Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Book Heaven

In a Powerbooks warehouse sale we went to last year, we overheard a little girl squeal at the sight of piles upon piles of cheap and lovely books, “This is heaven!”

My heaven will have a lot of books too. I've always loved books. My love for reading started with my lolo's Readers' Digests that were lying all around the house in Pangasinan when I took my summer vacations there. He encouraged me to read by giving me money to buy Funny comics. (I have a lot of booklover friends who started out on Funny comics. It's inexplicable.) I moved on to Nancy Drew, Sweet Dreams, Sweet Valley, Judy Blume. Now I read everything I can get my hands on (except that I don't pretend to like profound or complicated intellectual stuff). I remember when I was pregnant I devoured all the childbirth books I could find (not just What to Expect When You're Expecting) bcoz it was the one way I could think of (well, books and our Lamaze classes, that is) to arm myself in what was previously uncharted territory for me.

An ideal afternoon for me is lying on the hammock with a good book, say, the latest from Neil Gaiman, or some easy reading chick lit from Jennifer Weiner or Sophie Kinsella, something from Oprah's Book Club, Harry Potter all over again, or some obscure thing I bought all bcoz it happened to have a nice cover. I love to try out new authors too and derive great pleasure out of seeing my favorite books that nobody else seems to have heard of suddenly turned into big-budget Hollywood films. Last year, there was Reese Witherspoon's Just Like Heaven, which was adapted from If Only It Were True which my sis and I read and loved from way back. Recently I heard that Richard Gere is doing The Bee Season, this heartbreaking novel I read last summer. It's the same satisfaction I felt in high school when I borrowed stuff like Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace and Of Mice and Men from the library and my friends started looking at me like I was a weirdo, until our literature teacher gave us our reading list which included the books I've been reading all along. It's like vindication, like my tastes aren't so bad after all, and that maybe I have some culture in me after all.

I'm loyal to my favorite authors so I have shelves upon shelves of books by the same people (Anita Shreve, Anne Tyler, Roald Dahl, Robert Fulghum, Maeve Bincy, Larry Mc Murtry, who would later co-write the Brokeback screenplay). I could spend my entire salary on books, I swear. There's just something about the smell and feel of a new book. And you can always go back to your favorite parts if you feel like crying or cracking up one more time, or you can just read the entire book over and over again. And yet the thing about books is, you don't even have to own them, you can just borrow a fellow bookworm's and the stories can stay with you just the same. It's not like a favorite pair of jeans that you have to own and wear to show off. With a book, you can read it once and bring it with you in your mind and in your heart and re-tell the story to whoever's willing to listen anytime and anywhere.

My great recent reads include a memoir from Claire Fordham, which offers a unique peek into the life of her famous sister Julia from the point of view of an older and crazier sib. I've also just finished another memoir, an amazing one by a girl who was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, this unbelievably awful thing that a parent can do to a child. Over Holy Week I finished The Lovely Bones, as narrated by a dead girl who was raped and murdered by a serial rapist/killer in the neighborhood. It was written by Alice Sebold, who I learned was herself raped while a freshman in college.

I'm looking for a bookmark I once had. It had a great quote from some great philosopher like Demosthenes or something. It says something like, if I have money I buy books, and if there is any left over I buy food and clothes.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Three of the things I love best about moving to my present job are the yellow-blossomed trees in Miriam and Ateneo, the flame trees inside the office compound, and the sunflowers along University Ave, in that order. 

I'm a big sunflowers fan.  I think it all started when I saw this lovely photo in the front page of Inquirer, of a group of bikers in Tour de France cycling past what looked like acres and acres of sunflowers.  It reminded me of the movie Sunflower, whose story my parents told us about, starring Sophia Lauren as a young bride who would run thru sunflower fields everyday to await the return of her husband who was fighting in the war.  Since then, I collected sunflower paraphernalia like stationeries, picture frames, plates, little clocks and the like.  I even wrote a story in Sinag (anonymously) about this girl who hated sunflowers bcoz the guy who was the love of her life was going out with a girl who was obsessed with sunflower accessories.  It was a really silly story, but my friends loved it. (I guess that's what friends are for.) 

