Blumen im Winter…

UntitledEin alter Mann, der lächelt, ist wie Blumen im Winter

(An old man who smiles is like flowers in the winter. -German proverb)

The Charleston Shuffle

Tried to catch dad doing the Charleston Shuffle, but his arms were too fast for my exposure, and vanished!

breakfast mit meinem alten Mann

A display of energy like this is rare from him, these days, but he had perked up considerably after a big breakfast together on the verandah.

breakfast mit meinem alten Mann

Also done by this father-daughter pair on Saturday: swapped files, showed each other our Flickr photos (with background story narration), watched one of the BBC’s Planet Earth DVDs., shared a visit from friend and artist Ace Polintan, had halo-halo ice cream with leche flan on top (decadence), took selfies with the camera’s remote control, and watched the sky for rain.
Frühstück mit meinem alten Mann

Of course, after all this (plus his stunt on the dance floor) he had to take a nana nap. 🙂

Frühstück mit meinem alten Mann


Family is a gun.

gun control

There is plenty of peace in any home where the family doesn’t make the mistake of trying to get together.

—Kin Hubbard (1868 – 1930)

Made contact with my parents this morning, because I haven’t heard from them since my father wanted me to buy something for him that was only available in Australia, some time last October or November. When I sit down to initiate an exchange with my parents, I optimistically imagine having a cheerful conversation about the garden, or hope to hear that they’ve been getting out, meeting friends, doing something positive and happy. I imagine my mother laughing, or my parents joking and teasing each other.

Hah! I’m still a damn fool, after all these years. Skype was a BIG mistake! Every time I do this, I sign off abruptly, disgusted and fuming…and I tell myself “That’s IT, I will never try to make contact again.” Hope I’ve learned that damn lesson, once and for all.

Maybe that’s all that family really is, a group of people who all miss the same imaginary place.

—Zach Braff, Garden State

Cameo of my parents home in a film with religious flavor

from the balcony

Ikaw Ang Pag-Ibig (You Are Love), the latest movie by the award-winning Philippine director Marilou Diaz-Abaya, was partly shot in my parents home. It hits Philippine theaters tomorrow, September 14. Here’s a synopsis from the film’s site:

The movie revolves around a young, contemporary, rebellious woman Vangie Cruz (Ina Feleo), whose family life and career as a video editor are disrupted when her only brother, a newly ordained priest, Fr. Johnny (Marvin Agustin), is diagnosed of [sic] Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). As a sibling, Vangie is called upon to be a donor for Fr. Johnny’s bone marrow transplant. At first, Vangie is very reluctant. She has a clinical phobia for [sic] medical precedures, the reasons for which are rooted in an attempted, but botched, abortion which she suffered through many earlier and has since been troubled about. Her life is saved by Dr. Joey Lucas (Jomari Yllana) with whom she has a love child, and whom she eventually marries.

Vangie’s dysfunctional family gravitates around Fr. Johnny, and in their struggle to cope with his illness, find themselves drawn to INA (?!?), begging for her intercession. Their prayers are answered, not so much by way of a miraculous cure for Fr. Johnny, but by the grace of conversion, of love, of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope.

The trailer for this movie is a sentimental, sappy mess…very heavy-handed with our particularly emotional brand of Catholic fervour and melodrama, the swelling music hinting at the maudlin intercession of a venerated statue, the cheesiest kind of pulling-your-heartstrings dialogue, enough pathos-around-the-death-bed scenes to compete with Brideshead Revisited,  and mediocre shots of Filipino suburban ‘dysfunctional’ family life.

In a word, ghastly.

Approved by a dozen Catholic film and education boards, this is a film that kids will be forced to watch a dozen times during their years at school, now and forever, till Kingdom come, amen. Sort of the way we were regularly doused with The Selfish Giant or movies about Our Lady of Fatima. There are moral messages in this film on abortion, on separation, on having children out of wedlock, on adultery, on one’s flagging faith, on charity and selfless giving…when Marilou Diaz-Abaya throws a picnic, you get to eat every single part of the Sacred Cow. I fucking hope the audience is hungry!

But the work is of slight interest to me for one reason: parts of it show my parents’ home, where I grew up, and as the family is planning on selling this house (too large for Mum and Dad to manage, now that they live there by themselves) I may grab a DVD of the film, when it becomes available, to have something else to remember the big gabled house on Hill Drive by.

