Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Dolly disrupts critical state matters.

There was a gendarme at the gate this afternoon, catching me with a shovel in hand and digging a man-sized hole.

He told me that he was there on an investigation, and that he had to enter the premises.

"Do you have a warrant?" I've learned from watching American films to say on these occasions, but I don't know the French word for "warrant," so all I could manage was a lame, "What investigation?"

"It concerns Monsieur Pierre Massebieau," he said, "and Madame Rosalinda Massebieau." Uh-oh, I thought, looking at the mud on my clothes, what did we do now?

No worries, no murder was committed. We just got married. Gendarme Pecheur (the fishing policeman, if you translate) was there to check that this wasn't un mariage blanc, a marriage contrived for one of the two parties to get citizenship papers.

"Oh," I said, finally getting it, "you just want to see if I actually live here with Pierre!"

So I started by showing him where he had interrupted me while I was digging to build a pond in the garden, and then I asked his advice about what plants grow best in our sunny, salty climes. Would you send me to prison if this were a fake marriage, out of curiosity I asked. Do you catch a lot of people at it? I continued. Do you like your job? I couldn't stop.

He finally managed to sit us down so that it was him who could ask the questions and fill out some papers, but by the time I was screeching, chasing our cat Dolly who had managed to trap a bird half its size and was dragging it all around the living room, I think he had no doubt in his mind where I lived.

Still, he tried to be thorough. He asked to see where I kept my clothes. You're going to see my bras, I warned him. Then he looked in the bathroom, to check that I had perfumes and lotions there. The obedient immigrant, I handed him my bottle of green tea lotion from L'Occitane, while with the other hand, I pushed a dirty panty further down the hamper.

If you ask me, I think Gendarme Pecheur, fishing for illegal immigrants, has a very unfortunate job.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I think it was Lille who told me, after she had moved to the US, that whether what was happening to her in her adopted country was good or bad, it was all new, therefore always interesting, often even exciting. I had just moved here, too, and could relate. I found the food deliciously rich, the people quaint, all the cobblestoned streets and restored castles charming. Even the sense of alienation I studied like a rare jewel. I've never been part of the minority before, never have had to struggle to belong, so I figured I'd milk the experience for all it was worth. Don't they say adversity builds character?

But this last week, I was suddenly overcome with a feeling that I'd almost forgotten. It was that antsy, can't-stay-put, gotta-go-somewhere-anywhere feeling that drove me all the time I was in Manila. It was bearable when I was at work, but made it so that I couldn't stay too long at home and pushed me either to party or to shop. So I was on my way to Montpellier to buy clothes I really didn't need when I realized what it was: boredom, that traitorous devil that posseses us to do things sometimes useless, and often stupid.

Am I adapting too well that after a mere 20 months here, nothing seems fresh anymore?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

And While We're on the Subject of Transportation... (and because this is the first time I'm seeing this photo again after one year)

Pierre and I were on a pre-wedding road trip of Luzon in 2005 and wanted to get ourselves from Manila to Bicol. Looking at the map, we decided to take the coastal route. It should be more scenic. So we turned left.

A few kilometers in, we were struck by the isolation. No other vehicle shared the road with us. There was a lone jeepney, but it was going the other way. Disrupting the calm would be the children of the occasional roadside community, shouting something as we'd pass. Figuring this to be the usual "Hey, Joe!" screamed at every male foreigner, regardless of nationality and actual name, we paid no attention. We were actually a little sick of it already. Stupid us, they were only trying to help. Two-thirds in, just when we thought we'd reach Legaspi in no time, our car ran into this:

Rock and earth piled at a minimum of four meters, and maybe quadruple that at its highest. A young man who had just clambered over from the other side told us that there was another landslide some kilometers forward. So of course we turned back, passing several of the children as we went. This time they kept silent.

Why I Know I'm Getting Old, Part 3

Not an Ikot jeep, I know, but you've got to love the Hello Kitty door.

