Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Local Humor

The thing that I love most about my family is our collective sense of humor. We're typically Pinoy that way, I suppose. When things get a little too painful, we don't want to talk about it. We prefer to laugh.

An example of how it goes with us happened a few months ago, when my diabetic mom had a health crisis. They discovered elevated protein levels in her urine, which usually means that the patient's kidneys are failing. The news immediately brought family members living near rushing to her house. My sweet nephew Sam arrived, saw his dear Mama in the garden, ran to embrace her, and soon after began to cry.

My mom tried to make light of it. "Why are you crying, Sam? I don't have a contract to send you to university, only your sister, so if I go it won't make a difference in your life. You shouldn't cry."

That joke admittedly was a little lame. Stepping in to save the moment was my second-eldest sister Bel, who really has the wickedest sense of humor I have ever had the pleasure of encountering.

"Okay, okay," she gathered the children around my mom. Then she delivered her punchline. "Let's all give Mama a hug while she's still a little bit warm."

In Tagalog, it's a thousand times funnier: "Halika, mga bata, yakapin natin si Mama," she said. "Yakapin natin habang mainit-init pa!"

Up to now, when I remember the story it gets me giggling. I'm looking forward to seeing them all very soon.

P.S. No worrries, the protein level descended and the Mama is okay.


It's funny that when I am sewing all the fun stuff that goes into my online shop, most times the music I listen to are the heartwrenching songs of Edith Piaf. I love her, and this song is my anthem.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It Snowed, I Took No Pictures

This is my third December in the South of France, and the first time I've seen it snow where I live. It isn't much, merely a light dusting on the ground, just enough for my friend's two kids to get their mittens sopping wet while making a snowball each, but it is enough to merit my friend and I free glasses of champagne after lunch at the restaurant run by a dark Frenchman who tells us that where he used to live in Norway, they always toasted the year's first snow with some bubbly. Well this is probably the decade's first snow in the region, I pipe up, we should be breaking open a crate of Dom Pérignon!

When all I can talk about in my blog is about it snowing and about finishing a four-hour long lunch with a toast, it means that I have really nothing very interesting to say.

I am right now, for several months now, living a rare period of peace and quiet. There is nothing happening; just watching flakes of white melt and disappear into dark patches on the sandy earth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Christmas Story

"What is Christmas like in the South of France?"

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Nah, I didn't think so. Still, if you're just a little bit curious, you may want to read a story I wrote for The Storque, the e-zine of Etsy. I've always loved local arts and crafts, so it was predictable that I become infatuated with the santons of the South. Read my story here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Eating Local

My husband and I are not very good at organized action. It's just not in our nature to march down streets yelling our lungs off and waving placards. But we do believe in the power of the individual, that the choices he makes, good or bad, has an impact on the rest of society. We're not just riding on the environmental bandwagon (although even if that were the case, it would be a good thing); we have always tried to be conscientious about our choices as consumers. Some of the things we do include recycling, not buying things we don't really need (yes, that means I try to limit my clothes shopping--argh!), and eating local food.

I was talking to my friend's boyfriend the other day. Marcos is a scientist (I seem to be surrounded by them at the moment) from Ecuador, working on the transformation of water melted from icebergs into potable H20. Given his occupation, of course he is very concerned about the earth drying up because of man misbehaving. After discussing his work, we had an interesting talk about, of all things, tomatoes.

"You go to the market, see a tomato from France and then a tomato from Morocco," went one of Marcos's quotable quotes. "Automatically, you get the one from Morocco because it is cheap, not pausing to think that the environmental cost of that Moroccan tomato is really a lot higher than the French one because of all the petrol used to transport that vegetable here." (Yes, I hear you, smartypants: The tomato is a fruit. Read on, please.)

I am not very good at proselytizing, so I will let a farmer I saw on television the other day explain why exactly I'm telling you the tomato story: "As consumers, we should realize that our decisions should not just be based on the price per kilo. That thing that you are eating, ask yourself, how did it get there, on your table? And what exactly is in there? What are you putting into your mouth?"

All that said, in our household we're going to move forward in our effort to be conscientious consumers and try out Associations pour le Maintien d'une Agriculture Paysanne or AMAP. Essentially, how it works is you pay a local farmer ahead of time to produce vegetables during the season (list of vegetables approved beforehand by everybody involved in the project), and then you come every week with your basket to pick your share of the harvest. Sounds cool, doesn't it? We'll not only be eating fresh and organic, we'll also be helping local industry.

The website is in French, but the idea came from the States. Click here for US residents, and here if you live in the UK.

Not a funny post, I know. I told you I'll do that one next week.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thought Running Through My Head This Minute:

"I so want to update this blog, pero gosh ang dami ko pang tahiin!"

Wholesale and custom orders, folks. The career-driven city girl has transformed into sewing-machine-pedal-pushing country wife. Just call me the writing sastre.

Next week, I promise: I'll write something funny.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Books! Books! Books!

We're at the end of month 11 and I'm already doing some examining, asking myself if I had achieved what I had set out to do at the beginning of the year. On the writing front, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" The enthusiasm primarily comes from that I've been wanting to write fiction forever but, as I've said many times before, when you're writing and editing magazine articles the whole day, the last thing you really want to do at night is to look at more words.

December is going to be a specially happy month.

Above is the cover of Philippine Speculative Fiction 3. My short story "Pedro Diyego's Homecoming" is included in this anthology. I love "Pedro Diyego" mainly because the writing of it was such a pleasure. I've heard some writers say that certain stories seem to just write themselves, and this was the case here. The first sentence popped into my head, I typed it out on my laptop, and a day later the story was finished. I had to tweak the ending after having Patricia read it, but the writing involved almost zero stress. The editors and publishers, Nikki and Dean Alfar, are launching the anthology in Manila on December. You're all invited! Click here for the launch details.

Very Short Stories for Harried Readers is an anthology of flash fiction (meaning stories with a word count of 750 words or less) edited by Vince Groyon and published by Milflores. In his last e-mail, Groyon said that they are "hoping" to have the book out in Philippine bookstores by December. My contribution is called "Making a Garden." If she reads it, I think that former English lit professor Patricia would tell me the same as she did of "Pedro Diyego": "It lends itself well to a diasporic reading." Ack! Being an immigrant has given me angst!

Milflores is at the same time launching a collection of flash fiction written in Filipino and called Mga Kuwentong Paspasan.

Help Filipino books make it past the regular 1,000 first-printing copies, please. In my La Pomme blog, I encourage people to buy handmade. Here I want to say: Read Filipino! Go buy our books.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What Does It Say About Me...

... that last night I bought our tickets for a three-week stay in the Philippines in January, and more than the thought of hanging out with my sisters, laughing at my mom's hilarious one-liners, burrowing my nose in my dad's kili-kili for a quick snuggle, and the beer-and-pot reunion with old friends planned at my sister and brother-in-law's infamous old 115 Anonas Extension address, what is really getting me excited is the thought that once I am at my parents' place, I can very quickly drive off to eat as much of this as I want to.

Ah, I'm going home! My arteries are already beginning to constrict in anticipation.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Must Read

I am deeply touched by this blog post from Netherlands-based writer RC Loenen-Ruiz. If you are also far away from home, read it and feel the pain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

About Snails: La Pomme's One-Week Sale!

My new snail pouch.

Don't be a slowpoke snail and be late on your Christmas shopping. Do it now! I'm offering a 20-percent discount to all readers of Provenciana who buy products from my Etsy shop from today until Wednesday, 21 November. Browse and buy by clicking here.

A great big plus is that all my products come packaged in lovely cloth bags that tie close with satin ribbon, so they're ready for giving away as soon as you get them in the mail.

