Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Noli 2017

Found this book while searching for another; dropped the search and started to read this Filipino version by Virgilio Almario. Now I know why I found it so easy in high school: we had skipped many tedious chapters, mostly about religious and philosophical digressions, and pedantic quotes going back to Roman orators and classical writers. Now, although my interest remains strong, I just wish I don't find it too hard going through narrations of tepid protagonists and wilting young ladies manipulated by murderous priests and ugly harridans. After a chapter or two I have to put the book down for a while, to stop my head whirling through 130 years of events. Rizal finished writing this novel at 11:30 p.m. of 1886 February 21. I put down a modern, translated copy for a while, and Silver uses it as a pillow. My rest is extended.

Tentatively titled "Sampagas," 2000 copies came off the press on March 29, giving this country the most famous Latin phrase ever: Noli Me Tangere. He gave the first bound copy to his friend, Maximo Viola, who defrayed the P300 needed to publish Rizal's first novel. A sequel would follow a few years later, after his family, along with other tenant-farmers, was evicted from Calamba. He did not get the chance to finish a third book he had started because he was executed 10 years, six months, seven hours and 34 minutes after the Noli was born.

Noli Me Tangere was derived from John 20:17, wherein Christ, just resurrected, told Mary Magdalene, who was searching for him and found his tomb empty, "Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father..." Almario's version, like most modern translations, resurrected the "missing chapter" in Rizal's original, Spanish edition. Lacking fund in 1886, Rizal decided to omit what would have been Chapter 25, which introduced Salome, the woman the fugitive Elias loved. Salome lived alone in a hut in a remote corner of the forest, always pining and hoping that her man would return to her safely. It was not be, just as Juan Crisostomo would lose Maria Clara, just as Rizal lost Leonor, just as the Filipinos would lose their revolutions and, up to now, would be searching for leaders in high office who would not betray them. Until then we search for the touchstone of salvation.

What Rizal saw

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ding 2012-2017

Ding (August 2012-22 February 2017)

In 2012 there still stood across the end of our short street a jackfruit tree, under which garbage were heaped for collectors to pick up. That's also where newborn kittens were thrown, their cries for hunger and warmth unheeded by commuters waiting for rides to work. One August morning, just after habagat Gener, the non-typhoon which was almost as destructive as Ondoy, Leena heard such piercing cries emanating from one wet skin-and-bones creature in the trash pile, awaiting the garbage crew or sometime crawling out, to be crushed by the wheels of sporting jeepney drivers. Calling home, Leena asked Neneng to get the kitten and see what can be done. That was how Ding joined our family of many pets -- four dogs, a big aquarium full of fishes, one bird in a cage, and several Ragdolls, friendly Maine Coon Cordell, three Belgians, Persian MauMau, British Shorthair Ruby and kitten Silver, and uncountable rescue cats, strays and occasional visitors to our dirty kitchen, where food is always available for all.

Neneng wrapped the thin, wet and hungry kitten in a cloth to stop her shivering. The strong rain must have prevented the garbage crew from coming and throwing the cat into oblivion. We did not want to think how many days and nights the kitten was soaked, wailing in the night, and if he had siblings whose strength and cries were slowly muffled and finally silenced, their arrival unrecorded. Neneng took one of the small feeding bottles in the kitchen, filled it with lukewarm water and milk, and cradled the kitten while it eagerly sucked the lifegiving nourishment. We wondered, briefly, if the mother cat survived the strong monsoon rains; we let the thought pass: we can only do so much.

The naming ritual followed. Neneng usually took the convenient way of naming the rescued kittens by the months they joined the family, so we have April (female), May or Mimi, JunJun, July, Steve (for September). But that August the big event was the big monsoon rain that hit Luzon, so the new kid became Gener; but Melay remarked that Gener was sort of baduy, so the name was adjusted to Ding. By the manner the ginger-and-white kitten emptied the bottle, Ding apparently was at the point of starvation, shown by the the ribs sticking out of his frail body. Becoming a surrogate mother to a kitten is arduous: it entails bringing the baby bottle to the kitten every two hours, including getting up several times at night, until the day the little one can eat solid food. After a few weeks Ding's flesh rounded out; at night he nestled on Neneng's neck for warmth and blissful sleep. 