Now don't get me wrong, I actually like being in my thirties, and even if the devil offered it to me, I will never ever agree to becoming a teenager again (such an angry phase). It's just sometimes I come across little things that make me go What?! as they remind me too brutally of how fast time runs.

My latest discovery: To ride the Ikot jeep that gets you around the University of the Philippines in QC, you now have to pay P6.50. You read that right, six pesos and fifty cents. In my day (student number 89-09717, now how come I remember that more than a decade after graduating?), we paid P1.25.

A pause here to point out that another way I know I'm getting old is that I've started to write sentences that begin with, "In my day."

Now that I think about it, my real question is this: Where does the driver put all those coins? A plastic Orocan I think could do the job, but how do you drive with that between your knees?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Marseille Day Trip

10 Jan 2007

We start our day in Marseille at the fish market at the Quai des Belges. We should have been looking to buy fishes, but it's the dried starfishes and these round orange shells they call l'oeil de Sainte Lucia that attract us. The first are happiness charms, the second are for good luck. An old woman--a Marseillaise from her accent--tells us that she's bought some of the trinkets. With the vendor right there in front of us, the dissatisfied shopper announces that she doesn't think they work.

Emptyhanded, we go up the Canèbiere. After asking a fashionable Asian lady if this is indeed the city's most ancient street, we march ahead, only to spend our time zigzagging people and construction work. The city is building a tram system. We turn left into Belsunce. This, we've read, is the Algerian district. Maybe we can find a restaurant that serves good couscous. There is road work here as well. Sandra and I will eat anything, Sarah is a vegetarian, and not one of us feel like lunching to a view of big machines and hunks of broken concrete.

We give the city map to Sarah because she is Swiss, and they're supposed to be good at these things. A wrong turn brings us to a streetcorner where North Africans have spread blankets on the road and are selling belts, leather bags, and plastic toys. We look, but nothing takes our fancy.

Our Swiss guide finally leads us through a warren of streets into Le Panier, Marseille's oldest district. The many dwellings are separated only by walls, and run a few storeys up. There are clothes hanging to dry on lines strung over the streets. I smell dog shit and cat piss, and under that something else. There is a heaviness to the air, as if here the hydrogen and oxygen molecules have added weight from being breathed in and out for so long by so many people.

Artistic types have invaded the quartier. We find a pottery workshop/boutique. I buy myself a souvenir, a pendant that reminds me of an oyster shell. I even get to meet the potter. Photos are taken at Vieille Charité, a chapel and a building so pristine you have to read the commemorative plaque to realize that in the 17th century this housed the unwashed multitude, the city's orphans and paupers.

We lunch on bouillabaise at Chez Fonfon in our dreams. We're not spending 100 euros per person today or any other day. Finding a sunny courtyard overtaken by restaurants, we choose the waiter with the warmest smile and order salads.

On a lark, we get on Le Petit Train de la Bonne Mère. We ride the funny vehicle all the way up to the city's highest point, the Notre Dame de la Garde. Making like real tourists pays off: The view is almost overwhelming. Down in the streets, you feel a certain energy, something old and layered and alive. Up on the basilica's viewing deck, you see it, looking at the sprawl of buildings (and buildings and buildings) and roads moving all the way from the Mediterranean sea to the nearby mountains. Marseille is breathing.

Back at the Vieux Port to walk beside the sea, we find street performers. We are amused by a group of teenaged Christian evangelists who decide to take the cute route to spreading the word and do one pop dance number after another. Sundown is hidden by grey clouds. We sit down at a café to drink hot chocolates.

(A travelogue without photos sucks, I know. I forgot my camera, but will filch pictures from the girl friends and post them here soon.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Story Telling

Hey, the year's starting out great already! I got an e-mail from literary editor Sarge Lacuesta saying that my short story "Knowledge" is in the current issue of The Philippine Free Press. Since they're not selling the magazine alongside Figaro and Midi-Libre at my neighborhood presse, if you live in Manila, buy a copy and tell me what you think. C'mon, do it, today's my birthday after all. (Yes, I'm fishing... I love birthday greetings so send me some, please.) And, yes, HAPPY NEW YEAR!