How it works: When you check out at Etsy, you will be given an option where you can send a message to the seller. Here just write, "Hi, Apol! Found you on Provenciana." Don't pay with your Paypal (or check, if you live in France) just yet. Once I get your order form, I will revise the price to show the 20-percent discount and then send you a message that it's ready for you to buy. This sale goes on only until 21 November, and is not cumulative, meaning you can't use this with other sales and promos I have going on in my shop during this time period. See you at La Pomme!

About Crawfish

Once upon a time, more than 20 years ago, a big truck was passing through the village of Fourques, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of the south of France, when the driver, for reasons now forgotten, lost control of his vehicle. The giant truck toppled and it rolled. Like a beast in its final moments, it made terrible screeching noises that everybody and his neighbor could hear. With a final metal-scratching-on-concrete wail, it ground to a halt on its side, smack in the middle of one of Fourques's main roads.

The sight was enough to leave the villagers stunned, but they were in for a bigger surprise. From out of the whacked-open belly of the upturned truck came crawling out hundreds and hundred of monstrous little critters. The things had hard brown skins, spidery legs, and two front claws that snapped. The horde made click-clicking noises as it made for the freshwater canals bordering the road. The children and the women of Fourques screamed.

Cooler heads soon enough intervened, and told everybody that they had no cause for worry. The truck's cargo were not hungry alien monsters. The villagers, with the typical French passion for all things tasty, heaved a sigh of relief and started licking their lips.

And that is how Louisiana crawfish came to be living in the waters of a remote village in the south of France.

The American crustaceans liked it so much in their new environs that they started multiplying like crazy, providing business for the young boys of the village, who would trap crawfish in the afternoons and sell them to the village housewives for a steal--about five francs per kilo. One of these young boys, as you can very easily guess, was named Pierre, who grew up to be my husband, who I know loves telling tales but I don't know half the time if I should believe him.

This particular story he told me after I had come back from the market in Arles with a can of bisque d'écrevisses, crawfish bisque, made in Fourques. I opened it, heated the soup, and ate it with croutons on which I had scratched some shallots. It's a softer version of lobster bisque. I'm going to make the detour to Fourques this week to get some more. Trust me: It's delicious! If you like the taste of seafood and you live in France, you can have cans and bottles delivered to your home. Just go to the Lou Chambri website. You can ask them if their goods are actually tombés du camion*. Or maybe not, as we don't want them spitting in your soup.

(Yes, after all that drama, this is just a blog post about food.)

* tombés du camion, literally, "fallen from the truck," an idiom meaning "stolen goods"

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Paperwork Pain

I am renewing my passport at the Philippine Embassy in Paris. Mr. Tornilla, the guy I had been speaking to over the phone since I began the process, has been very helpful, which helps alleviate a lot of the headache involved.

To get a brand-new version of our precious green-covered booklet, I have to submit my current passport, a birth certificate authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, my baptismal certificate (thank goodness my mom keeps these things!), my voter's certification record, and two current IDs. I'm giving them copies of my French driver's license and residence card. On top of all that, I'm required to submit a piece of paper with the title "Sworn Statement," in which Item No. 3 states, "I came to France using the following ASSUMED/FALSE/ FAKE birth and personal data:"

Mr. Tornilla said that it has become necessary to be strict about these things because of the number of our countrymen coming into Europe illegally, and that to item no. 3, I should just put "not applicable." Since I detest paperwork, however, right now I'm being really tempted to write that I came here as Fatima Alvir, Misty Blue, or Miss Bella Flores.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

La Pomme Promotes

What is this? Click here to find out!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I Hear You, Noelle

Reading Noelle's 31 October blog entry was like hearing an echo of the phone conversation I had with Tara last Tuesday, which had me saying, "Marriage is not at all easy, Tars, and if what I have with my husband doesn't end up to be the forever kind, then I'm never going to do this sort of thing ever again."

If you're not yet married, then I'm doing what Noelle says should be done and telling you: My lord this till-death-do-us-part business is not easy!

For each married woman, I suppose the difficulties are different. For me, independent, stubborn, individualistic, slightly egotistic I, what I'm finding particularly hard to get used to is the constant presence of another. Even when he's not physically there, he is there, taking up space in my head, taking possession of a big chunk of my heart.

There is, too, the fact that I got married at 32, when I had had more than a decade of living my adult life my way. There had been boyfriends, of course, but looking back now I never considered them an intrinsic part of my life. Now I am with someone who is exactly that.

My life is tightly tied up with the life of another. And it is supposed to be this way until I die.

I consider marriage to be most of all about sharing, so the thought does bring me contentment. Still, there will always be a part of me--independent, stubborn, individualistic, slightly egotistic I--that will think about this and will find it difficult to breathe.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Politics, Sort Of

One thing I've always wanted to be is a little more serious-minded.

At 22 I started working at a national newspaper, The Manila Times, working with some journalism greats, like Malu Mangahas, Pete Lacaba, and Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon. Once I co-hosted a TV show, and one of the other hosts was Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is now an Akbayan congress representative. To be 100-percent honest about it, I felt just a little bit inadequate around these people and others like them (except for Risa, who is just about the most gracious person you'll ever meet and who couldn't make another person feel inadequate even if she tried). I mean, what have I, a very ordinary girl, to say to such people who dealt in only the VERY IMPORTANT things.

Once at a film showing--I think it was Carlitos Siguion Reyna's Ligaya ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin--I found myself face to face and alone for a few minutes with the newspaper columnist Conrado de Quiros. The situation definitely called for somebody to start a scintillating conversation, but instead I sort of just smiled stupidly and eventually slunk away.

One time I did open my mouth. It was some cocktail event in Greenhills, if memory serves me right, just before the 1998 presidential elections, and I was introduced to one of the candidates, the late Raul Roco.

Gushed I, "I watched you on TV with the other candidates, Sir. I liked you a lot. You seemed to speak the least bullshit!" He chuckled good-naturedly, but I was mentally kicking myself as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

I did try to keep all the political goings-on straight in my head, but there never seemed to be any rhyme nor reason to how these things went in the Philippines, and there was always one upheaval after another, so half the time I felt like I was in a fog of only half understanding.

Since moving to France, where government and politics seem to function systematically, I've been promising myself to be more conscientious about keeping up with national events. But you know what, I think there was a reason my boss at The Manila Times kept giving me such assignments as the profile on child actor Vandolph and the interview with beauty queen Ruffa. I've only really begun regularly checking the news sites and buying the national papers like Libération less than two weeks ago, right about the time I heard that newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Cécilia were getting a divorce. To put it plainly, all the new activity was triggered by the good old desire for chismis (gossip).

Monday, October 22, 2007

And Now Back to Regular Programming

Let's sing all together now: "Free again...!"

If you've had it with all the cutesy stuff I've been putting on here to promote my Etsy shop, then you'll be glad to hear that I just set up La Pomme, a new blog where I'll be posting all things to do with my crafting. I also plan to regularly feature artists and craftspeople I admire over there, as well as some DIY tips, for example how to decorate your home in slightly crazy ways, as Gwyn and I did last week with the stickers you see on the wall behind me in the photo above. If you're interested in that kind of stuff, then do bookmark the new blog.

This means that Provenciana will once again be devoted to my favorite subjects, namely, me, myself, I, and, as the photo displays, occasionally a bit of my cleavage. Yehey!

P.S. Do permit me a minor plug: The necklace bandanna in the photo above is an unusual but very charming accessory that will be for sale in my Etsy shop this week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dear Gwyn,

It's been four days since you left and we haven't heard at all from you. Did you get lost on the trains and end up somewhere in Eastern Europe?

Pierre thought you were a wonderfully considerate guest, and Apol had a great time playing tourist again while you were here. We wouldn't want to think that you are now wandering aimlessly about some cold foreign country in your bermuda shorts and flipflops, trying to find your way back to Paris, subsisting mainly on that saucisson we bought for your baon.

