Death of a grandmother

Much has been written about death — that it leaves a gaping hole, that a part of us is taken away into the pit with the dead body’s casket, that it’s inescapable, that it is something we all have to contend with. Despite the endless generalizations we tell ourselves in order to help dull the pain, the feeling of grief that goes with death remains one of the most excruciating emotions a human being will have to experience in his brief stint living. It’s hard to comprehend how an emotion that does not play any role in helping the human species succeed in the evolutionary sense linger and continue to cause us discomfort for a period.

My grandmother passed away (how I detest this cliche but it cannot be helped) more than a month ago. I was meaning to write something about her, probably shower her memories with platitudes, but I know she will never read this as she has already died, and granting spirits (if they exist) can read she would not be able to comprehend this post as this is in English. She could neither read nor write, except I think her name.

My father referred to her as a sinless woman. Indeed, he loves her so much. Was he exaggerating? I have reasons to take his position, not that I know readers will disagree with his statement. My grandmother remained uncorrupted until her dying days. What bothered her were things too fundamental most of do not think are worth bothering ourselves about — the need for food, the security of a roof above her head, and to be in the company of her children and grandchildren. She never considered existential issues that for the vainest of us constitute the main questions we ask ourselves whenever our death or a loved one’s looms at the doorstep.

Yes, she might have feared death as it is wired in all of us the moment we become aware we are alive, but her fear was not whether the afterlife exists as I know she was certain it does. It was her daughter who took care of her until her last breath and her young grandson (my aunt’s only child) not being able to deal with it when she is gone that caused her to wail in her deathbed.

I got nothing novel to say about death. No one can. We all have said or written everything that can be said or written about it that attempts at coming up with an original generalization can only mean one is either stupid or trying to be funny. Obviously, the humor is dry and bound to be missed.

Our experience with death is particular. For a moment, the grief enables the of vainest of us to think the whole universe revolves around him and the entire weight of the cosmos is held on that singular pin whose emery is his heart.

I am one of those vain individuals.

I miss my grandmother. I really do. But I do not want to execrate her memories by my platitudinous writing which no matter how hard I try not to will sound shallow and insincere.

The day my brother brought home a little boy

A picture I grabbed from brother’s Facebook page showing him and the little boy he brought home last Christmas, rastafied.

He asked permission first from me if he could bring the son of his girlfriend to our house in the province. Since I was paying for his trip, my opinion mattered, and I made it clear that I did not want to have anything to do with that boy, much less be responsible for the welfare of my brother and that boy as we still had to travel for three hours by bus to reach our hometown.

He was taking the Iloilo-Davao trip and I was coming from Manila. I did not want to be inconvenienced by that imp as I wanted nothing but to rest while on the bus. I told our mother that if he insisted, I’d leave him and that little boy in Davao and take the trip home alone. I imagined the boy of three as the devil in flesh–perpetually hungry, throwing tantrums every five minutes, defecating at whim, and in need of everyone’s attention.

For some unexplainable reason, I was persuaded by our mother to let him bring that boy. Probably it was my mother’s pleading, and eventually screaming, tone while she’s explaining to me that she has seen the boy in one of her visits to Iloilo, that the ‘baby’ was adorable, and how our house had become so gloomy after all five of us left for college, save our youngest sister who is in her sixth grade, that it needed some ‘apple of everyone’s  eye’.

I retorted that we have our youngest sister who can do that. ‘She’s already twelve, for crying out loud!’ Well, she did not exactly use this line, but she said something to this effect. The matter was settled. The ‘baby’ was to spend Christmas and New Year with us.

Since my flight was set three hours earlier, I arrived in Davao at 6 in the morning, I had to wait for them at the airport. Davao Airport, is not exactly a modern airport. Despite being a gateway to the biggest city in Mindanao, it does not have a decent waiting area for people waiting for arriving passengers. So I had to camp outside, downing as many as five cups of coffee at a nearby tapsilogan, waiting for my brother and his adopted son. The idea that he’s bringing somebody else’s son irked me more. I was thinking of making him feel my unrestrained fury the moment I saw him.

At 9am, I heard the public address system, which sounded hoarse after decades of use, announcing their plane has touched down. Fifteen minutes later, I saw my brother waving at my direction. He lost weight, probably because of poor nutrition and pressure from his school work. On his back is a big mountaineering bag that seemed to have dwarfed him, and in his arms was a yawning little child.

He was clinging to my brother like a newly-born chimpanzee to its mother. His right thumb stuck in his mouth, his head rested on my brother’s shoulder. He straightened his body when he saw me and gave me a puzzled look.

‘Yan, si Seth.’

Then I knew why my other younger sister who stays in the same apartment with my brother in Iloilo was silent the whole time when usually she would badmouth my brother’s girlfriends, why my mother defended my brother’s decision to bring home that ‘baby’, and why my father conspired with my mother.

