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