Apol has cut a bit off the toile de jouy you bought in Arles and made a little toy. Named him after you. Here he is, Gwynunu, the Scented Bear-Kangaroo:

We're thinking to call your cellphone, but then that'll cost you P400 per minute, and you might just stop talking to us forever. So e-mail us or leave a message to let us know that Gwynunu's tito is okay.

Apol and Pierre

Sunday, October 14, 2007

End of a Weekend

After a weekend away spent finally rock-climbing after too many weeks of being sedentary, and then dancing like a crazy spinning top to celebrate the birthdays of people I appreciate, I drove home this morning accompanied by this roadside view. Yep, girls and guys, I'm having one of those days when I'm thinking that life is just grand.

P.S. To add to my delight, I just found out that my short story "Pedro Diyego's Homecoming" is appearing in the anthology Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, edited by Dean and Nikki Alfar. I got published in the second volume, and afterwards swore that I'd send in a piece every time they send out a call for submissions because I think that it's an important publication, injecting a rejuvenating dose of excitement to the Philippine publishing scene. For more details, go to Dean's blog.

P.S. Part 2 Oh! I almost forgot: If you want to see some of my favorite sexy and/or sad stuff on Etsy, please click to look at my treasury called, Love, the different ways of it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Visitor Gwyn

Ballgown na lang ang kulang.

Gwyn has been here visiting me for the past five days, and a typical conversation between us goes like this:

GWYN: Ay, ati, kunan mo ako ng picture dito, kita ang ancient walls.

ME: Game, pose ka na. Click!

GWYN: Patingin.

ME: (Looking at the picture) Ay kulang. Next year, pagbalik mo, reshoot natin, dapat naka-ballgown ka. Ihihiram kita, kasi kung magdadala ka from the Philippines, baka ka ma-excess baggage.

GWYN: Ballgown talaga ano, hindi lang dress. At saka dapat hapon, para maganda ang lighting. Ganda ng blue ng sky ninyo eh!

ME: Korek ka dyan. (We continue walking.)

I take it back. It's not just food that I miss from home. I'm also missing silly, funny, only-in-the-Philippines bading humor!

P.S. And just to underline the point, when I started writing this, we were listening to the soundtrack of the stage version of ZsaZsa Zaturnnah.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Moment from a Marriage

One of the things you learn about beng married is that surges of affection for your mate can come at the most mundane moments. Say, for example, at the checkout line at your local supermarket.

There Pierre and I were, waiting patiently for our turn to pay, when I glanced down at the cart and saw that he had tucked away in a corner some of his favorite candies. I badger him about all the useless sugar he's ingesting whenever he starts munching on licorice sticks and gummy bears during movie nights, but I actually find his sweet tooth adorable, making me think of the chubby little boy he was. So, feeling a little bit mushy inside, I glanced up to smile at him, and from my vantage point a couple of inches below his chin, found myself counting the white hairs that have recently begun invading his beard. There was definitely more of them now than the last time I looked.

One of the things you learn about being married is that being with someone day in and day out can make you so comfortable that you risk losing your tact. And so, instead of the "I love you" I had originally meant to say, rushing out from my mouth came the words, "Oh my god, honey, you're really getting old!"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Girl Friends

The girls will be making their first appearances in my shop this week. Click on daily to welcome them one by one!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I'm Cuteable

My fabric jewelry is in the 25 September issue of cuteable. (I'm sure "issue" is not the correct term, but what do you call it if it's on a web site?) I'm thrilled! Click on the link and then scroll down to find my label, la pomme. Leave a comment if you want to be nice to me and say how much you like my stuff.

Oh, and please do read the post below because cultural adjustment is more what this blog is all about and my crafts entries are just squatting here until I get another site going for them. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"How Come You've Adjusted So Well?"

Is a question I'm often asked by other Filipinos who move to a foreign land and find themselves having difficulty coping.

Maybe Stephanie answered that when she told me one of the last times I saw her before I left, "You're the kind of girl who'll be fine wherever she is." From my mom I did learn the virtue of resilience and a go-for-it attitude, and I suppose it was reading mountains of books when I was younger that gave me a great hunger for experience.

"The reason I moved back here," a mestiza acquaintance who used to live in the US told me one night in Malate, "is that over there I was just a small fish in a really big pond. Here, I'm somebody, a big fish in a small pond." She was drunk, so I restrained myself from saying that I thought she was being silly. Personally I can be whatever size of guppy and think it's not about the size of the pond, it's how much fun you have exploring it.

Still, given all that, and as I tell anybody who asks, I had a very difficult first few months over here, which was the meat for the essay I wrote for the Palancas. One of the things that helped me through that period was educating myself about why, although I had always thought of myself as a very confident, ultra-capable kind of woman, there I was suddenly feeling insecure, childish, a few times like I was on the verge of some breakdown. Finding the reasons behind the tears helped me get over my own drama.

Aside from Internet research, I was sent some readings by girl friend Kat Olivares, who studied the culture shock phenomenon in graduate school. If you're a Pinoy in a foreign land or you're just curious, I can send you the six PDF files I got from Kat. Just leave me your e-mail address in the comments box. I'll erase the message as soon as I note your address, don't worry.

P.S., a.k.a., HEY, HELENE! You can read the essay and other 2007 Palanca winners over at Literatura 13.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Navel Gazing While Thinking About Words

It's funny that I had always thought that English was one of my two first languages, since I grew up learning to speak it and Filipino at the same time, but now I'm having to seriously rethink the idea. These days when I'm writing, a short story for example, and I'm searching for another word to replace one I had already typed out, say an alternative to the verb "pluck," instead of coming up with something like "yank," "tug," or any of the other choices a later consulting of an online thesaurus will yield, my brain gives me the French "arracher."

I'm no expert in the science of language acquisition, but I'm supposing that if English had actually been a first language for me, it would have been so firmly hardwired into my brain that French would not have presented any competition. Now I'm having to admit that a daily dose of Sesame Street and The Electric Company during childhood was not enough. English is only a weak second language, so that the third language--which at the moment is getting the most play, since French is what I speak, read, and hear almost 24/7--is trying to take over the no. 2 spot.

Thinking "trapped," "piégé" popped up, for "snack" it was "grignoter." This has happened so many times now that I'm starting to worry that my ability to write English will one day decline.

And on that note: I'm currently reading 99F by Frédéric Beigbeder and not just because the novel is soon going to be a movie starring the adorable Jean Dujardin who with Julien of Nouvelle Star and Grégoire of Koh Lanta currently make up the trinity of French men who make me swoon.

The last line in the first paragraph of Chapter 2 hit me in the gut: "Dans ma profession, personne ne souhaite votre bonheur, parce que les gens heureux ne consomment pas." "In my profession," says the protagonist Octave, "nobody wishes for your happiness, because happy people don't buy anything." (The translation doesn't quite pack as much of a wallop as the original, but you get the drift.)