At first glance, sunflowers may look like some kind of monsters with their vast brown centers that seem capable of swallowing human beings alive.  But for me they seem even more delicate and rare than roses and orchids.  I guess bcoz you never just see them anywhere, only in special places like Baguio and Tagaytay and, well, UP.  You know that someone planted them there and they are exactly where they were meant to be.  There's just something so amazing too about how they always face the sun.  Rommel said they point you to the direction of the sun even on rainy days.  Oh I know there's got to be some scientific explanation for it but it's one of those things where I feel I'm better off not knowing and believing it's magic instead. 

The sunflowers in Univ Av weren't always there (or they would've been enough reason for me to take summer classes).  Ches and I started seeing them after we graduated already.  Now that I work nearby I saw that the work actually starts early March when a bunch of guys dig in the ground and plant the seeds.  The first flowers appear around a month after and last until the middle of May.  I am proud of UP's spirit to go thru the expense and effort of putting on this sunflower show every summer.  It reminds me of a story I read after a big earthquake hit Kobe, about someone who went around giving flowers to the survivors, bcoz she said that, while they needed food and clothes to stay alive, they needed flowers too to cheer their souls up.

Last year Yoshi and I had our picture taken among the sunflowers.  He was in his Batman costume then.  Maybe this year I'll manage to get him into his Barney costume.  Maybe it can be our annual thing.  Pops has this series of pictures in a particular spot in Mine's View Park in Baguio, from when he was a kid to bachelor to father (with me wrapped around his waist) and the last pix (so far) with him carrying Yosh when he was barely a year old.  Never fails to crack us up when we see them. 

The only question is, for how long will I have the power to boss Yoshi around (or did I ever have that power?) until he decides he's had enough of me and my silly ideas.  I'm hoping that's still a long way off.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ode to Summer

Spent the Holy Week with my in-laws in Tarlac and lola in Pangasinan. The heat would've been unbearable if Yosh didn't talk all the way. He likes to mix things up, so that mommy's name becomes Chester and daddy's name becomes Jewel, and green light means stop and red light means go, go, go. It cracks him up. He derives pleasure out of the maddest things. Flushing toilets, for example. He grabs every opportunity to go to the CR, flush the friggin toilet and come out clapping in glee. He's the official flusher of the Austria household.

In the province, he can't get enough of watching the pigs and would stay the whole day in the sty if we let him. He'd also strip at the mere sight of water in a basin, plop down on it and splash around. He calls my Lola Donnie "Lola Donut". He has a twisted sense of humor, I swear. We went to Lola Cording's store and while we adults were savoring what has got to be the best halo-halo in the entire earth, he got busy hoarding the shampoo and toothpaste sachets, C2, Yakult and Nips. Mental note: cannot venture into the grocery business while Yoshi is in this stage. We'll never be able to sell anything bcoz he'll want to keep them all to himself. Or at least the items that he sees in ads.

Before Yosh, my summer vacations in the province used to be quite different. In the mornings I'd help my lola sweep up the yard surrounding the house. And then we'll have breakfast of egg and something, maybe tuyo or tapa. (In all the years I knew him, my lolo ate the same breakfast of oatmeal, boiled egg and banana, plus the multicolored medicines that I mistook as M&Ms as a child). If it was Monday or Wednesday or Friday when the market was open, then we go and she’ll buy me Chippy and Curly Tops and I'll be so happy. She'll cook some exotic lunch like adobong pusit without all the black ink or inihaw na liempo dipped in onions and soy sauce or this kind of flat and tasty fish that's not likely to be within our present household budget. By noon they'd already be settled in their nap, while I go off and play with my dolls and plates or climb trees and eat fruits on the roof.

