Since how to's are such a web phenomenon that teach a wide variety of activities such as how to swim, how to speed read and how to annoy people at the movies, I thought I'd give it a shot and put my first instructional list here. As always, let's pretend I truly know these things:

1. Learn that January 1 is not just New Year's Day, as in the first day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. It also happens to be the anniversary of the success of the Cuban revolution, the founding day of Taiwan, the octave day of Christmas and the solemnity of Mary as mother of Jesus -- a holy day of obligation for Catholics. Meaning, it's like a Sunday, and St. Peter's flock should head to Mass today.

2. Have some serious breakfast. If you still have some holiday ham in store from that hearty Christmas dinner, this is the best time to rethink its purpose. Check Serious Eats' what-to-eat-for-breakfast-on-Christmas list or Andrew Scrivani's breakfast and brunch recipes and see if there's anything else worth trying.

Don't forget espresso shots to jerk you up from last night's countdown party. The Philippines' own liberica coffee (kape barako) has the one of the most appealing aromatics and flavors around, not to mention the local industry needs support to keep up production.

Hot espresso for the first morning of the New Year. Photo by Fredrik Selander under CC BY-NC-SA license.
3. Get a well-designed coffee table book and listen to glorious music by Leonardo Leo, Vivaldi, Mozart or Corelli smooth streaming via SkyFM to set the mood for the year. Lore has it that whatever you do on New Year's Day will determine whether the rest of your year would be as auspicious, and nothing like classical music to makes things right, at least emotionally.

I embedded a classical music channel below. Click that big blue button if it annoys you, though it shouldn't.

4. Don't whine, have some wine! Some genuine French fizz will do, and several good bottles below Php1,000 such as Feuillatte, Lanson Black Label or the Louis de Sacy Brut Grand Cru are available. Say you have a non-alcoholic ring to swear by, reconsider it! Watch Heather Johnston demonstrate the art of wine tasting and see what you're missing.

Key is temperance, temperance, and we won't have problems. (Getting drunk makes the entire affair aesthetically and sensibly ugly, so don't.)

For starters, cocktail choices range from Agent Orange to Zombie. Personal favorites are light martini and strawberry daiquiri. Photo by D Sharon Pruitt.
5. Spend time with family and friends (real culture lies in love and friendship. Whoa, that's deep.), go buy books, hunt for a DVD of your favorite classic film or BBC documentary, or take photos of people having a swell time at the park. This is the kind of rest that should make the rest of the year as fruitful as the last. #

AAAoAAoA Rewind (from J117 January 5, 2009)

Carousel Christmas

It rained lightly on Christmas day and the yearly perya at the heart of Antipolo City was deserted except for a few souls who braved the 20-degree weather to enjoy some rides and games.

A thrilled overgrown man was in a kiddie elephant, small children sharing a single carousel pony constantly waved at their beaming parents by the fence, and a teenage couple screamed and laughed aboard the dizzying Octopus. These were the few, isolated scenes in the amusement park that could have been more alive if only the sun chose to shine.

The Mendozas opened the gates at nine o’clock in the morning, way earlier than normal days when business hours would start at five in the afternoon. It was the day of the year when they expected the fair to get most crowded with families willing to splurge on amusements.
But this year, it was not as opportune.

“Last year was definitely better,” owner Cristy Mendoza remarked in Filipino. She could only describe the usual Christmas frenzy in her perya, and for someone who grew up in and inherited the business from her parents, she’s one person who could tell.

“People would always leave (the park) on Christmas eve to be home for noche buena and then return the morning after. It would get so loud around here, (there would be) so many people. We won’t be able to hear each other at all.”

Cristy, known to carnival operators and ticket vendors as “Aling Tilay,” is the owner of Andaya Amusements contracted by Ynares Center, the city’s coliseum, for the past three years in time for the holidays.

“Since way back, we’ve always spent Christmas eve and the day itself camped right here,” said Cristy, who permanently resides in Marilao, Bulacan with her husband and three daughters. “It’s our unique tradition.”

On an ordinary day, one would see Cristy and her daughters managing a small sari-sari store within the park. The store proper displayed various brands of junk food, sodas and instant noodles. Inside the shack were makeshift beds, a small kitchen and a television set – all partly hidden from public view by multi-colored drapes drawn like room dividers.

Although brought up adopting such atypical, nomadic-like lifestyle, Cristy’s 16-year-old daughter, Michelle, does not feel shortchanged.

“We’re used to it. Anywhere is home,” the high school student said in Filipino. “The perya is always fun and Christmas day has never been drab because there are always people around even when it’s raining and I feel like we’re sharing (the occasion) with them.”

There were always people, indeed, and the perya environment is festive even in the middle of the year. Every night, the park was bustling with crowds visiting from nearby towns. The noise from the rides’ engines, karaoke machines in every corner, and cheering bettors reaches its loudest that visitors could only communicate by signaling with their hands or shouting.

The spacious walkways were either mobbed by children running around and parents running after them or by slow-strolling adolescents grouped by their favorite music genre. Those in their twenties and thirties lined up for their turn on the karaoke microphone while mothers placed bets to win plates and casseroles and fathers stayed for the bingo.

It was a welcoming, albeit deafening, atmosphere, and that was just on a normal, average day. Imagine how much more it could have been if it didn’t rain on Christmas.

There are ten amusement rides in the fair, the most popular of which are the nerve-racking Octopus and the children’s Merry-Go-Round. Most of the mobiles look old and crude, with their paint chipping off and safety devices at a minimum. Based on the numbers, however, they are surprisingly secure.

“I’ve been in this business all my life and I haven’t seen a single casualty,” Cristy, who is in her forties, said. She used to enjoy the rides herself but now that she’s more mature, she admits getting sick after a round.