Octave is an advertising man, but that line made me think of my previous profession as well. I loved working in women's magazines and continue to have friendships with former colleagues, but there were times when I asked myself if the stories we were publishing that were supposed to inspire women to become better versions of themselves were not at the same time eroding their confidence, sending them the message that they are not good enough. The way to become that ideal magazine woman who has great hair, a fashionable wardrobe, well-toned abs, a fantastic husband, a wonderful job, a caring boss, a perfectly balanced checkbook, a winning retirement plan, and the most well-disciplined children in the world? Continue buying issues of the mag.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Non-Animal Lovers, Skip This

Call me crazy cat lady if you wish, but I'm thoroughly convinced that daughter cat Dolly is growing up to look a lot like me:

P.S.: Don't worry, I don't usually wear the necklaces I sell on Etsy. I was taking pictures for uploading in the shop when the daughter cat kept interrupting, meowing to be included in the activity.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Breathing a Little Heavily

Girls, we may be in love and we may be happily married, we may even think that our husband is the strongest, most charming, one of the most handsome men in the world, but then comes the day when we are faced with a band of fresh-looking Spanish boys in their early twenties, stripped to the waist and performing all sorts of acrobatic acts--hanging upside down and then gliding sideways, twirling their supple bodies in the air as they hang by the strength of mere fingers. Physical exertion makes it so that their muscles are well cut and on grand display. We try to ignore them, but instead find ourselves enumerating, "Trapezius, deltoid, pectoralis major, triceps brachii, biceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, abs..."

When that day comes, we are rendered helpless, really. They urge each other on, "Venga! Venga!" We take this as personal encouragement. We give in, give ourselves license to stare, even salivate a little. One of them bends over. We realize that our earlier list was incomplete. How could we have forgotten it? Glorious, glorious gluteus maximus!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Last on the Palancas (Pramis)

"Thank you very much to my parents, my sisters, my dear husband, and of course (with matching eyes up and index finger pointing heavenward) sa nasa itaas..."

So goes my imaginary speech at the 2007 Palanca Awards ceremonies held at The Manila Peninsula last 1 September. After a few days really really thinking about it, I decided not to fly over. Because it's too far, because it's too expensive, because I have to finish my stories for the Montpellier writer's group, because I want to go to Belgium, because I have to start autumn gardening, because I just opened my online shop and will have to help my mother-in-law set up hers, because because because... So my parents went for me. And because mom and dad are deep into their business and are the hardest people to get on the phone these days, I had to rely on Dean's blog for the chismis.

In his entry, I again stumbled on Ian Casocot. I don't really know Ian, but from his blog and the few e-mails we've exchanged, I already like him. He seems feisty and funny, plus he looks cute in his photos (yep, shallow, is my middle name). You've also got to give the guy a thumbs-up for his efforts getting Filipino-authored works out there. He runs the online literary magazine Literatura, and issue no. 13 will be devoted to this year's Palanca winners. Click here to read the back issues and wait for the new one. (P.S. Be prepared to read my full name--why, oh why, did my parents have to name me like a character from a telenovela?!)

This just in! My mom's comments about the country's most awaited annual writers' event:
1. "Ang daming pagkain, Apol. At masarap naman."
2. "Nakita ko si Korina Sanchez, kasi nandun si Mar Roxas, eh di ba mag-boyfriend sila?"
3. "Hindi naman boring."
4. "Hindi na ako bumili ng bagong damit, sinuot ko na lang yung suot ko nung wedding mo. Feeling ko ang ganda ko."
3. "Siyempre binasa ko naman yung essay mo para kung may magtanong sa akin makukuwentuhan ko. May mga nagtanong nga. Sabi ko nagsulat-sulat ka tungkol diyan sa buhay mo sa France. Sabi ko din, siyempre talented ka, eh anak kaya kita!"

Now you get an idea where I get my slight sayad from. I love my mom :).

Friday, August 31, 2007

Gifts, Gifts, Gifts!

It's September tomorrow, where did the year go? I'm already dreaming of Christmas presents, and think that all my holiday shopping is going to be done online.

I promise to be back to my regular Provenciana mode very soon, but at the moment I am really hung up on Etsy. I made a list of my favorite things over there. If like me you're already thinking of buying something for friends and family, click here to see my Etsy Treasury: Soft, Begging to be touched! It's only up till dawn of Monday, September 3, so go now if you can.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good Morning!

I don't know what got into me but it's 7:30 in the a.m., and I've been up for an hour and a half. To commemorate this rare occasion, I'm posting a photo of this very early morning light, for all those other days when I only roll out of bed after 9:00. Here I am, enjoying the sunrise and a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why I Go Slow

"You've lost the Manila driver in you," Pierre kids me a lot these days, because I'm paying attention to all the road rules. I put on the warning a good few moments before I turn, never honk my horn, will only overtake if it's all clear, yield at all the broken white lines, and when I see the red sign, I make a full stop. It's the gendarmes, I tell him, there are too many of them on the road, I don't want to be paying any fines or losing my points. He chuckles, but perfectly gets it; these days, he refuses to touch the wheel if he's had a drink.

I lie though.

Driving in this country, I always see them. Pinks roses, white lilies, yellow chrysanthemums, bouquets of flowers on the roadsides. One time, on a bridge near Saint Bauzille de Putois, the blooms were accompanied by a plaque, "Pour Maman." I think of them, those to whom these offerings are left, lost sisters, lovers, fathers, and friends. I see Maman, studying her lilies because after the terrible accident she has nothing else to do, looking forward to when they are replaced every two weeks or so, until the day comes when they forget. The last of the lilies turn brown around the edges and wither away. She is left staring into eternal nothingness.

I see them, and I remember to slow down to 90.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

He's a Sweetheart

To celebrate the great news of the last entry, last night my husband took me out to our favorite restaurant. I had the foie gras and the lamb curry. He had the same entrée, but after went for le tournedos de boeuf. Being the very social people that we are, by dessert we were happily chatting away with the couple at the next table.

At a certain point in the conversation, Pierre just had to tell them: "We are here tonight because of my wife," he paused to smile at me. "She just won at the Academy Awards for the Best Writers in the Philippines."

Roll out the red carpet and bring me my Monique Lhuillier gown, mga ate. This guy makes me feel like a star! :)

P.S. Congratulations to the two other people I know who won! Dean Alfar places second in the Short Story for Children in English category, and Jerome Gomez wins second for Short Story in Filipino.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Good News Come in Twos

2007 is only half over, and I'm loving it already!

Lots of good things have happened, and the latest of these had me screaming at the top of my lungs barely an hour ago, sending the cat scampering to hide under the bed and my husband come running to see what heinous crime was being committed. Instead of his wife all bloody, he found me with a grin slicing my face in half, dancing a weird kind of jig to a strange kind of chant. When he'd finally managed to make me coherent, he understood that I was repeating over and over, "I won a Palanca! I won a Palanca!"

That he replied, "Congratulations, honey, I'm so proud of you... but, uhm, what's a Palanca?" is the subject of a different blog entry altogether, but if you're asking yourself the same question, you can read about the awards here and here.

I placed second in the English Essay category for my piece, Culture Shocked: A Story of Recovery, which, it's easy enough from the title to guess, is a lot about you've been reading about in this blog for the last two years.

Oh, and the second piece of good news is that the shortest short story I have ever written in my not-so-short life, Making a Garden, has been accepted for publication in the flash fiction anthology being edited by Vince Groyon for Milflores Publishing. Groyon writes me that the tentative title of the book is Mga Kuwentong Paspasan: Very Short Stories for Harried Readers, and that it is due out before the end of the year. And, yes, I also danced a jig when I found out about this one.

P.S. (a.k.a., Let Me Plug): Remember Sawi, the Milflores anthology I told you guys was being launched in December 2006? Well, it finally did come out, but a couple of months ago. If you're interested, you can buy it through National Bookstore Online.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Etsy Shop Update

During the weekend, I kept getting calls from family and friends on their way to a vacation somewhere, ending up stuck in one of the South's infernal summer traffic jams. (Yep! Another summer indicator aside from bare peripatetic feet!) I felt bad for them, really, I did, but I sure was glad that I chose to stay home quiet, with just my fabric scraps and beads for company.