The yard is a virtual fruit paradise, with trees of mango, santol, guava, pomelo, duhat, caimito, aratiles, camachile, langka, atis, sampaloc. If it was my lucky day, my lola would make leche flan for me for merienda. In the late afternoons she'll sweep the yard some more while I water the plants. (To this day, the smell of dried leaves burning still transports me back to my happy childhood summers in Pangasinan with grandparents who taught me the meaning of unconditional love - I didn't have to be anything or do anything at all, and they loved me to bits anyway. I'd like to believe they still do now, up in heaven.) Dinner was always early, too, before the bells in the nearby church tolled at 6 PM. After dinner, my lolo would sit in his hammock and if he was in the mood for it tell us his World War I and II stories of dodging bombs and Japanese soldiers and seeing black pigs spewing smoldering charcoal and mats that open in the middle of the road when he goes home late from teaching. I didn't need TV back then for entertainment.

Oh, it wasn't always that blissful. There was the drama of cousins who were jealous of the affections of my grandparents. And then my grandparents grew old and weak and had to depend on helpers to even just take them around the house. No more sweeping and marketing for my dear lola. That was sad. And then I fell in love for the first time the summer I was fifteen, with this guy who went to the Christian chapel nearby. I was obsessed with him long after that summer and I came back to QC. He was there in my thoughts while I rode the school bus and solved Trigo problems and attended my senior year retreat. He wrote me this sweet love letter on his birthday. He sent me macadamia nuts when his family moved to Hawaii. I think he loved me in his own way, but he also broke my heart, big time. I fondly think of him as My First Big Love, among The Ones Who Got Away. Sigh.

Broken hearts notwithstanding, I hope that Yoshi and my future kids can someday have the kind of summers that I had more than my share of, one filled with simple pleasures and the beauty of nature and enduring love.

Monday, April 10, 2006

For My QT Friends

Met up with my QT friends the other night. It's the best fun I've had in ages. I've known these guys since we joined the law office in November 2000, altho Andrea and Dendee joined us later, and Jon has been my and Ches' classmate since PolSci, Chuchi and Mailyn were also from UP undergrad, Donemark was our classmate in law and Rhoel is also from UP Law (tho we never paid much attention to each other there, and I'd never have thought he would turn out to be one of my dearest, sweetest friends who just spreads laughter and love wherever he goes and who can be counted on, without fail, to be a kuya when you need one). We usually say people grew up together when they've been together since childhood or something, but in the span of time we were in QT, Mailyn, Loudette, and I got married and had our first babies, Donemark and Dendee ended up together, too, and now have a baby girl, Andrea and Jon had a son (not with each other, of course), and if that isn't growing up together I don't know what is.

We're the batch that had to endure what has got to be the latest release of bar results ever. The Supreme Court was quite busy that year with Erap's impeachment followed by issues on the constitutionality of Gloria's succession into the presidency. Those were exciting times for Philippine politics but we underbars in QT were slowly dying since February without a clue on whether we were going to be lawyers or not, until May 2 when, thank God, we all made it. (I distinctly remember the date bcoz it was two nights after that Ches proposed to me. He had to make sure he was marrying a lawyer. Grrr.) Jon even topped the bar, and Dendee and Andrea were numbers 8 and 9, while the rest of us all claim to be at least in the Top 30s ha ha.

From the original 11, only 4 remain in the law office. It would've been down to 3 if Chuchi didn't go back, for reasons only she can fathom (I love you, Chuch!) But we still manage to stay in touch (dapat lang, in this age of email and text) and get together for our kids' birthdays and baptisms, Christmas, or for no reason at all (altho Donemark's ever increasing billable hours and million dollar bonuses are always a cause for celebration). And in all these gimmicks we somehow always end up talking about our QT days of adventure and woe. Oh, we talk about Mayie's new job and Rhoel's new date and the glistening rock on Chuchi's finger, but what really brings the house down is talk about the time we asked Precy to buy us like 10 sundae cones from McDo and the poor ate had to carry the things with only her two hands in the sweltering sun of Buendia up to the 11th floor of Pacific Star, or our reaction (especially from the UP end) when we got our first paycheck and saw a figure much smaller than what was promised us during our interviews (yun pala it didn't include the allowances), Donemark's drunken antics in Subic and Tagaytay Highlands (before he started making the moves on Dendee), the anarchy sign that Jon always manages to incorporate in his Christmas party costume no matter what the theme (be it Jazz Up Your Denims or Wild Wild West or whatever at all), and Chuchi's rendition of Papa Don't Preach and Loudette's La Isla Bonita and the whole group's Always Something There to Remind Me and Copacabana. And no matter how many times we reminisce about these things, we still end up hooting and squealing in laughter with tears running down our cheeks. Never fails.

