Thursday, October 30, 2008

Warms the heart, feeds the soul

Last week my cousin Fanny baked a batch of muffins (mango walnut oatmeal and apple walnut oatbran) and posted photos of her yummy creations on her Multiply. If Atsi Fan were still living a street away from us I would have dropped by to sample some (even without being invited, hehe), or at least hung around the kitchen to get a good whiff of the fresh-out-of-the-oven aroma. But Atsi Fan now lives in Zamboanga, so I can only salivate over the photos of the muffins she made.

For me, muffins are a prime example of comfort food. Even the sound of the word "muffin" evokes a warm, fuzzy feeling. And then there's the wonderful smell of wholesome goodness, and when I bite into one, it's like someone I love giving me a big hug. It's like... home.

That's the ultimate definition of comfort food, I suppose: food that reminds us of home. For example, my mom likes soup (more than any normal person should). She likes it so much that every single meal served in our house has to include soup, regardless of what kind. I think it's because when she was growing up, her mom served soup with every meal too.

But comfort food isn't limited to stuff our moms used to make all the time when we were kids. My mom never baked muffins (my mom never baked anything), and she actually didn't like it when our cook prepared sopas
(creamy macaroni soup) or cheesy spaghetti because she's lactose-intolerant (that's why I had to make my own grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza toasts). Any kind of food that summons happy memories of childhood can be considered comfort food. Aside from the aforementioned, mine include tim neng (Chinese steamed egg custard), chicken "pie" (they were more of cupcake-shaped chicken a la king pastry) from DEC, my grandma's signature meatballs, crema de fruita from Goldilocks, native hot chocolate (kakao), and old school Magnolia strawberry ice cream (not the new crap Nestle makes now). And I could go on and on for hours, especially if my sibs joined me in reminiscing about the food we loved as kids.

What about you, dear readers? What are your favorite comfort foods? Go ahead and share your warm, fuzzy feelings. =D

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From the mouths of babes

Last weekend, Yang and Angelo brought their just-turned-7 son Joaquin to our village to go trick-or-treating. I joined them to get some (much-needed) exercise and to serve as navigator (a navigator who lost her bearings), and afterwards we all headed to my house to rehydrate and rest our weary feet. My parents happened to be home, and because they hadn't seen Joaquin since he was a toddler, they were bowled over to see how big he's gotten.

Then a cute thing happened as my mom was ushering the Quimsons into our lanai so Joaquin could watch TV. My mom was saying something, when Joaquin, looking up at her, suddenly told her, with the kind of innocent candor only a child has, "You laugh like Tita Ailee." My mom and I exchanged a look of amused surprise, and laughed our supposedly similar laugh. We have heard many people remark on how we look alike (although I actually resemble my dad), how we're built alike, how we sound alike, how we act alike, but this was the first time anyone's ever commented on how we laugh alike. I don't know if it's because a 7-year-old has keener perception, or if a child simply observes different things from adults. Whatever the case, it was a refreshing, unexpectedly touching moment, and even the day after it had my mom and me still smiling over it.

Speaking of things that make me laugh and smile, I am ridiculously hooked on How I Met Your Mother (Hanks and I are on Season 3 now), and I am madly crushing on Barney (yeah, I know he's a sleaze, so what)/Neil Patrick Harris (yeah, I know he's gay, so what). Here are 2 awesomely adorable videos I found on YouTube, to make all of you smile too:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bookworm's progress report #3, 2008

Yes, I realize it's been a long, long while since I posted one of these. But hey, at least I managed to finish reading something, even if I've been making little headway in crossing off titles on my reading list.