Kittens, or any other creatures for that matter, are good-natured and trusting at birth; their environment later would determine if they remain so. A cat, or a boy child, growing up in the street, fighting others for scraps of food, would become tough, sneaky, fleet, defensive and mistrustful. Theft becomes a mode of survival; so does the ability to dodge rocks aimed at them, to escape from boys, armed with pipes or slingshots, hunting them for fun. Cats have earned the undeserved reputation of being scratchers, but streetkids have the same disposition -- always ready for flight and, if necessary, for a fight with whatever weapon is at hand: an improvised knife (instead of claws), teeth, and agility to hit and run. Cats who grew up with people who invariably treated tham gently, gave them treats, delighted them with strokes and tickled their chins have learned to trust people, expecting the same treatments from visitors. And, as children do, they play a lot, unconcerned with breed, color of skin, gender or family background. Grownup humans have a lot to learn from children and other creatures we share this Earth with. Play consists of running, skipping, jumping, hiding, wrestling, light bites, playful exchange of punches -- all over the house. Since we started having cats, all vases, bottles and anything they can topple and break have become just memories. Our unfulfilled wish is that none in our menagerie becomes a memory.

Ding and Jango playing tag 2012

As the days and years passed, Ding learned to roam with the other foundlings and strays throughout the neighborhood, coming home to eat for a while then jumping on the fence and did whatever cats do all afternoon. When the sun went down Neneng would go to the dirty kitchen and call the cats home -- Ding! JunJun! Pogi! Bai! Steve! Lord! Bas! (named after Leena's editor colleague). And the tin roofs all around would rumble with running feet headed for home. By the time the moon glowed big and silver, the cats settled in their appointed niche and slumbered while we humans read or watched TV. Early next morning Ding would softly stroll on the edge of the wall separating our house and the neighbor's and off he would go, scouring our neighborhood which cats know more than human residents do. 

Three weeks ago, Ding did not respond to Neneng's call, a deviation from routine, which puzzled her. Neneng searched for him next day, calling his name. Ding appeared, slipping under our neighbor's gate. He seemed all right -- no sign of injury, no limp, body sleek and clean. Neneng offered him food; she became slightly worried when Ding scarcely touched the kibbles and barely lapped the water in the bowl. The following day, when Ding stopped partaking food nor water, Neneng reported the problem to Leena. After having gone through many cases involving cats, Leena easily recognized trouble and immediately brought Ding to Animal House in Cubao. After examining Ding, the doctor confined him to bed, where an IV tube was inserted in Ding's vein so liquid food would sustain him. A catheter enabled Ding to expel the urine which his damaged kidney could no longer do. After four days the doctor gently told Leena that it would be better if she took Ding home; meaning, the doctor cannot operate on Ding because the cat, in his weakened state, would not survive the procedure. Ease Ding through his remaining days. And Ding returned home. Neneng and Manilyn together, thrice a day for three weeks more or less, forced him to take his hydrite and antibiotic with his food. It is relected on each of our pet's gentle and trusting nature the affection, patience, and care with which Neneng, Marilyn, Leena, and me (in my limited capacity) were able to extend to all. We all adjusted.

Leena and Ding
We were supposed to celebrate Manilyn's birthday on February 22; however, it's Neneng recollection of that day that remains vivid. "Parang hinintay lang ako ni Ding nung umaga," Neneng said. "Paglapit ko tumayo siya at nag-meow nang mahina at naupo siya. Tapos tumayo uli, pero maya-maya ay natumba na, at habol-hinga siya hanggang wala na." Neneng cried when she recalled the loss of her pet, her ward, her child. Ding was buried under the mango tree, where he keeps company with Rex, the Chow Chow patriarch, and so many kittens mourned and loved. 

Here then is the record of Ding's short life, cushioned by food and play and some comfort, filled with Neneng's love and devotion. The earth abides. So do we.

Ding at food bowl: all grown up

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Small things

It's an x-shaped kibble, one of hundreds in a small bag of cat food, except that this particular one was seen being carried away by a cockroach from the food bowl. Hefting the comparatively heavy loot, the insect was quite agile, its six legs deftly scurrying on its escape route on the floor, while the mouth maintained its captivity of the prize.

I'm guessing that the thieving cockroach, in spite of its designation, is a female, violating its nocturnal nature to search for food for the little cockies that have recently emerged from their eggshells. And she has stumbled upon a small mountain of delectable treats heaped on a stainless bowl. Then she snatched one x, skittered down, and ran its erratic course.

Big Boy, a Ragdoll-Shorthair mixed breed, stopped licking his feet when his ears picked up pitter-pattter of small feet, his eyes followed the imaginary dotted line which was quickly lengthening away from his food bowl. He pounced, but the fur kept his paw from reaching the maverick mom, whose path had suddenly become wobbly and tottering. Still, at the risk of life and limb, she struggled to keep her loot. Only after several near-misses did she ditch the kibble and wedged herself into a crack in the closet.

