceptable practice over here, I don't look French anyway, so why should I insist too hard on acting like one. I'll be a Pinay, who happens to be living in France, take my time packing my groceries, roll my Rs, give my husband space but still insist he opens doors and pulls chairs out for me. And, yep, continue making tawad at the markets too.

P.S. If any of you reading this happen to work for Cosmopolitan Philippines, please remind Ianne Evangelista to send me a jpeg file of the article I actually wrote for the magazine. I e-mailed her twice, but it's bouncing back, so help, please. Merci!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tip for Travellers

In case you're visiting France and for a taste of home refuse to go as far as friends of my parents, they who packed into their suitcase a sack of rice and a little rice cooker, then if you're attacked by homesickness maybe you can go to the nearest Mcdonald's. No, if you're thinking you can order a homesickness-killing Chickenjoy, you can't settle for second best and instead eat a Chicken Mcdo with rice. It's not on the menu. For consolation, get yourself a drink. After you've sipped a little of that Coke, study your paper cup. If you've got the right one, you should be staring at an Asian mother-daughter pair with pleasantly surprised looks on their faces. Floating near their heads is a bubble filled with red letters. The biggest sentence reads "C'est tout ce que j'aime." Somewhere in there, too, are "I'm loving it" and "Ich liebe es." There are some Chinese and Arabic characters. Unless you're very good at languages, leave them alone. Squint your eyes, and search somewhere at the bottom. There, you'll see it. Teeny, tiny, but an echo from home: "LOVE KO 'TO!" You can almost forget that when you entered, no one yelled you're a hermaphrodite with, "Good morning, Ser-Mam!"

P.S. If you've really got homesickness bad, try to find playing near you a homegown talent who's now big in France. Just last week I picked up the program for the international photography festival Les Rencontres d'Arles, and there on the last fold where they listed down all the events happening this summer in Arles, capital of the Camargue, I was informed that on the 17th of July, at the Théâtre Antique, performing would be Billy Crawford, formerly known as That's Entertainment wunderkind Billy Joe. It's the 20th. I missed it. Sigh.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #4

8. Remember the comedian who was famous both for his ludicrous wig and the mother-in-law jokes? Well, the hours I spent watching Pepe Pimentel on TV is exerting their influence. Not that I've taken to combing my hair into a mini-pompadour, but of dear Jeanette, whose only son I happened to marry, I can tell you a hundred and one stories, many of them amusing, a few not so.

My own mother warned me against living with my in-laws. She herself had been coerced into it when, early into her marriage, although she and my dad lived a city away, my paternal grandmother would find an excuse to hound them almost every day, the most famous incident having her arrive with a broken flat iron that she said my father must fix that very hour. The old woman soon wore them down and they lived a not very happy few years with her.

Jeanette has it better that we are just a hundred meters away. In the beginning of our marriage she would walk over once a day bringing usually groceries and cooked food, but sometimes linen and other house stuff. We were fine with that, and she sensed it, so she started visiting more often, at her peak coming five times a day (yes, we counted). I knew that we had to put our foot down the day she came bringing us a flat iron. My mother's voice telling her own Pepe Pimentel stories was echoing in my ears.

So we sat down down with Jeanette and said, "Imagine that your son and his wife were still living in the Philippines, and you need a special visa to go there. The end of the row of grapes is the border to their country, and we're giving you a visa but it's only good for entering their Philippines once a week." Nowadays she mostly adheres to the immigration laws. The few times we caught the Frenchwoman being an illegal alien, she was promptly deported.

[CLICK HERE! Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1, #2, and #3.]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You Come From Where?

Back home, aside from my regular job, on some weekends I'd go with my sister and brother-in-law to the NBC Tent and Forbes Park bazaars to sell our handmade jewelry. These days, I'm doing the exact same thing, except that I do it alone, the bazaars are called open-air markets, the addresses are Gordes, St. Remy de Provence, and Arles, and my clients are not Manila's fashionista crowd, but tourists from all over. I even sold a necklace to a Filipina named Maritess yesterday. She came to Gordes with an entourage of husband, son, and yaya, also a Filipina. Told you I'm still in the Philippines.