So these are what I have read since June (yes, it's been 4 months):

Love in the Time of Cholera

What is it about Latinos that makes them so sexy? Even a love story about septuagenarians becomes sexy when penned by celebrated author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera's protagonist Florentino Ariza falls head over heels for proud beauty Fermina Daza, who breaks his heart and marries wealthy Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Decades and many affairs later, an old but still impassioned Florentino Ariza shows up at Urbino's wake to profess his love for the doctor's widow, in the hopes of finally being with the woman of his dreams. This touching tale of devotion-bordering-on-obsession shows the gravity of the side effects of that overpowering disease called love, as well as reveals some oft-overlooked truths about love, romance and marriage. The non-linear narration is effective as it shows the contrasts between the impetuous emotions of the young and the pragmatic sensibilities of the old, as well as the changes seen in the characters as they age. The marked shifts in Fermina Daza's personality are most notable, as she is transformed from headstrong, haughty girl to proper, devoted wife and later, dignified widow. The effects of love on her may not be as drastic or dramatic as Florentino Ariza's cholera-like symptoms, but they are just as evident, and more realistic besides. I liked all the central characters, including the benevolent Dr. Urbino, and I found the story engaging despite its simplicity-- it was the masterful execution that made the difference. I was expecting a dreary read, since I've always perceived Garcia Marquez to be a "heavy" writer. Now I feel less daunted to give his A Hundred Years of Solitude a try. After all, after Solitude can't be as bad as Cholera, could it?

The Puttermesser Papers

In all my years of being a bookworm, I have only read 2 books that make use of a golem as a key plot point: Daniel Handler's Watch Your Mouth, and Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers. While I found the former too bizarre for my tastes, the latter was all right... except for the chapter with the golem. I just can't bring myself to swallow the idea of creating an animate creature from clay. It also seemed an odd fit in a novel about a highly intelligent and intellectual female lawyer living in New York. I could relate to the central protagonist Ruth Puttermesser on many levels: she's a voracious reader who's a bit of a misantrophe, with a mother nagging her to get married. But as soon as the golem enters the picture, I lost my empathy for Ruth, and my interest in the story, even if the golem did help her become mayor of New York City, which was a novel plot development. Mercifully, The Puttermesser Papers is quite short (in fact, each chapter is a short story Ozick wrote for some magazines), and I was more than a little relieved to reach the final page.

On Chesil Beach

I've figured it out. What makes Ian McEwan a great writer is not so much his way with words, it's his way of using those words to narrate even the simplest story and turning it into a vivid screenplay for a movie that plays through the reader's mind. In Saturday, a seemingly perfect family is forever changed in a single afternoon of terror. In Amsterdam, a funeral for a common former lover reunites two friends who end up destroying each other. In Atonement, (which was adapted into an actual movie)
two lovers are torn apart by a child's spiteful lie. In On Chesil Beach, McEwan's latest novel, a young couple's first night together as husband and wife becomes an unexpected turning point in their relationship. The chapters alternate between the present (the night of the honeymoon) and the past (reflecting on the pair's individual and shared histories), gradually revealing more of the stark contrasts in their personalities and differing concepts of love. It's a commonplace premise but McEwan manages to convey so much feeling through his 2 characters that one can't help but be engaged (pun not intended). I also noticed that once more the author shows his penchant for music (the female protagonist is a cellist), and his skill at making it come alive through his text. I have yet to come across another writer who can top McEwan in that regard.

McEwan repeatedly proves that not all epic tales have to be overly complicated and drawn-out. In his works and through his words, even the most mundane human experiences have many layers of emotion, thoughts, and pathos. On Chesil Beach is no exception.

Being Dead

I immediately liked the smart title of Jim Crace's award-winning novel
(it notched the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction), but I didn't like the book itself as much. I thought it dwelled too much on the physical decomposition of the bodies of the murdered protagonists, an old married couple mugged while frolicking on a beach along the ficitonal Baritone Bay. I realize that was part of the author's point, to underscore that a significant part of being dead is the rotting of human flesh, but he could have eased up on the long, graphic descriptions, in my opinion. Crace did a better job in painting a portrait of the couple when they were still alive, through a series of flashbacks: how they met as college students, how they hooked up, how Botany Bay is significant to them and how they changed through almost 30 years of marriage. Similarly, Crace succeeded in depicting the deceased's rebellious daughter and the coping mechanisms she employs as well as the emotions she battles with after learning of her parents' disappearance, then later, of their death.