When I resigned from the law office, my other friends mused that they couldn't believe I lasted that long in there in the first place. Well, the hefty salary kept me going, that's for sure. But it was really my batchmates, the same group I've had lunch with practically every working day for almost five years, who I know love me despite my being a little (ok, a lot) on the maldita and mukhang pera side. I stayed and loved it bcoz I made good friends there.

Really, really good ones.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Day Three: Ocean Adventure

We went around the area one last time before we checked out after lunch. There was a Spanish gate that I've read has been there since the 1800s. We also went to the chapel, which I loved bcoz it was so small and quaint. I love churches. I love how so much art goes into them, and how they bear witness to so much history, personal or national or whatever. Of course, we just had to pass by the duty-free shops to get pasalubong for my fellow chocoholic friends in the office - white Toblerone for Pau, Twix for Thom, Cadbury for Sheng, Kinder Bueno for Didoy and Butterfingers for Rommel (tho this guy's a healthy eater and not much of a chocolate fan).

We head to Ocean Adventure where Ches buys Yosh an obscenely overpriced lasagna and Gatorade that he initially refuses to even touch. The first attraction was the Sea Lion Show with sea lions named Brandy and Thalia "talking" on the mic, dancing, doing handstands and stuff. It was greatly entertaining and kids and adults alike laughed and clapped appreciatively. For me, it helped a lot that the trainers were these two hunks who had nice tans and wide smiles and good English. Of course, when the show ended, Yosh started screaming "Barney naman!" Aargh. You take your child to all these places, you expose them to all these new adventures hoping to stimulate their little brains and after all the expense and effort, at the end of the day they still look for their stupid obsessions like shampoos and that purple dinosaur, anyway.

There was also the Whale and Dolphin Show where the trainers swam and did water ballet with the huge animals. I love how the trainers petted and kidded around with the animals even outside the scripts for the shows. It's amazing how you can be friends with even the scariest creatures if you just know how to approach them. We also saw aquariums with the most colorful and amazing fishes, an exhibit on the different endangered species of turtles, and a sanctuary for monkeys rescued from bad humans.

Dinner was in Razon's in Guagua where the bestsellers halo-halo and palabok did not fail, but the real discoveries were the tortang pandesal (with crabmeat and shrimp)and the chicharon. Good enough to die for, but I hope Ches considers them good enough to drive all that way for. All in all, a fitting end to our wild weekend adventure.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Day Two: Swimming and Safari

We went to the beach first thing after breakfast. It was searing hot and the water was salty and there were too many people and the beach was the farthest cry from Boracay so I stayed under the coconut shade and texted my sis and blew bubbles until Yoshi had enough of the water and/or Ches had enough running after him. Lunch in Jollibee bcoz Yosh was insisting on playing in the Playplace (or is that for McDo) and in my 2 1/2 years of motherhood I have learned that it's ok to give in to your toddler sometimes if it will make life easier for everyone concerned.

We head to Crown Peak to check out the mini-zoo that Pam suggested. We were directed instead to a bat viewing place with the warning that the bats were probably not there at that time of the day. So we proceed to Zoobic Safari where we were greeted by big tigers lazing in their cages and a couple of small ones cavorting in a mini-pool. The tour started with the guide leading us thru a zoo nestled among tall trees. She was quite knowledgeable. According to her, ferrets are active only at dusk and at dawn. I can so be a ferret.

