Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cry Yellow!

(above image) my caricature of Cory published in Sandigan (Filipino-Australian) newspaper, May 1988.

Today Filipinos are crying yellow as they grieve for the demise of the Philippines' 11th president. Cory Aquino aka Mrs. President died today, August 1, 2009; the first female president of the Philippines and Asia's first female president.

(above photo: Vics Magsaysay, Banggaan Art Group)

Yellow was her preferred color even before she was installed as president, people inspired by a popular American song Tie a Yellow Ribbon which they sang and did to welcome her husband Benigno Aquino at the Manila Airport.

Alas, poor Ninoy never made it to the streets of Manila after years of exile in America, for he was horribly gunned down at the airport's tarmac. Until now, the mastermind has not been brought to justice.

(above photo: Rod Samonte, Banggaan Art Group)

His death choked like yellow mustard gas and gripped tight the airpipes of a people already gasping for the life-giving breath of democracy; and the welcoming yellow ribbon tied loosely around every freedom-loving Filipino became a tight noose when it was abruptly stained thick by blood. It caked dry and strained the elasticity of the constricted veins of a nation forsaken. The pressure was too much and the patience exploded thus the EDSA revolution, now known around the world as People Power.

People Power Monument, Philippines (web image)

Yellow then became flavor of the reclaimed democracy, wrested away by the people from the militaristic regime .

(above image: People Power, South Africa)

Overnight the connotation of the word as cowardice vanished; suddenly the jaundiced masses that wallowed in poverty for years under an oppressive dictatorship took a healthier color..

(above image: People Power, Thailand)

..and the battle for freedom began and still unfinished today.

The rest of the world afterall has plenty of time to catch up; for freedom will never be served on a yellow, picnic platter.

(above image) my illustration for The Australian, Aug. 21, 1986

Today August 1st is also President Manuel Quezon's death anniversary. He died of tuberculosis in 1944 in Saranac Lake, New York.

Today Cory Aquino chose to leave Earth to join the late husband she sorely missed.

Today is also death anniversary of my father Manuel who passed away in 1998.

Today is also the birthday of my youngest son who was born in 1994.

August 1st indeed is always a cocktail of emotions for this writer.

Here Dad, wherever you are, I'd like to show you the palette of bright colors in my heart. You were part of it.

The yellow seeds you've planted in my consciousness are fast yellowing ripe, keeping abreast of my age. I've acknowledged long ago that Life is a painting, and it was really up to me to use dull or bright colors, warm or cool, or just plain black and white. Thank you for the yellow warning light you shone on me everytime I was about to go astray.

Life, I found out is just too short for us to be able to use all the colors in the rainbow. The trick I thought was to use one, or two, or..okay.. three, but not more. One color for the mind, another for the body and one for the spirit.Then I mix them all up to a dark mass and use it as black for the linear elements to draw Life's pattern which I then fill in with hues of all gradations, one color dominant over the rest. My Life's painting has been in process for the past 6 decades, when to put the last brush stroke of Yellow is a mystery I'm not yet keen to find out.

Perhaps, an individual is like a nation that carefully chooses the colors in its flag. For outsiders, the color symbolism may not be big deal; but for those born and educated inside the archipelago, the idealism was inspired by heavenly bodies.

Today the yellow sun burns brightly in the middle of the stellar-cornered, white pyramid of the nation's flag, aloft halfway to its mast, with its blue and red wings drenched by Manila rain, heavy and in sorrow for the demise of the leader of the People Power revolt.

As someone said, at times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. I thank Cory. I thank my Dad.

Nature and human nature is one and the same afterall. Nature nurtures. Nature is us. The color of yellow could be as fragrant as a free spirit, sweet like Guimaras mangoes or as obnoxious as yellow sulphur. We have the choice, nature could only provide and guide us towards a healthy mind and being. Man shall forever avoid the toxicity of nature that can harm him. Likewise to live in a society free of toxic political decadence is delicious and much desired.

But in its vexillology and all, the nation's flag could not all be yellow yet (even if emotions relentlessly pour out for Cory); not just yet for it will still be undeserving. A solid yellow flag shall only mean one thing ..clean; just like the international maritime signal flag where a solidly yellow flag denotes the letter "Q" (which means a ship asserts that it does not need to be quarantined).

(web image: Yellow Flag Iris)

The nation still has a lot to do to isolate the yellow fever of corruption and greed that incapacitated and drained the country's fragile economy. Until then shall yellow flags bloom and blanket the nation in blissful peace. Only then shall we see everything in glorious yellow; and we shall experience delirious fun, almost like being inside a yellow submarine, or even other modes of transport.

(above photo) web image

At the beginning of our lives, there were no colors for at least nine months as we only felt the warm, liquid darkness of primeval innocence, ignorant of colors and was delightfully swimming in it.