But this blog entry isn't about that. It's about, while doing this business, I've come to realize that the Department of Tourism needs to launch a serious publicity campaign. People see my brown face standing out in a sea of white, and of course they have to ask, "Where are you from?" There were times when this is what happened:

Scenario #1
ME: The Philippines.
ME: It's in Asia.

Scenario #2
ME: The Philippines.
NORTH AMERICAN: (Blank look)
ME: It's in Asia.
NORTH AMERICAN: (Enlightened look coming into eyes, voice getting excited) Yes, you were hit by the tsunami!

Scenario #3
ME: The Philippines.
EUROPEAN: Is that near Papua New Guinea?

Scenario #4
ME: The Philippines.
EUROPEAN KID: (Fingering a necklace) Are all of you Chinese good at making stuff with your hands?
ME: Uhm, the Philippines?

Scenario #5
ME: The Philippines.
EUROPEAN: Are you part of a minority or do you all have black hair and dark eyes?

Scenario #6 (When the other person actually has an idea where the country is.)
EUROPEAN: What are the houses like?
ME: Regular, like you see here.
EUROPEAN: (Looking disappointed)
ME: (Never wanting to disappoint) Okay, there are things called nipa huts.
EUROPEAN: (Brightening up) Are they up on trees?
ME: Unless you're going to buy a necklace, I think you better go now.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cono Comes to France

Half-cono meets half-jologs. (Photo taken by Makis, the unlabelled.)

Forgive the absence. I've been working (more on this later) and the Internet connection has been the past weeks iffy. I did have a full day free the other Thursday and spent it hanging out with Kala and Makis, making like we were back home, eating adobo and then going for a ride with an Eraserheads CD on the player. Fun.

The conversation at some point turned to Filipino class divisions, when Kala informed me that I am half-cono. If I remember right, she herself proudly claims the label jologs. If I hadn't been busy stirring in some more suka't toyo to our lunch, I would have protested.

While I grew up in the insipid, middle-class villages of Las Pinas, until she was past her teens my mother was a proud resident of very colorful Lakas ng Mahirap, Caloocan, where a cousin stayed on, until one day he was coming home from work and got chased by a village drunk wielding handmade bow and arrow. (He moved the following month.) Sending four children to school, my parents were always struggling. I helped man the clothes stand we once had in Divisoria, and took jeepneys and non-airconditioned buses to school.

Kala comes to her conclusion perhaps from the way I speak. Very Taglish, a habit I picked up working in the magazine industry, where many of my colleagues couldn't speak decent Tagalog. So they mixed it up, their speech a mix of English and Filipino. Supposedly, it's a mark of the real cono, although I've heard that some academics say it just shows idiocy, exhibiting that the speaker is really, in any one language, inarticulate.

I started thinking of this again the other day while I was talking to some tourists from the United States. I meant to tell them that a drive through sunflower fields might be pleasant, and that if they wanted to visit the Camargue, then I live right in the heart of it, so they should tell me and we could have coffee together. From the puzzled look on their faces, I gathered that they didn't understand very much.

In the thick of learning a new language, my brain had been misfiring. What I said was something like this, "There are les tournesols maintenant. On the road from Saint Remy to Arles. Ca sera bien if you take your car through there. Oh, and the Camargue is really wonderful. Les oiseaus sauvages, and the bulls. I live in Aigues Mortes. Stop by and see me. We can drink cafés together, si vous voulez."

It's official. Perhaps I'm not half-cono, but definitely I'm inarticulate. Sigh. Let me make myself feel better this evening by making tusok-tusok the fondue.

Monday, May 29, 2006

My Apologies to PAWS...

Dinner? Gallinou after a foot operation.
(And no, I didn't make fried dog feet!)

... but something happened that will make the animal-rights activists howl. Still thank goodness it occured to reassure me that I'm still very Pinoy.