One may ask, how do you determine the gender of a cockroach? And, does it not seem incongruous to give a female such a name as cockroach? After all, have not the Post Office mended its sexist attitude and, beginning in 2005 and as seen this year of our Lord 2017, revised the Year of the Cock to focus on the delicate Rooster instead. In this enlightened time, it does not matter if the rooster is tough meat or gay as a hen: a fowl with any other name, well, he has a nom de plume. And, for that matter, how do you think a male ladybug would feel if it understood human words? A male species of Dalagang Bukid should be afforded an extenuating excuse if once in a while it ran amuck under the sea bed.

As to the question of gender determination, Sherlock Holmes had observed that any species unencumbered by offspring to feed, will gallivant for days, eating where it finds itself hungry, and leaving leftovers behind. And that cockcroach mom, the one who got away from the cat, was not eating the food she had hijacked: she had intended to bring it to the her little ones. But Big Boy intervened, and a family went hungry for the day, like hundreds of thousands of human family.

That despairing cockroach mom is, as a US dollar will remark, "E pluribus unum" -- Out of many, one. I used to take umbrage at the fact that George Washington should be assigned to the lowest denomination of the currency of a nation that was once great but is now occupied by babbling idiots led by one Donald Trump. Same thing with Rizal, who used to reside in the one peso banknote, until that paper money was done away with, in favor of a coin which kept getting tinny and tiny with every passing generation. Then I learned that common sense is counter-intuitive: What seems bad is really good, if people can only hurdle over their -- what's that alternative term for human nature? -- moronic notions. One dollar or one peso is the lowest denomination, therefore it is the denomination most people can afford, therefore it is the most familiar currency at hand. Go lower or higher and the people behind those currencies get harder to know. One centavo, when it existed in the 1970s (or was it 1980s?), was Tandang Sora, made of material that made it float on water. Then was it Lapu-Lapu on the tiny square coin? Name the three people in the P1,000 bill, and even if you get the names right you most probably doesn't know why they are there. And even if you do, so what? This is about kibbles and roaches (and Big Boy); Quijano de Manila's "Small Beers"; Hawking's Big Bang, which requires you to understand microscopic units so that you may understand the existence of huge nebulae billions of light-years high, and as far; and e.e. cummings' poem about someone with small hands, which nobody, not even the rain, can have. I just hope Cummings meant that that someone was a woman. I dropped all of Shakespeare's sonnets after I read somewhere that they were all written with another man in his mind. Somehow my small mind cannot accommodate the huge talent behind those universal verses anymore. Henceforth I confine myself to x-rated kibbles.

Big Boy, the cockroach-chaser

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Remembering father

Bought this at a Book Sale branch for the stupefying price of P35, cheaper than a pack of Poland hopia. Here I learned that the Japanese invasion of China was much earlier than I thought, which explains my father's immigration to the Philippines, and my subsequent appearance in this world. If not for the beastly Japanese colonizers and murderers, I and my siblings would not be here at all?

David Kwan's description of events in a vicious time, in a country controlled by the corrupt General Chiang Kai Shek, might explain why those who had fled preferred the rebel Mao Tse Tung. In 1975, Mao's chubby visage in large posters proliferated in Chinese book stores in Binondo, shortly after Marcos initiated diplomatic ties with the Red republic. I was then studying in Chiang Kai Shek High School, and learning from Barbara Tuchman's "Stilwell and the American Experience in China" how the general and his profligate wife pocketed millions of American dollars, sent for the purpose of defeating the communist rebels and maintaining Chiang's unwieldy but amenable regime. Much later, Marcos and Imelda would outstrip the Chiang couple in stealing American dollars. It was truly an educational time: There were treasures everywhere!

Maybe the old people who could have appreciated Kwan's narrative are already gone, and the new generation doesn't have the capacity to relate to a time blown to dust, leaving such a book to me, a leaf wobbling in the wind. One thing not to be forgotten was my father's gentle disposition with animals: We always had a lot of dogs and, in hindsight, they were part of the family setting. What my brother, sisters and I never saw was the cow which had been my father's companion, helper and friend way back in a peasant's farm in China. Maybe there was barely anything good to recall in my father's youth, so there was no story of his days in China; but one distinct fact was impressed upon me early on -- my father never ate beef.

Is this about me and my father? Perhaps. Because David Kwan's book is mainly about him and his father, in a backdrop harsh but distant now. And for P35, it can be about any boy remembering his father.

In happier times in Angeles City, father with one of the dogs, and fresh paint