Okay. Time to come clean.
Admission #1: I’m a Bad Son.
Well, tonight, anyway. We’re supposed to be at a party tonight with my mother and a bunch of her fellow alumni, but we bowed out. I don’t know if it’s jetlag or a case of White Man’s Tummy or what. But we relinquished mom to the good care of her old friends and retired for the evening.
Admission #2: We’re So Lame.
This clearly follows straight on the heels of Admission #1. We have officially been out-partied by my 78-year-old mother. I have nothing else to say here. It is a sad state of affairs. But go mom!
Admission #3: I Feign Dumb. But Sometimes I AM Dumb.
I tend to have two M.O.s: I’m either super on top of things and micromanagey (Director Mode) or I’m completely indecisive and passive (Gracie Allen Mode).
I often exploit Gracie Allen Mode in social situations. I find that perpetuating an air of bemused ditziness eases a lot of social burdens. It makes the person you’re talking to feel important and superior, it allows them to be completely free to give their opinion (especially when you don’t contradict them about their errors or express chagrin or shock at their biliousness or ego). It’s my way of being pleasant and tactful.
Incidentally, it’s terribly easy to affect Gracie Allen Mode: you simply relax your face, make direct eye contact, go blank and say, “Oh really?” and “My!” a lot. When you do speak, make it a quip, land a laugh, make the other person feel smart, and retreat into bemused blankness.
Why the hell am I going on about this? Because sometimes I go into Gracie Allen mode for reals. True Gracie Allen Mode. Like today. When physically exhausted (or faced with something like Math), my capacity for making decisions flies right out the window. So a question like, “What do you want to do today?” prompts a response like, “My!” Not helpful.
Today started with breakfast at the Absolutely Overwhelming Hotel Buffet. I’m almost positive that’s its actual name. Since Pete was off his feed, and I was mostly into noshing little mini-pastries, I composed a plate simply for this shot. (Do you love the tall coffee mugs or what?) I think it needs a name like “Bird-of-Epicure Has Left Nest. Please Call Again.” For the record, yes, I ate the eggs, noodles, asparagus and cucumber juice. I’m not sure there’s room in the world for art you can’t eat.
Then mom’s friends Nora and Deo picked us up. Nora is a pediatrician and Deo is an oncologist. Like all her friends from The Good Old Days as young doctors in 1960s New York, these folks are sharp as tacks and strongminded Movers. Great folks.
That, of course, makes you a damned fool when they ask you what you want to do today and you say, “My!”
So we went to Old Manila to see a bit of history.
Nora hired a little horse-drawn cart to take us around the historical sites. Or perhaps it was an ass. It was lovely and quaint, and given its burden, I felt quite bad for the animal.
Then I felt bad for the driver. In an attempt to keep the streets free of horse manure, the drivers appear to be required to… um… catch the horse’s droppings and immediately sweep up anything that actually hits the street. See the little white buckety-thing? When the horse raises its tail, the driver has to drop everything and position the bucket so that the horse can… drop everything. I got to sit by the driver. So I got to witness this little ritual numerous times. (Have I mentioned that I really appreciate my job? For one thing, it doesn’t involve… catching warm shit.)
In addition to the driver, there was a tour guide who was both phenomenally knowledgeable and phenomenally loquacious. Unfortunately, though, I was in True Gracie Allen Mode, so when given a detailed lecture on the this and that of the significance of a particular building, I widened my eyes and said, “My!” A lot.
I did catch a few things, though.
The oldest building in the Philippines, the St. Augustin church, is a baroque masterpiece that has survived 400 years. Well, almost. It lost one of its towers to earthquake damage in the 19th century. When this thing was built, Shakespeare was busy thinking up a catchy title for The Tempest.
The doors are two massive slabs of wood, ornately and beautifully carved. Unfortunately, the folks in the carvings don’t seem terribly happy about it. I think the lady on the right might also have severe jetlag. Or shiplag, as the case may be. Or she might still be pissed off at Magellan.
Old Manila at its height had a church every 200 meters. I’m American, so “meters” is a concept I haven’t fully grasped. I think it’s somewhere between a Cubit and a League.
In any case, it’s a lotta churches. As the tour guide said, “Catholicism was very appealing to the natives. Their choice was The Sword or The Cross, so you know…” Yes, I think I know.