I was worried. You see, sometime during the months since I moved here, along with the many life changes I had to survive I turned into a thing unheard of in our islands, where urban myth has it that half the time, that's cat meat you're eating in your siopao. Now I imagine the luxury of silk in flea-ridden black fur, hear sweet music in late-night meowings, and find a caress in sharp nails scratching against bare skin.

Biggest proof of my new status as cat lover are the veterinarian's bills. I brought my remaining kitty Dolly not just for spaying and regular vaccination, but also to test for cat AIDS and cat leukemia. Despite that "la rage" no longer exists in France, I opted for the anti-rabies vaccine. Just to be sure. It was robbery at 200-plus euros, but I didn't care. Anything for my baby. I actually came back for more. We rushed one day to Doctor Neiman, who smiled when she saw me, remembering the hypernervous Asian who on her last visit asked, "Do you think my cat is suffering from depression?"

I was much more dramatic this time. "Madame, help me," I cried. "Dolly has been coughing like she's choking on something. I'm afraid she's going to die." Doctor Neiman's diagnosis: not death, just hairballs stuck in the digestive system. For that, and a yummy paste to help ease our troubles, she charged 57 euros.

Dolly has a clean bill of health, so in the afternoons her friend can come to play. Gallinou, my mother-in-law's puppy, is a very frisky six-month-old. He bites Dolly's tail, eats the food in her bowl, licks to leave slobber all over her face. The cat generally takes it well, only sometimes protesting with a little meow.

I turned out to be more volatile. One day when I had just replanted my chrysanthemums, I found Dolly lying on the grass, Gallinou beside her, loaded with guilt along with the leaves and stems stuffed in his mouth. When I checked, I found that he had uprooted half of my plants. No mild meowing then. "Putangina naman, Gallinou e! Halika nga dito." I roared, "Lulutuin kita!!!"

Friday, May 19, 2006

Why I Don't Want a Child #1

Guess who the little one is.

1. "So when are you going to have a baby?" If Pierre and I charged for each and every time we were asked that question, we could have already bought plane tickets for our next holiday to the Philippines. And bought first-class.

Having built up a nice collection of answers, we choose one depending on the mood.

"Apol's too young." It's a lie, but my relatively unlined face fools the wrinkle-prone Europeans.

"Pierre's sterile." I invented that one, but only got to say it once before my husband censored the attack on his virility.

"When we're rich enough to afford a yaya." This is closest to the truth, because we're so lazy that if we could, Pierre and I would hire three nannies, one each for him, myself, and the kid.

After some soul-searching, I have decided that my unwillingness to have a child comes from trauma, experienced at the time I was editing a magazine for moms and homemakers, when I came upon this harrowing piece of information: Dentists recommend that we brush our children's teeth for them until they develop the motor skills to master the task themselves. That means wielding the Disney toothbrush until they're six or seven years old.

I did the math: three minutes, three times a day may not seem much, but add it up and you come up with a straight 16 days, with neither sleep nor coffee breaks, more than two weeks of your life that you could have been spending working on the next revolutionary invention after thong panties, that instead you devote to staring at mini tonsils.

"Don't worry, maybe our kid will take after me," grinned my dear darling, who lives up to the stereotype of the not-very-hygienic Frenchman and thinks he's doing me a favor if he brushes his teeth once in 24 hours. Still. That's more than five days spent cleaning out somebody else's tinga.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #3

View outside my window. Apt setting for weird stuff, no?

6. One of my father's stories about his Batangas childhood was of an uncle much-whispered about in their little town. It was rumored that the man possessed supernatural powers. He was a shape shifter, an aswang. On his deathbed he summoned nephews and nieces, told them that it was time to pass on the gift, said that whoever wanted it should step forward now. Scared, everybody just stayed where they were. On the old man's last breath, those present swore that they saw a living thing exhaled out of his mouth, a creature they agreed most resembled a scrawny chick, except that this one had feathers all black.