The result of my own little weekend away in my head somewhere: I just updated my Etsy shop. It's at, or click here to go. Lots of fun products in there, so why not visit? Have a good week ahead, and stay away from the highways if you can.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

When Love Sucks

I always get asked, "Don't you miss the Philippines?" And the honest answer is No. After the initial period of adjustment, I'm finding that what my sister Bel once said is true: "Pareho-pareho lang yan kahit saan ka magpunta." I'm living exactly the kind of life I had wanted for myself in Manila after quitting my old job, except that here I'm not eating as much rice. My family? They're a YM Buzz or a phone call away. Pinoy food? I can cook it up whenever I want to.

Pressed about it, I would have to admit that there is one thing I occasionally look for, something I can't recreate over here. "Gutom" is what I call it. Hunger. It's this fierce energy you find amongst artists' circles back home. In a country where most everybody has to fight just to survive, every time you create something, you're proclaiming, Hey, I'm still here, taking up space, breathing in as much oxygen as I can, hanging on even if it's just by the soggy threads of Lucky Me Instant Noodles. I suppose you can't have that attitude if you know that even if you don't sell a painting, at the end of the month, you still get your RMI*.

So as a way of again tasting that energy, and because we really should be paying more attention to talent, every now and then in this blog I'll be telling you about the works of Filipino artists.

Today it's Wasted, a graphic novel by Gerry Alanguilan that delighted me when I first read it in the 1990s. It's angry, violent, insane, bloody, and some parts are hilariously funny. It's all about love. Go see for yourself. Wasted is being serialized online.

And I'm going to do the same as Budjette (from whose blog I also stole the image above) and say that if you haven't ever read Wasted before, then you should click here for your introduction. Afterwards, for your daily dose, it's here you want to go.

By the way, speaking of Filipino komiks, I was a big fan when I was a kid and one of my favorites was Mantisa, about this gorgeous woman who would seduce a man to her bed and then turn into a giant praying mantis to eat the hapless stud. I have absolutely no memory who the artist was. Do you?

* financial aid from the government given to unemployed French citizens

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Signs of Summer

How do you know that summer in the South of France is in full swing?

Some will tell you it is by the unique sound made by the singing of cicadas.

Others will say it is all about the sweet scent of the lavender ready for harvest that perfumes the air.

There are those who will identify summer in the South with the fierce midday sun that scorches the skin; relief is found under the shade of a tree, a majestic olivier or a gorgeous platane.

For my husband summer begins when flocks of les hirondelles begin to fly over the ancient walls of Aigues Mortes. They make him remember the joy he felt at childhood, when the coming of the birds signalled the beginning of freedom, no more school and playing in the streets until nine in the evening because the sun did not set until an hour later.

I have lived here only two years, but already I have my own way of marking the season.

How do I know that summer in the South of France is in full swing?

Feet. Yes, bare French feet hanging out of car windows, they come in all shapes and all sizes, and in different degrees of cleanliness. June, July, and August come, and these naked extremities begin to wave at me on the roads, happily at never less than 30 kilometers an hour so that I never have to sniff this strange flower, for I am sure that the odor has nothing in common with that of lavender. I suppose that it is supposed to be a happy sight, the owners' declaration of freedom -- "Look! No shoes! Yes, I'm not in the office/school/metro!" -- but I cannot help it: Bare feet hanging out of car windows never fail to make me think of construction workers.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hi, There!

Okay, I'm still here. Whenever a funny thought runs through my head, I find that I haven't stopped telling myself at the same time, "Hey, I can blog that!" I suppose that means I don't really want to delete all this just yet. Still, I need a break, so I won't be blogging as often as usual until summer starts easing up, which happens end of August.

Meanwhile, I'd love it if you could drop by my Etsy shop. is a delightful website devoted to all things handmade. Crafts-crazy person that I am, I've been telling myself since late last year that I need to be in there. And, now, I am. I just have six items posted today--one of them the funny little lavender-filled bird in the photo--but I'll be adding some more tomorrow. Go! Now!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fade Out

"... [A]fter a while, my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot more... ideas I had never thought of took me a while to figure out why it felt, you know, so different. And then, one day, …, I realized that I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn't understand... So, all I've been doing was... walk around, think, and write. My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy. And I have to say, it was almost like a natural high. I felt so peaceful inside, no... strange urge to be somewhere else, to shop... Maybe it could have seemed like boredom at first, but it quickly became very, very soulful. It's interesting, you know?"

That was Céline, telling Jesse about a visit to Warsaw when she was a teenager, in that sequel that made us all swoon, Before Sunset. I don’t generally like using movie quotes when I write, but this particular passage was irresistible. Céline describes almost perfectly my experience after having just moved to France.

It was a strangely beautiful time. Without the distraction of all things familiar, I was able to step back, to cast a critical eye on all my so-called accomplishments and also to take a deep breath to face all that I had failed to do. I recognized clearly who I had permitted myself to be. After the not-always-pleasant self-examination, I received my gift: The radical change of address was the perfect opportunity to reshape my life into what I wanted it to be--creative and healthy, full of integrity and empty of bullshit.

Now I have a barrage of new habits to replace all the old abandoned ones, and although sometimes I do miss the quiet period, I also know that my mercurial nature can only take so much soulful peacefulness!

The point of this blog entry being: Provenciana, the blog, was meant to be fuelled by the energies of a Manila girl experiencing adjustment difficulties after moving to provincial France. When Provenciana, the person, has no more real adjustment difficulties, the blog becomes moot, doesn't it.

This is not yet a goodbye, but soon, I think…

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Social Creatures

Pierre and I used to think that we were solitary sorts, a rather picky couple who preferred being surrounded only by people we knew very very well. I don't know why we were so deluded.

For Pierre's birthday celebration (a barbecue, what else?) from an original guest list of eight, by the time Saturday came around we were a party of 14. At around two p.m. the doorbell rung. The voice at the other end of the white box announced: "J'ai un recommandé pour Monsieur Massebieau." ("I have registered mail for Mister Massebieau.")

We were both busy attending to the food, so it was great that some of the guests were nice enough to introduce the latecomer around. An example of how it went: "Charlie, I would like you to meet my friend, Isa, and Pierre and Apol's postman."

We really are very friendly, you see. The postier, whom we kept handing beers to but whose name we never did manage to ask, he ended up staying for a good part of the rest of the afternoon.
Mystery guest no. 15

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Getting to Know Me

Showing off my balls, my paintballs.

"The thing about this game," intoned burly Bernard, the boss of the place, "is that it will reveal the kind of person you really are."

Whatever, I thought as I put on my helmet and unlocked the safety on my rifle. We're just here to have a bit of fun, and whoever thought of searching for deeper meaning in paintball anyway?

But as the game progressed I started thinking that what Bernard said was true. There I was, jumping flat on my stomach into a ditch because I'm game for anything, thinking first before making a move because I'm only a moderate risk-taker, and covering my teammates' backs because I'm very loyal. Paintball psychology, who would have thought it true?

Later on in the afternoon, and game no. 4 was about to end. Only three of us were left, all girls. Caroline and I were attacking for the Orange team, and Elodie was defending the Blue team base. Though she was outnumbered, Elodie had a great position, and Caroline and I couldn't advance. I had an idea. Finding a gap in the bushes where I hid, I fired shot after shot, quickly painting the Blue team's plywood tower with splashes of green.

"Go, Caroline, go!" I told my teammate, hiding behind a tree five meters away.

"Go where?" came her girlish voice.

"I've got you covered, run to the base," I said.

Silence on Caroline's part.

I waited 30 seconds and realized that she hadn't understood the strategy. After a slightly longer pause I heard a loud, harsh voice, and it wasn't until I had closed my mouth again that I realized that the voice had been mine.

I was screaming: "Go to Elodie, Caroline! Kill her! KILL HER!!!"

From his observation post to my right, I heard Bernard laugh.