Seth scratched his nose, looked at me, and gave me that short and innocent smile. His eyes looked droopy and tired because of the trip but he gamely showcased the tricks my brother must have taught him such as saying ‘Halong’ when somebody says ‘Ba-bye’ or gesturing sex with his fingers when my brother ask him what Seth wants to do, and a lot more that I already forget. Right there and then all the preconceived notions I have of any creature that are of Seth’s age got demolished like a stack of gambling cards made to stand on top of each other. If I were to have a baby of my own, I wanted it to be exactly like Seth.

Unlike most kids of three I’ve seen, he’s not megalomaniacal. It never crossed his mind that he was the center of everyone’s attention, he was, though. He did not cry a lot during his stay. He’s quiet most of the time. He did not look revolted whenever we requested him to show off what he has learned from staying regularly in my siblings’ cramped apartment. He made me want to have a kid of my own.

But what was even more endearing about Seth was the closeness he has established with my brother and how this has changed my brother. I didn’t know my brother knew how to change diapers. While we all ran away whenever Seth pooed, my brother would come to the rescue, wash him, and pat him dry. While we only wanted to play with him when he’s laughing and smiling, my brother would do funny faces to make him stop crying. More than three-fourths of the space inside the big bag he carried home was used to contain Seth’s clothes, diapers, feeding bottles, and infant formula. My brother didn’t leave the house during their stay except to buy milk at a grocery in the poblacion.

While he used to think only of himself, he’s found a new reason to be a better man by being a responsible ‘father’ to Seth.

And we, doting uncles and aunties.

College reunion

Three years after we all graduated from college, seven of us met again after a week of not-so-very-careful planning at Kitchen in Greenbelt 3. Out of the nine who are currently working in the metro, seven showed up, not bad for reunion we held for the first time in a different place (we already held several mini reunions but they were all in Iloilo). Gretchen missed it because she had a client to meet in Caloocan, and Paulyn was doing some reviews for her exams in law school.  The meeting last night was rushed. Alice and Koko both had to leave early for their work in Taguig, and Fonz had somebody waiting for her outside Kitchen. In the end, it was Tjay, Ira, Nelly, and I who were left to end the night.

Next time, we’ll try staying longer, do some more catching up, and we hope to chug as much alcohol as our guts can take.

Photo credit goes to Alice Ledesma who volunteered her place to be the next venue of our reunion sometime in mid-October.

Humor and the 15th French Film Festival

I find it annoying sometimes hearing people giggling over sappy or barely audible lines uttered by the protagonist or anyone in the film. I would often question myself if I missed something that was really funny to warrant the guffaw. Has my English listening skill deteriorated to such shameful level a simple funny line could escape me unnoticed? Or has my ability to grasp and comprehend sarcasm or irony turned rusty after years of overuse and abuse.

If I’m in the mood, I wouldn’t mind contributing my share to this senseless endeavor, laughing every now and then just so the person next to me feels that the humor is shared and that I am as intelligent as the idiot seated to my right.

But I am seldom in the mood for fake niceties and I seldom keep to myself my disdain for this imbecilic automatic laughing response. I blurt out, as loud as I can, my commentaries on breached movie house ethics to let these people, who giggle at the slightest effort of the protagonist on screen to crack a joke, know that laughing as if they have a secret understanding with the actors barring all other viewers, me including, is the summit of tastelessness.

I am not a self-proclaimed humor censor or a hater of laughing like that blind character in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, but I am not somebody who easily lets go a social faux pas without leaving a scathing remark, especially something as moronic as this anomaly in a movie theater.

I do not consider this yet as an annual ‘routine’, but I am very happy to have attended the French Film Festival two years in a row now. It’s its fifteenth year that is held in different parts of Metro Manila and Cebu. Sadly, this has yet to reach Iloilo.

This year, I was only able to see three films out of thirteen films that included Brillante Mendoza’s Lola, which I missed, but the spirit of those three films etched permanent marks on me.

La Graine et le Mulet and Welcome tackle the issue of migration and adjusting in a multicultural society while L’Heure d’ete’ fearlessly peers into the universality of Art, death, and the meaning of family. And how will I forget my favorite, Juliette Binoche, sporting a blond.

La Graine et le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain)

The film protrays life at the port via main character Monsieur Beiji, a 60-year-old divorcee with a complicated family. Despite his problems, he dreams of building his own restaurant, which surprisingly becomes the one thing that will bind his family together.