Remember Pierre's aunt, la hilot? We were having lunch with her and her husband one day when talk turned to how the gift of healing had been passed on to her by an old woman friend. Un secret, it was. So this gift can be given outside the family? another aunt piped up. Bien sur, la hilot answered, although it is always better to share it with a relative. Her husband's turn to talk. Maybe Apol is interested? he asked. Shrewd grey eyes studying me, la hilot began to nod.

If the day ever comes that finds me running all over the French countryside trying to escape a black chick, rest assured that I'll tell you all about it here.

7. Every first of November or sometimes during the Holy Week, turn on the television back home and you're bound to come across a show being done on faith healers, men and women with the power to banish illnesses, everything from a fever to cancer, sometimes with nothing more than their hands placed over the ailing body part. Year after year, we watch the same thing, so somebody tell ABS-CBN reporters that for a fresh angle they should hop on to an Air France flight and visit our part of Europe quick!

If you've suffered too much sun exposure, la hilot will touch you while muttering prayers to ease the feverish heat. With a slightly different technique, her sister-in-law can do the exact same thing, plus rid you of a fish bone, if one happens to be stuck in your throat. Another family member, Pierre's uncle, is a magnetiseur who uses energy to cure. Over here we're certainly not lacking for healers, les guérisseurs.

One time I was beginning to wonder if, really, I didn't just move to Siquijor, and felt the beginnings of a headache. I have a cure, my husband reassured. Ready to faint if he started laying hands or invoking ancient powers, I heaved a sigh of relief when all he did was hand over a plastic bottle containing prosaic white tablets of codeine.

[CLICK HERE! Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1 and #2.]

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dear Girls,

Attempting to look thoughtful and pensive :)

Last week I met one of the village's famous citizens. He came to the house, I served him coffee, and while I was studying him I couldn't shake off the notion that he looked a lot like Stephen King, with a wild bush of hair and a squarish face that was, well, strange. One of the fingers of his left hand was cut just above the middle joint. Since it was our first meeting I didn't think it was the right time to ask him why.

Anyway. The man is an educator, one of the country's prized intellectuals; and a writer. What does he write about? He told me, "A mix of psychology, literature, philosophy, all to talk about the reality of otherness." He had given my husband one of his works, but my French is not yet good enough for that level of smart. Our visitor, I was told, had published some ten books, and is a much-sought after speaker in lectures and conferences.

Then he asked me what I did. "You were an educator, too, back home?" Nowhere near as noble as that, I replied. I wrote and edited for newspapers and magazines. "And now what do you write?" he continued the interrogation. I fidgeted. I looked at his cup, still two-thirds full, so there was no escape in a refill. No psychology and philosophy in what I do, I thought. Aloud, I said, "Just... uhm... fiction... uhm... short stories. Weirdness, individual quirks, some magical element, if I can manage it... that kind of thing."

He nodded, leaned back on his chair, and for a minute was silent. Then, "Me, too, I wish I had more time. I want to write poetry and short stories too."

We looked at each other, him through his square-framed plastic eyeglasses, me squinting because I hadn't put on my contact lenses. Smiling weakly, I went ahead and refilled his cup.

All my girls, but especially Maya and Tara, it hit me then. Not a respected intellectual, and definitely not us. No one is ever really satistified with what they have, are they.

Yun lang. My not-so-original thought for the day.

Your Ati

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #2

[If you missed it, Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1 is here.]

5. In the Philippines, complex archipelago of 7,000-plus islands, we have 13 major languages. One of them is Kapampangan, whose most famous characteristic, at least to non-speakers, is its lack of the phoneme "h." When my parents Gerry and Priscilla met my then-boyfriend Pierre, and for the first time for real were exposed to a Franchophone accent, they began to wonder if maybe people go "Me keni" beyond Central Luzon.

One of their conversations was about a trip to Europe my parents planned to take. "You can go to Olland, and stay in a otel." Pierre offered. Priscilla looked at him, raised an eyebrow, puffed on her eternal cigarette, then looked at me and mouthed, "Saan daw?" ("Where, did he say?").