I love action films. Watching something with Vin Diesel or some other hunk in it is one of my favorite ways to relax. Stunned by the gun fights, the car crashes, and the exploding buildings, my brain goes on blissful pause. I don't have to think.

Lately though, quite out of character I've found myself developing a taste for French films, specially love stories, like Michel Leclerc's J'Invente Rien, Eric Lartigau's Prête-Moi Ta Main, and Pierre Salvadori's Hors de Prix. You've got to hand it to French filmmakers, even when they're tackling love they don't go all sappy on you. Instead, their films are sophisticated and smart, full of quiet humor and the occasional dash of whimsy.

Then yesterday I clicked on to Editrixia's latest entry and I made another 180-degree turn. French films may have the smarts and the sophistication. They may have the careless elegance of Charlotte Gainsbourg and the charming vulnerability of Audrey Tautou, but they will never have Azenith Briones. Watch the video clip. She's better than car crashes and exploding buildings; probably equal in power to ten train wrecks. I love Azenith.

Friday, June 22, 2007


When a girl friend of mine procrastinates, she organizes. When I do, I blog. And badly at that. Instead of telling you all about the burning car I saw on what was supposed to be a friendly night out drinking wine and listening to music while Montpellier celebrated the annual Fête de la Musique, I tooled around with flickr and did this:
My daylilies are blooming, even if I planted them just a month ago!
Amazing plants. Clockwise, that would be the second and fourth photos.
The first is an abutilon, the third sauge bleue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No Water, No Problem

(Clockwise) The micocoulier on the terrace. A wildflower keeping
the Helichrysum italicum company. Helichrysum microphyllum
'Lefka Ori.'
One of my potted gazanias.

They say the apple never falls far from the tree, and while I'm sure there are exceptions, this particular Apol has landed right at the entwined roots of the trees Gerry and Priscilla. Just like my parents, I've turned out addicted to gardening. Not a very easy thing to be, given the very special environmental conditions found in the Camargue--very hot summers, strong winds beginning autumn, the air salty, the earth poor and sandy. After a lot of experimentation, I've had some success with succulents, ornamental grasses, and hardy herbs, my favorite being santolina.

Then just when everybody was saying the garden looks jolie, this spring I began some serious digging, for four days turning the earth on the rectangular piece of land facing the marsh. Inspired by the work and research of Olivier Filippi, I am going to try to make un jardin sans arrosage, a garden that doesn't require watering. The experts say that water is going to be a big problem in the very near future, but I'm not the hardheaded creature that I am if I'm going to let that stop me from enjoying my plants.

If you live in Europe, Pépinière Filippi can deliver their drought-tolerant plants to you by mail. If you read French, and you'd like to try making a dry garden yourself, I suggest you buy the book (you can get it through the website). Good luck digging!

Now, time for a Before shot of my project. As one of the things you have to learn about gardening is that it requires patience, the After photos will come in a year.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Anniversary P.S.

I love my husband, really, I do, even if sometimes I feel like kicking him for yet another jaw-dropping show of tactlessness, a trait which he seems to have a knack for displaying in front of my girl friends. Two lines I recently heard him saying:

To E: "You look like the fiancée of Popeye! What's her name again? Olive Oyl! Yes, you look like Olive Oyl!"

To K: "You have a Ph.D. from Harvard? But you don't look like it!"

Girls, you've been warned. A thing you also have to know is that he is impervious to smart come-backs; he'll just laugh. So if you ever see him, I suppose the best thing you can do is duck.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yesterday's Feast

Pigging out on charcuterie before the wedding, with my dad.

Despite what my mom Priscilla will tell you ("Ang kinakain lang nila sa France, tinapay na matigas!"), where we live the eating is always good. We're starting to harvest some lettuce and radishes, and just the other day I opened my door and found outside a crate of potatoes left by a generous and gifted-gardener neighbor. Whatever else we lack, there's the twice-a-week market. The vegetables from les petits producteurs are fresh and largely chemical-free. We know the butcher and once gave him an earful when we weren't satisfied with the beef steaks.

Aigues Mortes, being year-round a host for tourists, is home to several good restaurants. Our favorite is Bouzigues, and we almost always get the fixed-price menu, three courses for 22 euros. I start either with oysters or foie gras, move on to a nice cut of meat, and finish with dessert, often something chocolate, but can't resist stealing some of Pierre's cheese, usually Pelardon with honey. When we're in the mood for exotic, we go to Timgad. Karim's mother makes the most excellent meat-and-prunes tajine.

Even with an open-air picnic, you can still have a feast. At the main-street boucherie, get a few slices of chorizo or other charcuterie, a few grams of rillettes, a slice of terrine. Don't forget your bread and your wine. At the cave cooperative, a decent bottle goes for just two euros and fifty.

However, human beings are funny; we always want what we don't have.

Yesterday was our second-year wedding anniversary, and Pierre asked, "So you want to go to a restaurant, honey?" I shook my head no, and instead took out a blue flyer I had been handed the last time I went to the city. Pierre chuckled; it was publicity for Domino's. For some time now, we'd both been craving for a greasy, ingredients-straight-from-a-factory, nothing-in-it-must-be-good-
for-you, hard-to-find-over-here, fast-food pan pizza. It had been at least two years since I'd last had one, three years for him.

So we drove 40 minutes to find the place, drove another 40 minutes back, heated stuff in the oven, and installed ourselves in bed with a film to enjoy our anniversary feast: two pan pizzas, an order of buffalo wings, a big bottle of Diet Coke, and a tub of Ben&Jerry's. For lunch today I'm relishing the leftovers. There's time enough for the rest of the week to go back to good eating.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #6 (a.ka., I'm so showbiz!)

Can you hear the carabao English?

13. We all know who said, "Long-legged legs" (and if you don't you should go back to whatever other galaxy you came from).

I have a friend who after all these years still has a fondness for copying Ate Vi, in moments of gratitude saying, "It's a blessing from the skies."

Then there's my own personal experience with a sexy starlet I found myself sharing a ride back to Makati with one evening in the late '90s. There was this huge billboard on EDSA from the anti-gun movement, featuring a pistol with the barrel blocked into a knot and the slogan, "Let Buy Guns be Bygones." An obvious play on words that was totally lost on the starlet. "Ah, ganyan pala yung saying," she pointed it out to me.

I moved and thought that I had left the world of linguistic mishaps amongst showbiz idols behind, when weeks ago I began watching Nouvelle Star, and came upon contestant Julien. I think he's the best of the lot and I'm hoping he'll win the prize, however I can't help but chuckle at his rendition (scroll down to find it) of "Strangers in the Night." He is French and you have to know that the French thinks their language is the best, but this boy takes it to the extreme, applying the rules governing le français even when speaking another tongue. He decided to omit the final "s" in "strangers."

There he was going, "Stranger in the night, exchanging glances, we are stranger in the night," transforming the popular standard into a schizoprenic's personal love song. In the middle of the performance, letting it all out, he decided to make things even creepier. "Stranger than the night," he mangled it on national TV. I don't think anyone else in this non-English speaking country noticed, but tell Ate Vi that I have found her spiritual son.

[CLICK HERE! Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1, #2, #3, #4, #5.]

Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Buzz

I think that it's a testament to how I relish extremes that I spent part of my old publishing career taking midnight taxis from Mandaluyong to Quezon Avenue to sit at a restaurant and take notes while an insider, "our mole," told me who in show business was sleeping with whom, who was fighting with whom, and who said what juicy bit of backbite and when for the gossipy Prattle pages of The Sunday Times Magazine, whose editor and my former boss Jo-ann Q. Maglipon has since gone on to establish the wildly popular Yes! magazine, a monthly serving of everything Philippine show business; and now I live with someone who can't even tell Jennifer Aniston from Angelina Jolie, an absolute uninitiate who, when I announced horrified that Britney Spears had shaved her head, asked, "Why did your friend do that?" (I think he thought I was talking about Lille or Tara, both of whom he thinks are very nice but slightly mad.)