The following shots were taken by my Dad, who was thrilled to bits by all the hustle and bustle when the film crews moved in.

fake sunlight

The garden was greened up for the film, and a massive spotlight beamed into the dining room windows to imitate a brilliant early-morning sunlight while the crew shot, at all times of the day or night.

a boy's bedroom

One of the kids’ bedrooms (my brothers and I rotated occasionally, for a change of scenery, so we’ve all had this room at some point in our childhoods) was transformed into a little boy’s room for the film. It was never quite so thematically a kid’s room when we ourselves lived here! Don’t understand why, after all the trouble of assembling toys and painting walls blue, the curtains are so mismatched, and the bedsheets haven’t been ironed. I’m just being nit-picky. 🙂

We ourselves never had curtains in our bedrooms, there were wooden louvres to pull across the windows when we wanted privacy. The other bedroom is even funnier…was done up as a young woman’s room, with very stuffy boudoir old rose wallpaper and a dresser with Post-it notes like “Call Johnny” stuck to the mirror. My family continued to live in the house during the filming, with photographs of a family of actors arranged in frames atop the piano, and my thirty-something brother trying to live a normal life surrounded by an 8-year-old’s teddy bear and Star Wars collection.

crew in the house

For the record, here’s the official trailer. It’s not sub-titled, and I was disappointed to see so little of the actual house in it. No doubt there will be more glimpses in the actual film. Which I may steel myself with a vodka and cigarette some night, and watch.

Festive Faking for the Holidays

I have been experimenting with felt circles and embroidery for the past two days. I was trying to make flowers but—and I blame the Morphic field for this—everything I have made so far looks like an elaborately decorated cookie. Better than actually baking trays of cookies, at least. Me and sugar, we don’t like each other much.

At a time of the year when everyone in the Christianized world is baking pretty things, or is preoccupied with eating and decorating, with buying yet more things, and with social get-togethers of one kind or another, my lover and I are settling in for a couple of quiet weeks at home, to read some books, draw and paint, to make things, and ride out the Christmas storm on our boat…with the pelicans and the crocodiles, who don’t give a damn about it either.

We don’t make a big deal out of Christmas in my home.  I long ago decided that, as far as  my life was concerned,  the cons of Christianity far outweighed the pros. And if I can’t get excited about the substance behind the holiday, then I can’t really work up much enthusiasm for the empty shell of overeating, enforced heartiness, compulsory family reunions and frantic shopping that’s left. Furthermore, my belovéd and husband, Kris, was raised by atheist parents in communist Russia; when he did espouse a religion, he chose Islam, for its sobriety, circumspection, and austerity.

I, on the other hand, was raised in the Philippines, where the holiday that commemorates the birth of a boy to a Jewish-Aramaic couple takes the form of a nationwide hysteria that brings forth, among other delights,  13-hour gridlock traffic jams in the cities, a sharp incline in crime, and a plague of street-hardened-urchins-turned-‘carolers’ who descend upon people’s homes as soon as night falls, banging on large tin cans as viciously as they are able, shouting—

shouting, not singing (in their whole lives have these rough little imps heard a single word that was gently sung and not shrieked threateningly at them?)

—their carols in words so far removed from the language they were originally written in that they could not be more meaningless if they had been taken from the Ket language of Central Siberia (these kids don’t have a clue as to what they’re bellowing, it’s just a tradition of the season, god help us, and a lucrative one, and so it thrives.)

Quiet folk, who work for miserable wages all year so they can spend it at this time, escape their own homes (and the thirty groups of carolers that nightly beleaguer them) by going to the malls, where the Christmas decorations have been sparkling, and the Christmas music has been on shuffle-repeat, since October. It is also a tradition to squeeze, with thousands of others like them, into the parking lots, onto the escalators, into the food courts, down the shop aisles, and past the deft hands of the pickpockets of whom—along with traffic cops, urchins, beggars and muggers—it can honestly be said, love and value this time of the year more than anyone else.

To my adopted country, Australia,

You cannot imagine how refreshing it was to arrive in a city where “the Christmas Spirit” didn’t follow you home, caterwaul outside your front door in a pack, prowl around the back of your house nicking any small thing that was foolishly left in the garden (like the stepladder at my mom’s house, last year), and then run a roofing nail along the side of your car as it left. Thank you for leaving us in peace. I love you.


Christmas dinner at home, when the last of the carolers had rattled noisily away at 10 p.m., was an emotionally fraught affair. The combined stresses of having to endure your family and possibly other relatives for long stretches of time (maybe even having gone shopping and then sat in 4 hours of traffic with them), Mum’s brittle exhaustion from having done “all the work”, Dad’s peevish, infantile insistence that nobody touch the food on the table until he had taken a dozen blah photographs of it (like we would never eat again? it’s just food. get over it. we’re starving. it’s late.), the bickering that would break out among us while we were eating, and then more fights after dinner as paterfamilias tried to drag everyone to church for the midnight service, despite our feeling quite the opposite of loving, peaceful, joyful…

Santa suit in the bottom drawerOh, Christmas! Your every little scrap of prescribed, fabricated festivity, the comic wretchedness of the Christian, suburban, middle-class family bound by tradition to punish itself this way, year after year, is lodged in my memory like the splintered bones of roast bird. I consider myself lucky to have escaped your rosy red claws, at last.

If you are crazy about your family, you don’t need a time like Christmas to remind yourself or to display that affection. If you’re not all that crazy about your family, not even Christmas with The Puppini Sisters in Dolby Sound can make it better.