Which brings us to the subject of crèches. At Christmastime, Manila is chock full of Nativity scenes. Big ones, small ones, plastic ones, wooden ones. Many are on rooftops, which I find odd. Because you can’t see The Baby Jesus from ground level. For all you know, the angels and saints may all be gathered around a lovely Bundt Cake.
My favorite crèche today was one that depicted The Usual Suspects: Joseph, Mary, the Herald Angels, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, and the usual gaggle of Adoring Animals. Including a water buffalo. I didn’t think that water buffaloes were around in first-century Judaea, but I stand corrected.
Some of the folks in Old Manila are dressed, Williamsburg-style, in Old Regalia. The gentleman in this photo was dressed as a 19th-century guard. Apparently they wore comfy pajamas and a Sam Browne belt. Deo’s being very accommodating here, wearing the guard’s Silly Hat.
The part of Old Manila we were touring is called Intramuros, having been built built between huge stone walls as a fortification against sea attack. Which seems odd, because the bay is half a mile away. Since the Good Old Days, it’s been filled in and built upon. So the wall in the pic on the left actually now faces the Manila Hotel, a landmark which is best known for being Douglas Macarthur’s Manila residence. Once, these walls were surrounded by a moat filled with crocodiles. Now, the moat has been replaced by… a golf course. (Sometimes, when I’m in Gracie Allen Mode, I’m not sure if I’m actually seeing these things correctly. You can see why I feel justified in my bemusement sometimes.)
There’s a small park with bronze friezes of all the Filipino presidents since the republic gained independence. After World War 2, the country was apparently offered U.S. statehood, but declined. Understandable after 400 years of rule by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese.
The Presidents on the right are Ferdinand Marcos and Cory Aquino. If I were Cory’s ghost, I’d be so pissed off about the hair. Just sayin’.
Which leads me to…
Admission #4: It’s All About the Gift Shop
I love museums and historical sites. Given the choice between clubs and hotels and museums, I’ll choose the museum every time. I’m a sucker for zoos and aquariums. Botanical gardens, too. I love seeing art and history preserved and the painstaking care that goes into its display. That’s a level of love and devotion that I think is so special.
But what ignites my lust is the gift shop. I don’t care if the merch is crappy. In fact, the crappier, the better. And Old Manila is full of gift shops, mostly selling traditional Filipino handicrafts, like lace fans and Shell Art (because they don’t have macaroni here). And some of the gift shops have what I consider rather unusual items:
So, that was our morning. And, like all Filipino mornings, it ended in a Substantial Lunch. Nora and Deo provided a lovely spread.
And I’m getting to understand Taglish.
Taglish is the funny hybrid of Tagalog and English that many Filipinos speak. Because Tagalog and English are taught concurrently in school, and because there are many phrases which don’t adequately exist in Tagalog (just as there are many phrases which don’t adequately exist in English), Filipinos pepper their conversation with English all the time.
This is what Taglish sounds like to me:
“&@!$%@ @^ #@&!*@^ #%!$ half off.”
“^#@% !%@ urine sample &@*!%$& &@ @^%#* *#$^.”
“!@$#&s !@^% #!%&!@^ #! *&#^!#% Class Virgin ^#%.”
Clearly, you can make your own story. And it’s rarely a dull one. The trouble is that because the conversation drifts from Tagalog to Taglish to English, you’re never sure when you’re supposed to be listening. So Gracie Allen Mode kicks in.
Okay, here’s my final admission.
Admission #5: These Pix Are Such Crap
In no way do any of the pix I’ve been snapping do justice to what we’ve seen. There are so very many moments, people and lovely shots that pass right by me. I’ve been trained in photography. I should be capturing those, right?
Trouble is, when I concentrate on composition and lighting and capturing the Little Moments that I love so much (the curve of a niche, the moss on a well, the gesture of a passerby, the colors of a jeepney), I obsess over them and the whole trip becomes a photo session and I stop being where I am.
So you’re missing out. I apologize. These are stagey snapshots, not Photographs.
But I am where I am, with those I’m with. And it’s better that way. I just hope I’m sharing the story adequately.
Now we wait for mom to get home from her party to hear more stories.