Copies

I’m no painter. I’m a pretentious prick who hopes to understand a painting and the method of the painter by copying his work down to its minutest of details. I’ve done two so far: The Kiss and Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) both Picasso’s.

On a weekend, interspersed with eating and arguing about anything that catches our fancy, I take hold of paint brushes and a palette of cheap acrylics then dab the canvas in a tentative fashion, always tentative, hesitating.

Art thrives in mimesis. I do not aim to be original, only great ones are truly original. Most of us are merely attempting to be at least a good copy of something.

I study the lines, scrutinise each brush stroke, each idiosyncratic curve, imagined humps of random shades, odd color mixtures, and areas covered with thicker acrylic paint. I painstakingly copy each line as if every one of these lines was intentionally painted by the painter. It’s hard to imagine that they’re arbitrary and never deliberate.

Great art, I suppose, takes time to ferment. It should take him a long time to mentally deliberate whether that extra strand of hair on the left eyebrow will render his subject more masculine than he intended it to be.

More than the joy, however, of imagining what Picasso was thinking when he was making these works of art, I enjoy the quietude brought about by the making of these copies. They’re dowdy, sure. I’d give a condescending smile at anyone who pastes reproductions of Picasso’s works on the wall of his studio. I find them cheap, those reproductions, but I take exceptions this time; it is after all my place and I can do whatever I like with that blank space directly above the kitchen sink.

Kitsch

While cleaning my cubicle and ridding it of trash this afternoon, I saw this note from former students. It was funny finding this after having read some stinging evaluation of my Lit students last sem.

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A sojourn

By now I should already be in my warm room in Cornell sipping hot coffee, maybe sleeping, compensating for my lack of sleep after more than a day of journeying from Manila to New York, or probably daydreaming about my talk on Sunday. Instead, I’m now in a deserted bus terminal in Syracuse, shivering, waiting for a 3:30 am trip to Rochester, or just waiting to be mugged like how it is in the movies. From Rochester, if I get very lucky reaching it, I shall wait until 8 in the morning later for a bus bound for Ithaca.

This is the most recent misfortune in a string of misfortunes.

I left Manila on February 27 on an Emirates flight going to Dubai that had to layover there for 8 hours (!). I did not realize before purchasing the ticket that I would be spending eight hours figuring out the best way to position myself in those narrow airport seats attempting to sleep knowing fully well that I can only sleep horizontally.

At least this decision to take the Dubai route was something I feel could do nothing about. Since it’s the cheapest among my three options that time.

But.

I forgot to bring my suit which I carefully ironed the night before I left. This means I shall look like a naked banana on Sunday. Thank God I remember to stash a necktie in my shoe.

From Dubai, I was asked, and gladly said yes, to give up my seat for a family of three that wanted to be on the same row, then only to be seated next to an elderly Indian couple who seemed to be fighting each other over everything.

Did I say I spilled hot coffee on my crotch? And since it was too much of a hassle to request the couple to stop fighting for a moment and let me pass, I endured the pain of the heat and the later uncomfortable feeling of the soaking sticky liquid that’s beginning to dry up and stain my gray jeans.

As I am getting off from a shuttle at Port Authority in Manhattan from JFK, just when the van was speeding off, I found out that my pair of wayfarer were missing.

And now. Caught in this cold Greyhound bus station in Syracuse, many miles away from my real destination, I have no idea how to get to the next bus that will take me to Cornell. But I am feeling these misfortunes will soon end.

It’s cold. But at least I got this for a view.

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Lecture

My professor extended her lecture until it felt to me staying in that room was beyond my ability to endure. She stretched her talk for 7 minutes. It was 8:07 in the evening. Every extra minute was an affront to decency. At that point, I wanted nothing but to go home, eat dinner, and sleep.

I’m tired.

Picking dry leaves

I still can vividly recall a recurring scene at the backyard of our old house some 18, I’m not sure, maybe 19, years ago.  It’s an image of my four siblings and me (our youngest sister was born several years after) picking up dry leaves that had fallen from an old Jackfruit tree.

This was our father’s “assignment” to us which we did with dedication every five in the afternoon after coming home from our classes in a nearby public elementary school. Our eldest sister, Mae, was 10 then. I was 8. Des, my brother born after me, was 7. Sef was 5; he attended kindergarten in the morning and at five, after sleeping the whole afternoon, already ready for play or to take part in any physical activity with us. And Gemini was 3, already an able ambler.

It was a task we took seriously, too seriously in fact that it became an opportunity for the five of us to compete with each other on who could pick the most number of dry leaves.

We had a method to this madness.

Before coming home, Mae, Des, and I passed by the stand of an old woman selling barbecued plantains (which we called sinugba nga saging because my parents are both Ilonggos, but which our schoolmates called saging ginanggang because they were all Cebuanos. The five of us never bothered speaking their language. As a generic term we called this snack banana-Q, which is not accurate since deep fried plantains in brown sugar were also called with it).

These barely cooked plantains were brushed with margarine and rolled in white sugar then skewered (I doubt if this is the appropriate word for it) using bamboo sticks that were sharpened at the tip.

To this day I cannot understand why our mother did not keep us from buying that snack, as everything about it was clearly a deadly weapon.

The plantains looked dirty after having swum in the ashes of the charcoals the old woman used to barbecue them. The margarine was without a brand name, and it was conspicuously colored in striking yellow similar to those used in emergency road signs. The brush used to envelop the plantains in that margarine-from-hell was a paint brush, and a used one, as evidenced by the chipping green latex paint on the handle. The sugar that stuck onto the bananas seemed to be from the same batch of sugar used in the previous weeks because it looked more like beach sand than sugar; individual sugar crystals could not be distinguished from the ashes that got mixed with it. Our taste in food, apparently, was very sophisticated. And lethal.

Lest I forget, the bamboo stick, which I remember using as arrows to target shoot the banana trees of our neighbor that stood in a community garden beside a small Catholic chapel. Legend has it that a grade four pupil in our elementary school was killed after having stepped on a protruding barbecue stick. That pupil’s ghost remained in the school to haunt students and teachers alike, or something that went like that, depending on the temperament of the storyteller.

After having our fill of that unforgettable delicious afternoon snack, the five of us proceeded with the operation.

We used those bamboo sticks sharpened at the tip to pick those fallen Jackfruit leaves in our backyard. The idea was simple, we punctured each leaf until they accumulate into a bunch of stabbed dry leaves. Each of us had a base camp where we stockpile our Jackfruit leaves “barbecue”.

The one who picked the most leaves won.

I don’t remember what we did with the leaves after, what the winner got as prize after winning, or what happened to the Jackfruit tree when we moved to a new house years after.

What I vividly recall, though, was our old backyard that was free from those fallen dry leaves.

And our father smiling at us.

Reading series 2: Genres of Discourse

And yet whiteness is not a straightforward object of desire, any more than light is: blackness is desired, and whiteness is only the disappointing result of a desire that proclaim itself satisfied. Whiteness will be disavowed, as a truth that is either deceptive (as with the white spaces on the map, which hide the black continent) or illusory: the whites think that ivory, white, is the ultimate truth: but Marlow exclaims: “I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life” (23). Whiteness may be an obstacle to knowledge, as with the white fog, “more blinding than the night” (40), which impedes the approach to Kurtz (Todorov 107).