It was like awareness trapped inside a coconut, surrounded and protected by the pureness of its thick meat of inner white walls yet it seemed darkness had to obliterate the light to let knowledge evolve inside without getting burnt to a crisp. Something inside seemed restless and waiting for a time when someone gives it a precise, clean stroke of a machete to expose the nourishing Grace.

Upon rupture, it was rapture. Perhaps the color yellow was introduced to my infantile life when I first saw the yellow incandescent light; as the nurse pulled away my yellowcaked diaper; or was impressed on me as I blasted a pressurised stream of yellow to the faces of those I've fancied. Why, according to my mother, even my big, grotesque head that had sparse, velvety black hair was covered with a thin layer of icky, yellow slime. Yellow, yellow all around me so therefore I naturally gravitated to my favourite color... Blue.

You'd think I'm kidding. Blue afterall is not too far away from Yellow. Well in printer's ink term, process yellow was based on a colorant that reflects the preponderance of red and green light, and absorbed most blue light. Painters meanwhile traditionally regarded the complement of yellow as blue (or indigo) because of various characteristics of paint pigments and different color wheels used.

How many of us know that the word yellow comes from the Old English geolu (or geolwe which derived from the Proto-Germanic word gelwaz)? The color had a long history and nations have long adopted the solar hue in their own right. Some might have offensive and non-offensive racial overtones. What with an East Asian born in outback Australia? Shall we call him a yellow ocker? Do you see any peril? What if he's of Italian lineage..Naples yellow? There's Indian yellow, Chinese yellow (arsenic trisulfide) and there's Gamboge yellow, the name derived from Cambodia. And now we have the Philippine yellow, and the whole world knows of its meaning.

Rest in Peace, Cory...and Dad.


Here are three timely videos:

-Part 1 of Cory Aquino's historic speech before the US Congress (Sept. 1986)

-Bayan Ko featuring the images of Fernando Amorsolo and the voice of Kuh Ledesma

-Heber Bartolome and Banyuhay (Katotohanan Lamang), Tribute to Cory

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Antipolo Scared Me Shirtless

Last year's trip to Manila swept me off my feet and produced a lot of photos . All were taken from inside young brother's Expedition which made our travel snappy and comfortable.

The vehicle's windows provided a glassy, azurite filter between camera and outside scenarios; and something was cooking.

Blue skies dominated Manila and suburbs, puffing out smiles while Zeus cried lavish rain in other cities of the world. Ah, to see and explore the old city high and dry was a luxury on a bright day while lazy nebulas paraded above my hazy head. A bit shaken, I absorbed with maximum tolerance my childhood's traffic noise that seemed to have tripled in intensity.

Please have a seat, offered the displayed cane furniture oblivious to dust. Good it wasn't raining, otherwise those elegant rattancraft would be back hidden in their dark hangars.
However, wet Manila is another beautiful story drenched by an array of darkened monochromes.

What excited me most was my rediscovery of Antipolo (26 kms east of Manila) where mangoes and suman (wrapped sticky rice rolls) still reigned sweetly..

..and where cash and cashew nuts were delightfully trading.
..and where watermelons lined up like bowlings balls that threathened to escape from their makeshift shelves.

Locals perhaps suffered from translation-fatigue as they explained to tourists that the word Antipolo didn't mean a half-nude guy or somebody against Prince Charles' favourite sport..

..that the airy dress code was just practical for a coastal race that fished and farmed for centuries in the hot and humid islands.

Back in the beaches of Australia, they also teem with half nude people who escaped the red desert heat; while here, the country's 7,100 islands were all perimetered by lovely beaches. There's no such thing as inland. Beaches were all around only a few kilometers from one's doorsteps.

The medal of indecency may well fit around the steep and sharp collar of the country's social pyramid. (While on the subject, here's a pyramid pose of a photo with old buddies that met up for the AraulloHi'66 Antipolo Reunion with special guest Heber Bartolome of Banyuhay. April 2008)

The city was made famous by a folksong we sang as kids, Tayo na sa Antipolo! (Let's go to Antipolo!). It didn't change much. The structures and habits were stubbornly intact.

Somehow it was same line of emerald-green trees that guided us in a late 50s family excursions; and if I were to imaginatively put back the traditional elements, like say..that pedicab to be replaced by a carabao sled-cart, the tin rooves by thatched nipa palm leaves and that mobile phone by stationery, then I'm back to my mother's side as she held my hand trudging up Antipolo for mass.. photos/fruit/
..kasuy, pili nuts, mangga, suman, religious estampitas..