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Cast: Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Faridah Benkhetache, Abdelhamid Aktouche, Bouraouïa Marzouk, Cyril Favre, Alice Houri, Leïla D’Issernio, Abdelkader Djeloulli, Bruno Lochet, Olivier Loustau, Sami Zitouni, Sabrina Ouazani, Mohamed Benabdeslem, Hatika Karaoui, Henri Rodriguez, Nadia Taouil , Jeanne Corporon, Henri Cohen, Violaine Carné (de)


Bilal, a 17-year-old Kurdish youth, has traveled through the Middle East and Europe to join his girlfriend, who has recently emigrated to England with her family. But his journey comes to an abrupt end when he is stopped on the French side of the Channel.

Having decided to swim across, Bilal goes to the local swimming pool to train. There he meets Simon, a swimming instructor in the midst of a divorce. To impress his wife and win back her heart, Simon decides to risk everything by taking Bilal under his wing.

Director: Philippe Lioret
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Thierry Godard, Selim Akgül, Firat Celik, Murat Subasi, Olivier Rabourdin, Yannick Renier, Patrick Ligardes, Behi Djanati AtaÏ, Jean-Pol Brissart, Blandine Pélissier, Éric Herson-Macarel, Gilles Masson, Emmanuel Courcol, Jean-François Fagour, Jean-Paul Comart, Lazare Herson-Macarelle, Stéphane Butet, Carine Bouquillon, Philippe Gaulé, Fanny Drouin, Emmanuelle Dupuy, Derya Ayverdi

L’Heure d’ete’ (Summer Hours)

Two brothers and a sister witness the disappearance of their childhood memories when they must relinquish their family belongings to ensure their deceased mother’s succession.

Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Rénier, Édith Scob, Dominique Reymond, Valérie Bonneton, Isabelle Sadoyan, Kyle eastwood, Alice de Lencquesaing, Emile Berling, Jean-Baptiste Malartre, Gilles Arbona, Éric Elmosnino, Marc Voinchet, Sara Martins, Christian Lucas, Philippe Paimblanc, Luc Bricault, Arnaud Azoulay

Information about the three films here were taken from

On why it did not hurt as much as I expected it

I stood there the whole time, aware that I was not anymore welcome, keeping my distance because I am now an outsider who has no stake whatsoever in the exercise. From where I stood, every act appeared obligatory—the clapping of hands, the cheers from the different departments of the university, the smiles from students who still recognize me, the speeches (funny how I also had my share of delivering a speech, in fact, one of the chummiest speeches ever heard in that auditorium), the pictures of my former professors who hold offices projected on both walls of the stage, the powers that-be of the university sitting like your traditional politicians on stage, the traditional boisterous welcome given to the freshmen by radical student activists (an act that has lost its significance and meaning a long time ago, but is continually done because not staging a protest in the most opportune time means acceptance of defeat, something radical student activists have yet to fully understand.), and the suffocating air in the enclosed hall.

I stood there trying to figure out reasons for staying but I found none. Finally, I’ve come to a realization that most choices do not have fall-back system, no safety nets, no return tickets. Until that time it has not stricken me that I am on my own.

General-cleaning with Gem and Sef

After a back-breaking scrubbing, sweeping, and washing, Gem and Sef’s place in Lapaz is now squeaky clean, better smelling, and definitely more habitable than the jungle that it used to be. We threw away the decade-old linoleum floor cover, opened the perpetually closed window that gave us a view to the neighbor’s antique window grilles and rusty, obsolete, Korean-made air-conditioning unit, and dusted the ceiling that forced-evicted several colonies of tarantulas and black widow spiders. We had to cover our mouths and noses to keep us from inhaling noxious fumes and fungal spores that have accumulated in the room since the house was built in the 70s.

At first, it appeared to me that Gem and Sef did not have any intention at all to clean their room because both looked contented and happy enduring its familiar gloom and comfortable darkness. But this afternoon, the temperature and humidity soared to impossible levels. The small room, measuring 6 feet by 10 feet, was suddenly transformed into a malfunctioning, overheated sauna. It was the desire to let in more air and light by opening the window that led to this major general-cleaning project.

One thing led to another. First it was the closed windows, then the cobwebs looking too inviting to let go, then the topsy-turvy books on top of the cabinet, then the sad-looking floor, until everything was turned upside-down and it became morally scandalous to return them to where they normally were found without dusting them or washing them.

I told Gem to throw away those useless stuff we accumulated since we all started going to college. I was surprised to find our eldest sister’s photocopies, my high school identification card, the clown costume that my brother next to me used to wear in his part-time job, and other things we thought were long gone or lost.

Although I thought it was a more intelligent idea to set the room on fire and start from nothing, this proved very challenging and eventually dismissed as infeasible since my sibling are only renting the place. My sister brushed this idea off as insane. I thought it was fun and out-of-the-box. My younger brother gave me his full support.

But my sister, who is, by default, the matron of the room, prevailed.

