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.