Rams and pigs roamed freely, and we saw strange animals that we only read about in the flesh for the first time (like the sugar glider and pot-bellied black pigs and guinea fowls). There were animal tirvia posted all over the place, ranging from the utterly useless (Rats don't vomit) to the surprisingly sensible (It is physically impossible for pigs to look up to the sky) to the possibly practical (To break a crocodile's jaw grip, poke your thumb into his eyeballs). The most exciting part was when we rode this jeepney that had railings all over (like a prison vehicle) and we went to this part where tigers were set loose and you could bait them with live chickens to come near and swarm all over the jeepney. Fun.

It was also exciting for Yosh when he threw his favorite Speedo cap into the turtle pond. He's in a throwing and spilling stage. We drove with the windows down and he promptly threw his baby oil out into the road. He also spilled his bubbles in the carpet, his water and milk in the car... He also has this new thing where when adults around him talk about things other than him or things he can relate to (like snooty bosses or electricity bills), he'd say "No talking!" Hello?! I didn't carry him around in my womb for nine months and labor for 14 hours without anesthesia just so he can tell me to shut up. Duh. He also said, more than once, "No driving, Daddy, bcoz drink C2 ako!" He brought Bobby and Sasha (his imaginary friends) in Subic too, coz he was yelling around for them just like he did in Boracay. (They were absent in Hongkong bcoz I guess they don't have passports.) And in the end, after all that wildlife, he only had this to say: "Cream Silk and Vaseline naman!" Groan.

Dinner was in The Coffee Shop in Olongapo City. Pam was right about the tacos - so big and tasty and sulit. Sometimes Ches manages to choose the right friends.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Day One: The Great Escape

My little family went to Subic to celebrate Ches' birthday and the conclusion of my big project in the office. Yoshi loved the billboards along the highway. He'd clap and squeal and bounce up and down his seat at the sight of huge Cream Silk and Close Up billboards. As soon as we got into the hotel, he was chanting, "We're-in-Subic! we're-in-Subic!" Ches and I couldn't have thought of a better nickname for him (it means "happy" in Japanese). Or maybe we could've given him the Japanese equivalent of "crazy" - he insisted on playing the Christmas CD he found in the car, so we had to listen to Winter Wonderland in the sweltering summer heat.

Lunch was porkchops and ice cream in Wimpy's. Really good and quite reasonable. It was recommended by Pam, Ches' friend from work who's from Olongapo and who so nicely prepared a list of must-sees and must-trys for us.

We stayed in Boardwalk Inn, right along - you'll never guess - the boardwalk, which Yoshi enjoyed running to and fro after his nap. He started singing "Tara na, byahe tayo" when he saw the water, I guess bcoz of Regine's commercial which was shot in the waters. He's really funny. There was also a playground with big slides and a park right in front of our hotel, and a few blocks away there was another park with the monument of the 12 senators who voted against the US bases and same such stuff. It's a perfect place for strolling around or just lazing on the benches on hot summer days and nights. We also waded in the water towards a lighthouse that I thought at first was one of those historical types but which turned out to be just nearing completion.

Dinner was burger steak and chicken in Meat Plus, again from Pam's list, and recommended by Didoy, too. It was Ches' birthday dinner and it was really tasty and filling. The apple pie a la mode was the best I've ever had. I was raving so much about it I think Ches got worried that it would turn into something like my Digman halo-halo obsession and I'd compel him one way or the other to take me there for merienda on weekends.

It was Ches' lucky night. We got to see a rehearsal of something called Beach Bodies 2006, with these nubile girls modeling and dancing and stuff in their skimpy summer attire. We also saw a poster for the beach beauty search or something, and Ches mused that I shouldn't join bcoz then there wouldn't be a contest, that I would win hands down as the "queen bitch". Ok, four more hours and it's officially not his birthday anymore and this guy will be a complete goner.