Soon enough they were discussing France, where my parents of course had to visit Pierre's village. My urbanite mom worried. "You live in the country, maybe there will be many snakes?" Pierre assured her, "Don't worry, they are armless." Priscilla again raised an eyebrow.

She replied, "Of course, snakes crawl, diba?" The Frenchman tried again. "Armless... armless... you know..." Not at all being the supportive girlfriend, I clipped my arms to my sides and began to wiggle my trunk left and right. "Armless like this, honey?" I asked. Flustered, Pierre managed to blurt out, "Armless! The snakes are armless. They have no poison!" And of course, despite his guffaws, my dad just had to ask, "Are you sure you're not Filipino? You're speaking Kapampangan eh."

Epilogue: Sufficiently traumatized, Pierre now adds an "h" to any and all English words he has to speak that begins with the letter "a," so that, for example, the crevice under the arm he calls "harmpit." (Not so off the mark, when he hasn't showered for a couple of days.) Meanwhile, my parents still have doubts, wondering if their youngest daughter really isn't just married to a local guy and living somewhere in Pampanga or Nueva Ecija.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Vitrioling (The Last Time, I Promise)

Look what came by post!

A question my husband was often asked--is actually still asked, but now much less frequently--was, "Tu l'as ramené ici?" Did you bring her over here, they'd demand of him, about me, as if I were some souvenir from the tropics, a kitschy pair of mega-sized wooden fork and spoon for hanging in the dining room perhaps, or maybe something vulgar, like a barrel man.

Pierre's usual response would begin with a joke. "No, I'm so hot she came chasing after me." Then he'd start it, sometimes subtly, sometimes more upfront, depending on his mood, different ways of saying, she got her own visa, bought all her own plane tickets, before the wedding spent her summers vacationing here on her own money. This is not a marriage of convenience. I'm not my wife's financial savior, you see.

I appreciated his efforts, really, but one time I'd had enough of feeling like my entire curriculum vitae had to be dug out of the filing cabinet and presented as proof of my acceptability. So I snapped.

"Yep, brought me over, he did," said I to one lady. "At the supermarket, he purchased an extra-large cardboard box and a roll of sticky tape. He packed me in there really tight with some bubble wrap. It could have been a rough ride in the plane's cargo hold, but Pierre was really considerate. He remembered to punch air holes. Also to mark my brown box 'Fragile' and 'This Side Up.'"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Monster Alert

A fine break from all the bitching I've been indulging in following that bizaare hair-pulling incident: Vin Simbulan is publishing an anthology in the Philippines called A Time for Dragons, and a story I wrote called "A Fishy Tale" is going to be in it. The book will be a collection of short stories dealing with--yep, you guessed it--dragons, and my story will feature--uh-huh, you got it again--creatures that swim in the sea. You can read the complete table of contents over at his blog. Woohoo!

Let me go public now: Apart from all the Wakasan komiks, Danielle Steele sizzlers, and Harold Ludlum mysteries I gobbled up as a child, I was also a big fan of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and, yes, let me just bare it all here, Stephen King. My brain thus wired, now that I'm trying to write fiction, there's almost always an element of the fantastic in my work (an exception being the pap in my last entry below). Now I'm taking a deep breath and trying to get my stuff published.

Given that I am so bad at rejection and criticism, I don't think this is going to be easy...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Rules (for a brown woman finding herself in an interracial relationship)

1. If you're going out with a white guy, don't ever go to Café Havana, said Myrza.

2. When I was dating this Canadian, I gave up my strappy high heels and went around wearing flipflops, this one from Tara.

3. Oh, and cargo pants, para mukha akong student, again from Tara.

4. Wear pearls, and the hair pulled back, dearie, was an acquaintance's advise.

5. Speak English with an American twang, an officemate was overheard.

6. Do not wear shorts too short, an older friend warned.

7. Don't be long-haired and skinny, or otherwise look hungry, from a European backpacker.

8. If you must smoke, don't make it a Phillip Morris, from I don't remember who.

Why all this effort? It's preparation, to make ourselves ready for the inevitable malicious inspection. My college friend Daki was very upfront saying, "You have to admit, we all do it." He meant that look one second longer than necessary, when we see a brown woman out with a white man, trying to figure out if the relationship is for real or if she's just a bitch for hire.