I suppose I expected more based on the critical acclaim Being Dead has received, including a New York Times nod for "Best Books of 1999". But I did appreciate Crace's unsentimental treatment of his subject, as most authors tend to glamorize, sugarcoat, or vilify death. This novel had none of the maudlin melodrama one comes to associate with death; instead, it conveys that being dead is simply no longer being alive, and what matters is what takes place in life, both before and after we kick the bucket.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Haaaaave you met Ted (and the rest of the gang from How I Met Your Mother)?

It's been a while since I've had a favorite sitcom after the demise of Friends and Frasier, but I've finally found a worthy successor.

How I Met Your Mother is a TV series people my age (*cough*) can totally relate to, if only for the simple reason that the characters are our age right now. My generation was only in high school when we started watching Friends, and still in college when we began watching Sex and the City, so we were like a bunch of kids eavesdropping on a grown-up conversation. HIMYM's cast of characters are all in their late 20s, single (on and off), and looking for-- and occasionally finding-- love and happiness. The novel gimmick of this show is that the whole thing is one big flashback, narrated from the point of view of the lead character Ted in the year 2030 (voiced by our generation's favorite TV dad, Bob Saget). He is telling his 2 teenaged children the story of how he met their mother 25 years ago, when he was living in New York City with his roommate and best friend Marshall. Marshall had recently proposed to his long-time girlfriend Lily, and this triggered a panic attack from marriage-minded Ted, who was yearning to find his one true love, to the frustration of their slick, incorrigible buddy Barney, who was constantly volunteering to be Ted's wingman (even if he didn't want one) and trying to convert him to eternal bachelorhood.

Then Ted met Robin, the woman of his dreams, who would eventually become the 5th member of their group, and who may or may not become the mother of his children (no spoilers!). From there, the series is just one fun, funny episode after another, each serving as an anecdote told by Ted to his kids, who are shown intermittently throughout the season, sitting on a sofa wearing the same clothes and getting increasingly exasperated as their dad's story stretches on. I love how the show cleverly uses the flashback device, not just as the premise of the series, but also within individual episodes. It keeps HIMYM fresh and unpredictable, and markedly different from run-of-the-mill sitcoms. The writing, while lacking the polish of Friends', is smart and snappy and more importantly, real. By "real" I mean the characters talk like real 27-year-olds: Ted and company sound like how my friends and I sound, groaning about the drudgery of our jobs, moaning about the sad state of our love lives, raving about a restaurant or movie, rehashing a shared memory, and razzing each other mercilessly. And just like us, the guys from HIMYM are not beyond lapsing into juvenile jargon and behavior. Their lines are sprinkled liberally with "awesome" (used as both adjective and noun), "totally", "waaait for it...", "niiice", and punctuated with "yeah you/I did!", "whattup", "burn!" or hilarious variations on "high-five".
Moreover, trademark Barney catch phrases "Haaaaave you met Ted?", "Suit up!" and "It's going to be legendary!" have now become... well, legendary.

As far as I'm concerned, the real star of the show isn't the likable but generic Ted, it's the obnoxious but endearing Barney,
played to awesome perfection by Neil Patrick Harris, he of Doogie Howser, MD fame. Unabashedly chauvinistic, unrepentantly conceited, and unswervingly well-dressed, Barney treads the fine line between smooth operator and slimeball, but manages to charm people (females, mostly) with his razor wit, and bespoke suits. He gets the best zingers, the funniest storylines, and pretty much steals every scene he's in. If only Jeremy Piven of Entourage would be taken out of the running already (3 Emmys?? c'mon, he's not THAT good), NPH should be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy.