(above; circa late 60s photo sent in by bespectacled Rod Samonte (USA) with fellow artists; Hinulugang Taktak in the bkgd)
..and the Hinulugang Taktak waterfalls. Indeed, I sorely missed the past. uteh/image/43817704Each suman I saw was a wrapped anecdote of history. To unravel each was to expose the painful truth.."The past is always a rebuke to the present."
Well? Ola! ..and talking about the ancient past, it was in 1578 that the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in Antipolo where they asked some native guys to help them build a church in Boso-Boso. The great grand children of those first church builders are here with us today, praying to the Nuestra SeƱora de la Paz y Buen Viaje de Antipolo (Tagalog: "Ang Mahal na Birhen ng Kapayapaan at Mabuting Paglalayag"; "Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage") and perhaps peacefully dreaming of travel and landing a job in Dubai.
Then the Jesuits came and organized the village into a parish in 1591 where they built a chapel at Sitio Sta. Cruz. By 1601 there were some 3,000 Christians in Antipolo. 24443965@N08/2937290514/Soon the peaceful Negrito population dwindled, as they travelled up higher the green mountains.. bitter, scared shirtless and confused.

There was no escape. I looked into the past and acknowledged the passing generation in front of me; and it scared me shirtless of their future prospects. It was the same vague empathy towards the minority tribesmen of ancient Antipolo which had similar predicament back in the 1600s.. cruelly displaced in their own native land.
Hunted, I sought the protective canopy of mental images of childhood Antipolo that fleeted about unseen but were pricking my skin with tactile precision.
Inside me was a running passion to connect to the hive of mental central, to get a ticket and ride the trains of thought that buzzed above. It was singlemindedness on a monorail and an urge to isolate prevailing doctrines that promoted control but ironically bred non-discipline. There were wingless approximations of mutiny which hovered anxiously but not to stray too far away from the hive of network that sheltered and fed them the intoxicating honey of docility.. as to sustain their unwritten mission to work hard and take care of the growing larvaes..the next generation of worker bees.
My camera stalked aloof pedestrians that crossed and dodged the rococo-painted jeepneys that enclosed passengers in deep thought..
..and surveyed with gusto stretches of graffiti that "un-defaced" tired, cracked walls that hankered to crumble. The primate in me hungered for more surprises.The speed of the vehicle varied so I tried to compensate for the shutter lag by shooting ahead in varying split-second increments.
I cried victorious when I hit the target spot on.
Sometimes I didn't look at the digicam's lcd screen at all and just randomly took a series at various angles.
Often I was a clown juggling an acrobat-cam . No film, no worries, so I kept shooting as if my third eye was hardwired to the lens.
Photoshop, our loyal friend helped me saturate the colors of the day, blur the non-dramatic peripherals, sharpen the intriguing warning signs and brighten up unfolding dramas pressed at the core of tedium.
To outsiders perhaps the scenes demonstrated the wretchedness of poor, urban living; where tourists were unable to decode the language of struggle written on the hearts and faces of a nation of people that bore no malice to nature's resources despite a few breaking the laws of human decency.
Men, women and a lot of children nonchalantly trudged along graveled banks edged out by wide concreted rivers that stretched into infinity.

The roads perhaps were naturally compacted by outbound heavily-laden trucks that drained and carried off resources away from Antipolo Hills and beyond. Red and green golf parasols seemed to wave goodbye to trucks that faded away inside the inky fumes of diesel.
Scenes were a clash of ubiquitous signage that warned, promoted political narcissism, sold and repaired car parts and those that directed traffic towards sanity.

Roads were clean but the rules lax.
"Argh, Ricky, you got some laxative bro'?.. stomach.."

"Why, was it the cashews?"
"No!" blurted the worried me. I told him I just saw a small motorbike that scooted past us, and it carried five, an infant held in one arm by woman while driver had one child infront of him and one behind the woman. There were two helmets for everyone that only exposed morbid fatalism due to lack.
"Don't worry Kuya (big brother) Edd, it's quite common."
I confessed that I took the sight as obscene for I was genuinely concerned for the safety of those fragile, pillion-riding kids, and I felt forsaken. The compassion begged to register but was ignored as a Manila radio station revved up horrible statistics that two-wheeled transport were most vulnerable on the roads resulting to exposed marrows mixed in with bloodied lives.
I mused, the round concrete casino chips were the hardened but brittle lives thrown in the roulette table in exchange for some paltry economic gain.What of taxis and buses that loaded and offloaded three-deep to the dismay of yellow-sashed grey ghosts? Welcome to my beloved Manila.

But no matter, it was all admiration from this prodigal visitor as I looked at the photos of electric cables that screenprinted the skies like a barcode..
..and storefronts walled in by plastic crates and drums. Everything afterall is just a facade, for the moments digitally frozen revealed more of the hidden.
The people made do.
They survived the harsh, destitute reality under an awkward and devalued governmental leadership.
No blurry photos shall hide the heroism of a people that struggled for a good, simple yet nourishing life even back before the days of Dr. Jose Rizal, the country's national martyr.
From the cracked, oppressive walls perhaps shall emerge a new wave of idealism that shall engulf the toxicity of dreadful living.
In the blink of an eye, I was back from Antipolo to antipodean Australia jamming with friends (photo: neighbour Jim Paredes on vocals). The transition was surreal.

here's a 1947 movie shot in Antipolo