As if adjusting to normal married life wasn't hard enough...

Help this brown girl adjust. Add to the list and leave a comment!

Friday, March 31, 2006


I moved all the way to France to star in my very own fit-for-Pinoy TV telenovela. Imagine me last Saturday a gorgeous Iza Calzado, long black tresses falling in sensual curls down my back as I stand at some restaurant's bar, sipping a drink, talking to a guy who was not at all hot. Ugly as hell, in fact, no Dingdong Dantes this one. Anyway, he had started small talk and to be social I was small-talking back.

A little while later, I took my leave, turning to say goodbye to the guy's companion, a blonde with bad posture, craggy face, and skin the color of pastry dough. Unbeknownst to me, this female character had the spirit of an evil Princess Punzalan. In a jealous rage peppered by a mega-dose of racism, she focused on me her mean eyes, reached a claw out to give my hair a tug--yes, members of the audience, a sabunot it was--then proceeded to abuse me with a sentence not fit for printing here. And then her final line: "You, Thai puta."

As I wrenched myself out of her grasp, I wanted to scream, "Excuse me, pero hindi ako Thai!!!"

Attempt at being funny and cute failing miserably, let me just say, Fuck these small-minded and uneducated idiots, I want to go home.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Chasing Sally I've fallen down a dark rabbit hole where I spend sundown haunting the 13th-century streets of our village, a ghost hybrid that doesn't say "boo." I'm infectious: Going into a bar for coffee, I heard the two barmen begin meowling too. Occasionally, ancient female spirits join me. Led by Madame Bardella, saint mother to cats lost or abandoned, we go on our tours when the world turns gray, our beacon her hair dyed magenta.

Alone I go to church grounds. Once in the chapel of gray penitents, I thought I'd found the errant juvenile, but her tail had grown two centimeters and there was a patch of white on what should have been an all-black neck. Still I was staring, willing this beast to transform into mine. "See how it raises its legs to pee," cousin Sylvain suddenly came up behind me. It can't possibly be Sally, because this one's a he.

Exactly one week after her little sister disappeared, on the same day and the same hour, our other cat Dolly went out the cat flap and wasn't seen again. The witches had returned hunting for meat for their cauldrons. Fortunately wise and quick, Dolly managed to jump off the broomstick and fly across the moon, landing back in my garden on the twentieth hour.

I am still hoping for the best, convinced that someday soon, Sally will walk right in through our lavender gates, bruised from her adventures but happy to be home. This despite knowing that many other cats have not made it. A new friend who lives two streets away told me that she lost two felines in one year, a mother and her son. That's nothing compared to our blonde neighbor.

We managed to track her down yesterday. Her gray-and-white male had been pissing in our home, and we demanded to know if the horny bachelor was keeping hostage our little girl. She said not at all, but she'll be keeping her eyes open. Then she warned us not to hope. The woman's lived here six years, and from a total of thirty cats, she's lost twenty-four.

I'd die. So yesterday Dolly was cut up and her ovaries removed. In exchange for protection, we offer her innards to the cat goddess Bastet.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Meowing Plaintively

All activities on this site are suspended as the Provenciana's energies go to posting flyers, harrassing people on their afternoon walks, aiming a flashlight down abandoned wells, knocking on neighbors' doors, quizzing the veterinarian on cat behavior, and meowing like a fool on the road at sundown, all in the effort to look for baby cat Sally. If despite her broken tail and lack of a passport she had happened to get on a plane and flown away, and you see her being a tourist in the Philippines, Singapore, the States, or Spain, please let us know. Pierre is tired of investigatigating the neighbors' chicken pens, and Dolly and I spend the rest of our time looking out the window, trying to figure out if any of those black shadows could possibly be her.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Eksena sa Osmena.
Ang saya-saya!!! Ilang raw na rin ang nakararaan ngunit ninanamnam ko pa rin ang alaala. Mga ati at kuya, kinakailangang maranasan niyo ang araw-araw na niraranas ko para lubusan ninyong maintindihan ang rurok ng aking kagalakan. Sa unang pagkakataon sa loob ng siyam na buwan na halos walang humpay na pagbubugbog ng utak at pagpipilipit ng dila para matutunan ang isang wikang banyaga, ibinuka ko ang aking bibig at--nanginginig at pumapadyakpadyak ako hanggang ngayon habang naaalala ko ito--nagsalita ng walang iba kung hindi Tagalog, o Filipino kung gusto mo.