Extremes are addicting though, and so like an ex-smoker who every now and then must have his nicotine fix, this morning I felt an urge to light up my Mozilla. I smoked up the links, getting high on the goings-on thousands of miles away. Some tsismis gathered from this morning's giving in to weakness: Marjorie Barretto and Dennis Padilla are on a cool-off, Ogie Alcasid and Regine Velasquez are a couple, and Yoyoy Villame is dead.

The news that most affects me is that Ruffa Gutierrez and the Turkish Yilmaz Bektas are filing for divorce. Ruffa cites cultural differences as the root of their troubles, and I feel deep empathy for her. I remember my own difficulties with Pierre, like that one time I was trying to have a conversation with him about unforgettable '80s pop idols. I was attempting to illustrate the spectacle that was Leni Santos in The Punks delivering her classic line, "Hindi mo kami maiintindihan, Ma, punks kami"; and for some strange reason that got him reminiscing about how absolutely lovely Sophie Marceau was in her first film, La Boum. I fumbled through an explanation of how, despite the rhyming names, Leni and Sophie do not inhabit the same planet and how, if they ever met, it would generate such intense energy their meeting place would instantly transform into a blackhole. He failed to get it.

As I said, I feel deeply for Ruffa. Cultural differences are tough.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Survival Tip from the Diaspora

Maybe it's because I grew up with three sisters, but I find it essential to every now and then be surrounded by my girl friends. Even though no one can make me laugh as hard as my husband, I find that the thing about men is that when you start telling them of your troubles, they'll instantly start offering you solutions, failing to get that we're not really looking for any advise, because we're all grown up and know exactly what to do, all we're really looking for is an ear where to spill our worries.

And because I'm really a girl's kind of girl, the thing that I'm finding wonderful is that regardless of nationality and regardless of language, women everywhere are the same: gifted with the ability to find deep release in what to the unperceptive observer looks like nothing but banal chichat. Today's survival tip for the Filipina moving at least an ocean away from home: Instead of staying cooped up being homesick, go out and make friends.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Plugging: Salinawit

After reading Hazel's blog, I have to make a confession: My tastes are really very base; I love reality TV shows! So the other day I was watching Nouvelle Star, a rip-off of American Idol, and I happened upon Julie, this young contestant with a slightly jologs vibe, singing Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" in a kinda cool, slightly raw, very modern way and--why is this happening all the time now?--I was so touched I got all teary eyed! (Claudine Barretto, isthatchu?)

Which led to me sending an e-mail to the poet Pete Lacaba, asking him to make a salinawit of the Brel classic. Now, you have to understand that this act of e-mailing Pete shows very clearly my desire for the translation. Years ago, when he was our copy editor at The Sunday Times Magazine and I had to remind him of stuff that needed doing, I was so petrified by the idea of him catching me at a grammatical error that I'd proofread even the notes I'd leave him on Post-Its. "Hi Pete! We need the story on the kung-fu champions today. Thanks!" I'd go over that, clap a palm over my forehead, then slip the neglected comma in between the "Hi" and the "Pete!" OC, that's me.

So anyway, I was lucky. Pete had already worked on "Ne Me Quitte Pas" and sent it along with the 58 other salinawit he'd done. I fully intend on memorizing the lyrics and singing it for Pierre one of these days, in the hopes of weaning him away from his all-time favorite Tagalog song that is a good song, there's no denying it, but I've been hearing "Anak" since I was little listening to the radio with Yaya Maura as she did laundry in the afternoons so I think I deserve a change.

Pete might just do a Julie and sing "Huwag Mo Akong Iwan" on 29 May, when the Singing Writers (Pete, Charlson Ong, Marne Kilates, and Michael Coroza) belt it out at a gig at the Conspiracy Garden Cafe in Quezon City. Bien Lumbera and Becky Anonuevo will have their salinawit sung by Susan Fernandez.

And now I come to the point of this post. I'd love it if one of you can go, make a video, and post it on YouTube. Sige na, plis?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Accident-Prone, but Great!"

Is how I just responded to Kala's "How are you?" on Yahoo.

It's that time of the year when the south transforms into a truly beautiful place. Pierre has also discovered the joys of rock-climbing, so we go together on most Sundays. To get to the site, we take the highway, the prickly-looking cystisus on the islands and borders for the moment made cheery by its early-summer yellow flowers. Whenever we turn on the minor roads, no matter how many times we've seen it, we still go "Wow!" over the spectacle of fields luminous with the red of poppies. (I like the French name better: coquelicot, the sound of a tease, or somebody tipsy, maybe even a little mad.)

Before we finally get to don those always too-tight climbing shoes, we must hike through mountain paths. I can never resist playing explorer/botanist. I identify some wildflowers, recently sweet peas and Alysse odorata. A length of sedum and an ear of cactus I pick up for replanting in my garden. Sniffing at some wispy pale green leaves, I establish that, no, this one's not a curry plant. A classic scene had the group in the parking lot, shouting my name and that of Karine's, wondering if we had gotten lost, only to see us make an appearance a few minutes later holding bouquets of wild rosemary and thyme. "Tonight I make bolognaise," I declare, waving my leaves of Thymus.

Noting my liking for plants, on more than one occasion another climber has warned, "Apol, don't touch the rue, okay." Then the concerned one would go on to say that the herb contains a chemical that can hurt me.

So it was last Sunday and we are up on some rocks again. The view at Narbonne--grape vines in the foreground, the sea beyond--is great. However, a moment comes when I can't appreciate it. I'm stuck on a wall, having difficulty finishing the last few meters of a climb. I know I'm going to fall, realize that I'm going to swing a bit. It's fine, I'm not scared, I tell myself and let go.

Deep scrapes are nasty. Epidermis gone, you're hit right at the nerve endings, making you bite your lips, stomp your feet, claw at the arms of the nearest available person, anything to keep from screaming in pain so loud they might just come, the firemen who are France's version of 911. I have various injuries running from the fingers to the elbow of my left arm to show that I know what I'm talking about. I thought I'd end up shaken, hanging in empty air but unharmed. Instead, my fall was interrupted by a rather violent grating against a protruberance.

Don't touch the rue, they keep telling me, it can hurt you. Now why did nobody warn me not to touch the rock?

P.S. Okay, we all know I'm vain, so it's no surprise that 20 minutes after the accident I was demanding that somebody take a picture of my arm. Take my word for it, close-up the limb looks like a chewed-up saucisson:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Baby Turns Two

I know blogs featuring cat pictures are awfully sappy, but what can I do. I love our Dolly. She's two years old this month. In cat years, that means she's a full-grown dalaga. She's sterilized though, so no going out with the many young garçons purring in the area. This photo makes it obvious; her birthday wish is that she needs a new basket. (And, yes, in case you're wondering, that white puffy thing peeking out next to her belly is her favorite stuffed toy.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why I Must Be In France, Barbecue Edition

What you get when your blogger is too busy eating she forgets to take a picture...

I must be in France because the word "barbecue" doesn't mean an old manang or a pouting bading standing in a street corner, indifferently waving anahaw fan over red-black coals smoldering inside a rusty box with a grill on top, cooking five-peso sticks of fatty pork and chicken innards marinated in Jufran ketchup, for the office worker going home and too tired to cook anything, so this is dinner, or for the kanto boys who for once have decided to not spend all their money on the gin and the beer, so this is pulutan.

Instead "barbecue" is a celebration, the beginning of warm days spent outdoors sunning on the terrace and taking quick dips in the pool when one gets too hot. Today the women are all together on the giant hammock talking about their men, who are there, gathered around the grill.