“Even if the rides were handed down from my parents they are well-maintained and they function like new.”

Cristy is not the only perya veteran in the park, though. Octopus operator Jonie Rivera has also been in the business “forever.”

“I don’t recall being trained to manipulate these machines,” Jonie said in Filipino. He was shouting at the top of his voice to be heard amid the loud whirring of the engines. “I’ve been doing this all my life, and I make people happy in the process.”

Like the Mendozas, Jonie also spends Christmas at the fair. “But everyday here it’s like Christmas,” he said, beaming. “There’s always music and laughter around.”

Aside from the rides, numerous concessionaires offered games and prizes to daring bettors. For a one peso wager, a lucky contestant could win kitchen wares, toiletries, umbrellas and junk food.

One boy was on a winning streak in the pellet gun game, toppling toy soldiers and plastic ducks every time he pulled the trigger. He had filled a small plastic bag with acquired goods.
Jonie’s right. It needed not be Christmas to receive gifts.

For Sgt. Semiliano Vocal who is in charge of security in Ynares Center, the perya had become a valuable part of the community because of its cheap, wholesome entertainment for the masses.

“It’s no Enchanted Kingdom, but it’s definitely a refuge,” the officer said in Filipino. He continued to look around, his eyes alert. For him though, one of the greatest rewards is how the perya makes Christmas more special to those “who can’t even afford a decent meal for noche buena.”

“Even if they have nothing to eat, then can enjoy much for a fifteen-peso ride,” he said. “Christmas, you know, is something that doesn’t have to come with a hefty price.” #

Photo: Dizzying Carousel by Swamibu on Flickr

I interrupt our usual cultural programming to deliver a think piece (or so I attempted) on an advocacy close to my heart: the cross between journalism and education.

Not everything we read off our favorite news sites and blogs makes us think — most sites give us bits and pieces of things that are meant to be taken as they are.
How many “OMG!” Yahoo articles, snarky opinion pieces and arresting news stories actually make you smarter? Aren’t we often more inclined to just pause and say, “This writer’s right,” than to question her?
Then we go around carrying our day’s fix of info, parroting the written facts as if they’re all that’s true. And therein lies the danger, especially now that information is more accessible than ever – now that it’s social, mobile, dirt cheap and democratic.
Some would even say we Millennials are “the smartest generation” because of this access, and teachers are already asking how they can adapt instruction to our unique learning skills. But the trouble comes when we fail to draw the line between information and education.
While it’s easy to agree we have too much of the former, the latter is inarguably more valuable. Education, after all, is a fundamental right and key to full human progress. If we call for quality, accessible education from our social institutions (government, schools, church, family), I don’t think we should demand anything less than that same quality and accessibility from the media, the so-called “Fourth Estate,” as providers of information. 
Read full story on The Next Great Generation »

Photo: I'm thinking of by David Restivo under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license

A Van Gogh is in my workplace. I stare at this painting several times a day. And though it doesn't ease chronic eyestrain caused by the lovable LCD computer screen that doesn't love me back, it's comforting to look at great art while next to some industrial business furnishings such as a boxy, anachronistically-designed Lenovo CPU and mismatched desk and chair.

A reproduction of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" (1888) hanging on our office wall.
This particular work is the third in the series of sunflowers Van Gogh completed and displayed in Munich. Van Gogh loved sunflowers and considered them his. It also caught Paul Gauguin's attention, as he wrote in 1889:
"Gauguin likes them extraordinarily. He said to me among other things - ''s...the flower.' "
I wonder why contemporaneous modernist works are the most accessible that they can just be hung in informal, personal spaces without any hesitation. Maybe because they're not as heavy in thematic as Renaissance works? Or is it because their artists also intended these to be works for their own? Van Gogh himself instructed that the painting be kept by his brother alone, and not be sold to anyone else.

The original Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Munich, Germany.
Vincent also wrote:
"You will see that these canvases will catch the eye ... It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character, and takes on a richness the longer you look at it."
True for me, too. These flowers have new life everyday. They never wilt, and they just stay there against the wall. #

Received several invites last week to theater shows, new museum exhibits and an awards night. May I say that all of them sounded tempting? If only I had more time, I'd be around all those, but this is wishful thinking.

To make up for my lack of presence virtually anywhere except the office, the house, and some select place, there's the hapless blog that can make one ubiquitous. As if she'd been there.

First up, the Pinto Art Gallery in sweet home Antipolo. My friends and I visited it twice last year, but there's something about its air of mystery and seclusion that can make even art newbies want to return. The gallery reopened yesterday and its invite promised the graces of the likes of Anthony Palomo, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Mark Justiniani and Plet Bolipata.

The map to the Pinto Art Gallery, Silangan Gardens, #1 Sierra Madre St., Grand Heights, Antipolo City.
Then of course my alma mater bias. The Vargas Museum at the University of the Philippines Diliman has a used book sale at its west wing porch until the 9th. Sales shall go to the museum's upkeep and projects. The Vargas is perhaps the art destination with the cheapest rates around. So we're looking at Php20.00 to Php30.00 here, okay? With that coveted UP identification card, entrance is way cheaper than chips.

Some ongoing exhibit at the Vargas, "Doll Eyes" by Joy Mallari. Opening and launch of the children's book by Eline Santos who adapted Mallari's work is on Friday at 4:00pm.

"Doll Eyes is a story of Tin who searches for her missing friend Ella through the busy and treacherous streets of Quiapo. The author, Santos, initially wove the story from the first large-scale painting created by Mallari, and in turn, Mallari again painted another set of works that best expresses Doll Eyes, thus the conversation between literature and the visual arts." --from the Vargas Museum Blog

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