My affection for the Barnacle doesn't take anything away from the rest of the HIMYM cast though. Josh Radnor is a neat fit as the affable protagonist Ted. He sort of reminds me of Zach Braff: the crush-able nice guy with a great sense of humor. Something about Radnor makes him totally plausible as the hopeless romantic prone to screwing up his relationships (must be
what Brock meant by "adorably awkward"). Jason Segel, who plays Marshall, is a natural comic and has the best chemistry with each of the other cast members, with perhaps the exception of Cobie Smulders, the actress who plays Robin, for the simple reason that their characters don't interact often. Smulders is serviceable as the purported woman of Ted's dreams: she's attractive, seems intelligent and is not annoying the way some pretty girls just are (though she does strike me as overly earnest sometimes). Last but not least, Alyson Hannigan (yes, the girl from band camp in American Pie) is cute as a button in her role as Lily, the sweetheart who acts as the group's counselor/conscience. Petite and perky, Hannigan offsets Segel's big oaf ways nicely, and together as Lily and Marshall they're the quintessential match-made-in-heaven couple.

HIMYM may never be as popular or long-lived as Friends was, but it's terrific to finally have a sitcom that speaks my generation's language (as crazy as that language may be) and speaks to my generation about the pitfalls and pratfalls of dating, relationships, and the single's search for love. In short, HIMYM is totally awesome. (High-)five stars!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Point blank blah

There are good movies, and there are bad movies. And then there are some movies that are neither good nor bad, but just plain pointless. Body of Lies falls under that last category. When the lights came up inside the theater at the end of the movie, all I could think was, "What was the point?"

Here's the plethora of problems that plagued Body of Lies: It was marketed as an espionage thriller, but it offered very little in the thrill department. It wasn't suspense-laden or action-packed
, it wasn't engaging, and it wasn't enlightening. It had chase scenes, but they were nowhere near pee-in-your-pants exciting. It had a politically-charged and socially relevant story, but it played out like a mediocre, overly long CNN feature. It had a romantic angle, but it fell flat. It had Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, but their roles (CIA operative and CIA boss, respectively) weren't complex enough for actors of their star power. It had Ridley Scott directing, but I didn't even remember that until I saw his name in the end credits.

I've considered that perhaps the dreariness of Body of Lies can be attributed to its not-so-novel premise. The topic of terrorism in the Middle East (and counter-terrorism measures undertaken by the CIA) has been exploited so often in the post-9/11 age of Hollywood that audiences have grown weary of it all. We hear the words "Islamic extremists", "car bomb", "jihad", "Guantanamo", and "the war against terror" so often on the news that we've become desensitized to the madness. Even an intense torture scene involving Leo DiCaprio doesn't make for good entertainment anymore, at least not for me.

Whatever message Body of Lies was trying to get across, I didn't appreciate it at all. Yes, I know there are Muslim suicide bombers coming from all parts of the Middle East. Yes, I know the unethical and manipulative methods employed by the CIA. Yes, I know the frightening capacity of technology to track people down, follow their every move, and distort information to suit the purposes of the ones with the big-ass computers and satellites. Yes, I know that innocent lives are being taken in the name of religion and retribution. But did I really need a ponderous, self-important film to tell me all of those things I already knew from just watching the news?

Like I said, what's the point?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Too far

The morning of the Ateneo bonfire, I was on a Philippine Airlines plane bound for Bangkok on an ill-timed business trip. As we took off, I felt my stomach lurch, not from our ascent, but from the thought that once again, I wouldn't be there as my beloved alma mater celebrates a basketball championship. I'd never been so pained to leave the country.

Melodramatic much? Absolutely. But everyone who knows me understands how fiercely I love Ateneo, and how rabid a UAAP fan I am, so forgive me the theatrics. Throughout the flight to Bangkok, I willed myself to keep my mind off the bonfire, but Fate seemed intent on torturing me, because I was seated in the very first row of the plane, and well within earshot of the flight crew's animated conversation about-- of all things-- Ateneo's win over La Salle, and what my student Jo's dad (a fellow Atenean) dubbed as "L'Affaire Maierfinger". I felt like plugging my ears with my fingers. Enough already!! No wonder those who are neither Blue nor Green are so sick of the bombastically ballyhooed Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. Even when I'm outside Philippine territory I can't escape the hoopla.