The loudest (yes, that would be Pierre) is declaring that here, in the Camargue, barbecue is a religion, prepared for as early as October, when the locals gather the twigs fallen off after the grapes have been harvested. Dried, these go in with the secret mix of other wood, to give what's cooking a special flavor. ("We never use charcoal," he declares to the visiting Parisian and the guy from Annecy. "That would be sacrilege.") There is also the seasoning with oil and herbes de Provence--rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, and summer savory. Think of it as an aromatic benediction.

Lunch begins with Cindy's green salad. The sauce is simple yet sublime. Olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and shallots are mixed, the strong flavors then tempered with two fresh eggs. When the meat arrives, we agree that the making of it must indeed involve something out of this world. How else can spare ribs, chicken, lamb, and various sausages induce in their diners such ecstasy? We worship with a lot of lip-smacking, the sign of our conversion the grease running down our chins.

Afterwards, everybody wants to take a nap, and not just because we all ate too much: Before lunch we have our beers and pastis, during the eating there is wine, and after there is sweet wine, some whiskey, and even a bottle of champagne. If we paid 30 euros for the meat, then double that must have gone to the beverages. Despite all the ceremony, when you think about it, we really aren't that much different from kanto boys.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Kakatapos ko lang basahin ang blog/blag ni Patricia, at doon nakita ko ang salinawit ni Pete Lacaba. Yung kanta ni Edith Piaf na "La Vie En Rose" isinalin ni Pete sa wikang Filipino at naging "Kulay-Rosas." Eniwey. Dahil hindi naman ako poet (malaki lang ang aking puwet--uy! rhyme!), hindi nagbunga ng makabagbag-damdaming tula ang pagbasa ko sa trabahong ito. Insteyd, bigla kong naisip ang mga salitang Tagalog na miss na miss na ng dila kong sambitin. Pruweba ay habang nagta-type ako ay sabay kong ninanamnam ang pagbuo ng mga salita at pangugusap na ito:

1. Korek! (Hindi posibleng bigyang hustisya ang salitang "korek" kung hindi ito susundan ng "!")

2. tsubibo (Puwede rin namang feyris wheel.)

3. pampa-byuti (Tamang nostalgiya ito: Madalas ko itong marinig nung nasa UP pa ako, galing sa mga kaibigang madalas ding magtanong, "Meron ba tayong wala tayo diyan?")

4. chos (Madalas ko itong marinig sa pianist/showbiz writer na si Blaiseblaiseblaise Gacoscos.)

5. salamat (Kasi, kapag nagsasabi ako ng "Merci," pakiramdam ko humihingi ako ng tawad.)

6. manong/manang (... pabili nang kendi.)

7. liempo (Puwedeng palitan ng salitang "baboy" o, kung on a diet, ng "lechong manok.")

8. Ang baho. (Kung nakatira ka sa Manila, halos araw-araw mong sasabihin ito.)

9. Ganda mo! (Huwag kalimutan ang sarcasm dito.)

10. Wala akong paki. (Hindi lang pangungusap, attitude din, na sa mundong ito, kakailanganin mo kung ayaw mong maloka na lang at maglaslas ng pulso.)

11. Sige na, plis. (Sabayan ng matamis na ngiti at flutter of the eyelashes.)

12. damdamin (Dahil OA ako.)

13. Bakit? (Kahit na kadalasan, wala talagang sagot; nangyayari na lang talaga.)

14. Putangina mo! (Malutong na malutong; salitang nung nasa Pilipinas ako ay hindi ko nasabi masyado, dahil sa tatay ko na hanggang bente anyos ako ay sinasabihan akong ibibitin niya raw akong nang patiwarik kung marinig niyang magmura ako.)

15. Hindi ba? (Sasabihin kapag naghahanap ng kakampi.)

16. chika (Expert ako dito.)

17. gimik (Kapag naririnig ko ang "soirée" nila dito, mga nakakainis na naglalandiang high school boys and girls ang naiisip ko.)

18. Aray! (Hindi kailanman kayang i-express ng "ouch" o ng "ça fait mal" ang sakit na nararamdaman!)

19. guinataan (Bilo-bilo kung puwede, pero mahilig din ako sa monggo.)

20. mahal (Ang dalawang kahulugan nito ay nagtagpo sa isang ex-boypren na walang trabaho.)

21. bukol (Dalawa din ang ibig sabihin nito...)

22. Ang galing ano? (Isa ito sa paborito ko, kasi hindi ako sophisticated eh, madali akong ma-impress.)

23. rosas (Ang dami kasi niyan dito ngayon.)

24. bumbero (Bakit slightly nababastusan ako sa salitang ito?)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Strange, But True

I adore my mother-in-law. Really, I do. And, although I think she occasionally finds me strange, I would like to think that she feels likewise. She does seem to relish my company. For example, a few weeks ago she called me into her house, and we had a one-hour chat about nothing much really. Just before I had to go, she dropped the bomb: "I'm getting a boob job."

A firm believer in everyone's right to self-improvement, I told her, "Go for it!" But as someone with a very low tolerance for pain, I had to warn her that I had read in Asia Carrerra's website that silicone implants hurt. She didn't know Asia (Me? I swear I was at the website for the makeup tips!), but told me, "Don't worry about it, I'm not getting implants. I'm just going to get them lifted, because they're sagging, you see." And then she lifted her shirt to show me the sad state of her mammaries.

Later that day, to my husband I announced, "Your mom showed me her boobies!"

"No, that can't be," he began. "She's always been a prude. Not me, not even my sister, maybe my dad. No one has ever seen her naked." It was obvious that he was only half-believing me.

We forgot all about it, until after the operation, when to my terrace mother-in-law came to show me her bandaged babies.

"Wow!" I exclaimed, genuinely impressed. "They're proud and perky."

"Touch them," she told me. "No!" Now I was feeling more than uneasy.

This time she commanded me: "Touch!" So what could I do. They were as firm as a sixteen-year-old's, I tell you.

Meanwhile, my husband still couldn't believe all this exhibitionism was happening. Then yesterday, as we were driving past his mom's, he quietly announced: "She did it to me too."

"What," I asked, looking out the window, a bit absent-mindedly.

"She showed her boobs to me."

I fumbled for my cellphone. "Should I call a psychiatrist? You're going to need therapy now, aren't you, honey." Then I began to laugh, but he only sighed and shook his head, trying to empty it of the traumatizing memory.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Suddenly, A Movie Review (well, sort of)

Yesterday, after finally finishing a project that I'd been procrastinating on, I decided that as reward I would park myself in front of the television and watch the first Filipino movie I would see in two years. Five shirts and a pair of pants have been waiting crumpled in the clean laundry pile forever, so I decided to attack those too. So there I was at six p.m., watching Milan, ironing clothes, crying during Claudine Barretto's breakdown scene, feeling absolutely OFW!

P.S. If he reads this, Raymond Lee might well give me a boink on the head while saying, "Ano ba, Apol, Milan is so old. I'm in my Maximo Olivares era na, ano!" But I do have a quibble with the script: Why is it that, a quarter of the time, the Pinoy characters speak Italian to each other?

Whenever I find myself in the company of Filipinos, I immediately switch to Tagalog, and as pure as I can manage it while still being conversational. The long periods of not being able to speak my mother tongue and the hunger to express myself in it whenever the opportunity arrives have even reduced my tendency to speak Taglish. I can't imagine myself conversing in French with Makis and Hazel, except maybe to joke around or when we're with French people, so when the Milan characters start going, "Amore" and "Pronto" to each other, it strikes me as very odd. This is terribly corny, but as a Filipino living somewhere far from home, I find incredible comfort, and sometimes even strength, in speaking the language of my heart.