However, because I am the most senior among the three of us, it was not difficult to boss them around and give them irrational orders such as transferring an indoor plant and placing it just outside the windows to add more vitality to our sad room. Only that the smallest indoor plant around is three feet taller than my younger brother and twice as heavy as my sister. This could not be done by them and I did not want to over-exert my muscles for something as commonplace a task as lifting an indoor plant several meter from its original point of origin. We abandoned the plan. Or waxing and scrubbing the floor until it reflects more light than the shard of the mirror I broke but which Gem found a better use of and glued it on the wall rather than wait for me to buy a replacement for the one I accidentally broke. They said this task of polishing the floor was Herculean in difficulty. I said nothing is impossible to determined spirits. Theirs, they told me, are not determined. Case closed. Further counter-argument is unwelcome.

At around 5:30 in the afternoon, the room started to look like a real room of two college students and less like a slaughterhouse. Of course, it was still hot and humid but not anymore as hot and humid as it usually was before we cleaned it.

We were greeted by a gush of fresh air from our neighbor’s air-conditioning exhaust. This was better than nothing at all, our indefatigable spirit told us.

To reward ourselves, and because I am their eldest brother, I felt compelled to go out and buy ourselves something for snack. I crossed the street facing West Visayas State University Medical Center and bought five sticks of banana-Q. We downed this with ice-cold Coke and some hearty conversation and laughter.

I felt good knowing that I’ll be leaving my two younger siblings with a clean, comfortable, and livable room at least for the next five months. This made me truly happy.

The very fine art of critiquing

The critic will never find himself on the same level of the hierarchy of importance as the artist whose work is the subject of our critic’s dispassionate and thorough dissection.The existence of the critic is always dependent on the artist’s. Without the artist, a critic is a non-entity; this he knows oh too well. He accepts it as a given that he will always find himself a few notches below, on the lower wrung of the ladder relative to the artist.

He is someone whose opinions matter in only as far as they are relevant and timely. In the end, the work endures but the opinions of our humble critic dissipate until they crumble into fine dusts of oblivion. Probably this explains why he camouflages his rage with scandalous detachment and emphatic objectivity, a desperate act of giving a semblance of dignity to his unappreciated, cheap, and bastard art of critiquing.

Just recently, I became the object of scorn of my more senior colleagues because of a critique I posted in this blog and that which also appeared in a local paper. To cut it short, I gave unfavorable comments on their supposed creative works (Doesn’t this sound redundant? So instead of calling them ‘creative works’, which is rather verbose, ‘works’ will be used all throughout this essay.What these works are will not be specified here as I do not think information regarding their oeuvre is germane.)

And so there I was, as they might have imagined, looking meek and docile, unable to defend myself from their upbraiding of my humble person. I was not there to defend myself from their onslaught of invectives thrown at my name, and for this, thankfully, I spared myself from the hurt and aches those words would’ve inflicted on my vulnerable spirit, words that would have left me scarred permanently, for life.

Nevertheless, had I been given the chance to defend myself and the words I wrote in this blog and for that local publication, I would’ve been able to clear my name and make them understand that my review was devoid of malice, although I must admit it was a little bit sarcastic and left a bitter sting. But reviews are meant to have these characters.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about my experience in writing and which I’ve been teaching my students at the university, it’s being unabashedly unapologetic for whatever one writes so long as one did a thorough research, verified the information, or if writing a commentary, so long as it is judicious, fair, and well-written. With or without malice.

Malice is impossible to prove, and if proved, it automatically becomes defamatory, and a good critique is hardly, if ever, defamatory.

In fairness to the artist, the real one, I mean, he, most of the time, is impervious to critiques, favorable or damning. He does not mind what the critic says because he knows that his works are a masterpiece regardless of the contending opinion of the critic on them. For him, his works are not meant to be analyzed and dissected but felt and digested.

A critic does not figure in the universe of a real artist. Yes, he may read the critique of the critic but that’s just it, a pragmatic endeavor meant to pass time, like reading yesterday’s paper while defecating at seven in the morning.

But the sham artist, the artiste, the insecure newbie parading as a redeemer of the declining high art, is somebody the critic must handle with utmost care. His definition of art is anything so long as it is his art. Any critic’s opinion regarding art that runs counter his notion of what art is (which is, in this case, his art) is a declaration of war. And our poor critic who carefully drafted and phrased his review so as to maintain that air of objectivity and fairness is left in the mercy of the wrathful gaze and painful words spat by the up-and-coming artist, the noveau artist, our version of the equally pitiable noveau riche.

This noveau artist will definitely stoop to the level of the critic, or if need be, lower himself even further just to make a point and to put across the clear message that he is a true artist. Which of course will give a different message, that is, he is otherwise.

The critic, aside from exposing real art from sham, also exposes a true artist from a phony one. Critiquing is not an easy craft. Although not as prestigious as other high Art, it is as difficult to master. It takes one to have a very keen attention to detail, great finesse, a very stiff upper lip to fully master the very fine art of critiquing.

And the gall, if I may add.