Oo, dito mismo sa Pransiya naganap ito, chikahang nagsimula ng alas-diyes ng umaga at natapos ng alas-kuwatro, anim na oras , sey mo. Salamat kay Kala at Makis, na nagmaneho mula sa malayong lugar para makipagtagpo sa isang kababayan (ako) na hanggang noong nakaraang buwan ay nag-aakalang walang ibang Pinay na nakatira sa may dito. Ulit, Kala at Makis ang pangalan nila, wala akong litrato, pero may blog ang dalawang ito. (Ayan, nag-Ingles tuloy ako, pero ano ba ang wikang Filipino para sa blog, "blag"? Ili-link ko sila dito, hintay lang kayo.)

Nangyari ang lahat sa lungsod ng Arles, nung nakaraang Miyerkules, anim na oras na walang kahirap-hirap na pagsasalaysay ng mga kuwentong buhay. Kumain din kami, una sa Restaurant L'Entrevue at pagkatapos sa Fad'Oli, at naglakad sa napakahabang palengke, naghahanap ng itim na sinulid at itim na bag ("maleta"? "tampipi"?), ngunit karamihan ng panahon ay ginugol namin sa talakan.

Dahil mga kababayan, madali silang basahin at kaibiganin. Bukod sa hindi ko kinailangang maghanap ng palaging nagtatagong wikang Pranses, hindi ko din kinailangang palaging kuwestiyuhin kung tama ba ang basa ko sa personalidad at karakter ng taong kaharap ko, katulad ng madalas kong gawin kapag kahulimilo ang medyo malalamig at madalas na seryosong mga Europeans dito.

Hanggang dito na lang, magpapaalam na ako. Kay Kala at Makis, maraming salamat, kahit na hinayaan ninyo akong molestiyahin nung mamang matanda na maydalang gitara. Gayunpaman, winner ang araw na iyon. Ay hindi pala. Panalo!

Something That Made Me Go Wow

Not-so-little pinkies.

Yesterday morning, while drinking coffee, we drew the curtains to get our view of the salt mines in front and the marsh on the right, and got a pink surprise. Our dear departed duckies (remember them?), after hopefully having caused indigestion in the bellies of their nasty hunters, must have flown on to bird heaven and partied with the bird king, and to his majesty told how good we've been with our morning offerings of dried baguette, so that the king decided to send us a gift.

The Camargues, where we live, is from spring to autumn home to tens of thousands of flamingoes, those elegant-looking birds that range in color from white to deep pink, which many of us have only ever seen in pictures or on The National Geographic Channel. In Manila, the only birds I'd see flying free were the nondescript maya and the ubiquitous kalapati, so the first time I saw flamingoes on the road to Le Grau du Roi, I was squealing with delight. Since them, I've spotted more of them, on the same road and when we go to Les Salins du Midi, but always they were in large groups and keeping their distance from men.

So imagine our surprise when yesterday we were treated to the sight of flamingoes right there in front, a few meters from the edge of the terrace! Seven of them were feeding, standing stick-legged and their beaks in the marsh. They were there while we breakfasted at nine, and stayed until after the sun had set.

As I made dinner, I told myself: I complain about how hard life is trying to adjust to life in provincial France, but having lawn furniture like this makes me determined to shut up.

P.S. Whatever is in that marsh must taste good. It's March 7, and it's the third day the flamingoes have come. This morning they even brought over friends, three seagulls and an heron.