I must confess I wasn't able to resist sending a text message to Yang that evening (
international roaming charges be damned), asking her how the bonfire was going and whether or not she had finally gotten her long-coveted photo op with Chris Tiu. I was in need of some sort of vicarious thrill at the very least. Unfortunately her quest for the Holy Grail of Blue Eagle meet-and-greets did not come to a glorious end that night, and later she'd succintly sum up the bonfire in one unappealing adjective: "Muddy." Apparently it had rained prior to the festivities, turning Bellarmine Field (Bel Field to us blue-bloods) into a merry but mucky venue for the 8,000+ people who showed up to celebrate the twin championships of the Blue Eagles and the Blue Eaglets. I felt a bit better about being spared a night of grimy toes, but then I found out about something that had happened at the bonfire that made me feel worse.

Some a-hole Ateneo alumnus came up with the brilliant idea to put wooden planks bearing the Green Archers' names on the bonfire pyre. My initial reaction to this relayed news was, "Oh shit" with what should have been a sense of foreboding had the stream of violent reactions from Taft not yet begun while I was in another country. And when I finally saw online photos of the pyre, I winced in almost physical loathing. What an insensitive, juvenile, abhorrent thing to do. And this coming mere days after the Blue backlash against Franz Pumaren's unsportsmanlike conduct after Game 2 of the Finals. Now we've given an already upset (and now further infuriated) La Salle community every reason and right to shove this ugly bonfire incident in our faces and demand to know if this is our idea of being gracious victors.

I wrote before in a blog post 3 seasons ago that when some Ateneans go down from the hill, they sink low. This bonfire blunder is another prime example of the sort of boorish behavior people associate with Atenean arrogance. This is precisely why whenever I don my Adidas Ateneo hoodie, I always get the feeling some people are giving me the evil eye as I walk by. Instead of being able to wear my school colors with pride, I sometimes have the urge to duck my head in apology and a hint of shame. I really don't deserve that, nor do many other Ateneans who, like me, found the bonfire stunt offensive and unconscionable. The genius who put those planks on the pyre should have been thrown on the pyre himself for besmirching the Ateneo name, as well as blemishing the hard-earned championship of the Blue Eagles.

ADMU president Fr. Ben Nebres has issued an apology to La Salle over the bonfire, and I join him in apologizing on behalf of all Ateneans who would never stoop so low. Sure, I enjoy taking potshots at our arch(er)rivals as much as anyone, but I know where to draw the line, and I know it has been crossed this time. And to those who attempt to justify the bonfire incident by pointing out La Salle's previous transgressions against Ateneo, please, don't even go there. You don't correct a wrong with another wrong. And since when has this been about payback? I thought the point was to be BETTER than the other side, not sink to their level. My brother (a proud Iskolar ng Bayan) was right in pointing out in his friend's blog that Ateneans and La Sallians should take a page from the Celebrate Humanity campaign of the Olympics:

You are my adversary,
but you are not my enemy.
For your resistance gives me strength,
your will gives me courage,
your spirit ennobles me.
And though I aim to defeat you,
should I succeed I will not humiliate you.
Instead I will honor you,
for without you, I am a lesser man.

We, both Blue and Green, would do well to bear in mind and take to heart that the spirit of our rivalry should be channeled to better ourselves, not reduce ourselves to a bunch of barbarians who don't know how to handle defeat and victory graciously. Only when we've learned to behave like men and women educated in respectable Catholic institutions who let principles, values and rational thought prevail over petty grudges and a decades-old basketball feud will we be able to walk around wearing our Ateneo and La Salle jackets free from censure, and free to be truly proud of our schools.