Friday, December 29, 2006

From my postcard collection # 4

Dragonfly, Pear, Carnation and Insect (detail)
Mira calligraphiae monumenta
(Model book of calligraphy);
Vienna, 1561-62 and ca. 1591-96
Inscribed by Georg Bocskay and illuminated by Joris Hoefnagel
16.6 x 12.4 cm (6 9/16 x 4 7/8 in.)

[Click image to view larger version.]

This is from a very beautiful postcard book I got from The J. Paul Getty Museum, Picturing the Natural World. The back cover notes that:

"In 1561 and 1562 Georg Bocskay, the Croatian-born court secretary of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna, created the Model Book of Calligraphy to demonstrate his unrivaled technical mastery of elaborate and inventive writing styles. He arranged the calligraphy cleverly, giving each page of the book an independent beauty. About thirty years later Joris Hoefnagel, a court artist of Rudolf II, Ferdinand's grandson, was asked to illuminate the manuscript. He added captivating, carefully composed illustrations of flora and fauna to nearly every page and contributed a new section of intricate designs that provide instruction in the art of constructing the letters of the alphabet. The result is one of the most extraordinary collaborations between scrive and painter in the history of manuscript illumination."

Take note that each page from the book was only a few inches wide (check out the measurement above). Hoefnagel illuminated Bocskay's manuscript (whom he had never met, by the way) in miniature, with gold, silver and vellum. The level of detail (as seen in the image above) is astounding! For more on illuminated manuscripts, go here.

For more commentary on this art piece, check out the Getty Museum website here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Christmas tune for y'all

Simbang-gabi sa Gesu

I’ve never liked Michael Buble (his singing puts me to sleep, and I hate how he did Kissing a Fool and I don’t care for his A Song for You, pardon to the fans), but this -- ! Christina Aguilera's version is too melismatic for my taste, and Kelly Clarkson's is alright I guess, but a tad too girlish. Now this, Michael's Buble's Grown-up Christmas List, I FLOVE.

Merry Christmas you all! Enjoy the holidays!

War of the Worlds Musical Redux (or Why I Love youtube!)

Back in January I wrote about the staging of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Musical in the U.K. (My blog accounts are here, should you like some background info.). The sold-out tour was completed in April to very appreciative audiences (as far as I can tell from the reviews in the web). And while I wasn't looking (that is to say, in November), the dvd was released. I want THIS. But woe, it's only available in Amazon UK. (No, I don't think I'll find it in uhm ah you-know-where. *wiggles eyebrows*)

So the other day I began searching all over the web (not really all over, just the usual places I go to find stuff, which, might I note, rarely fail me) for mp3s and videos of the live show, but nary a one was to be found. Until today, hwah!

I love you youtube, and I love you generous fans who share videos with those of us who for some reason or other have missed stuff we like. (My most effusive thank you to TrockRon of youtube, hey!)

I've seen only a few of the videos I list here, so I'll comment only on those details that I saw. There is a screen on stage where the audience watch a continuous series of images which complement the story that unfolds in front of them with the use of a live orchestra and band. Singers are clad in period costume, and they not only sing but act out their parts. As I mentioned last time, the production planned to resurrect Richard Burton. Or more aptly, Richard Burton's head. He is right there, floating, narrating. And he looks creepy. Apparently they took an image of a young Richard Burton and then superimposed it on a look-alike actor who lipsynched the narration. Consequently, the movement is mostly in the mouth. The eyebrows do go up and down from time to time, and the eyes blink. This image was projected onto a huge plaster head on stage, but the face looks flat. So you get strange. And then again I'm seeing this only on video. Perhaps it looked better live. I wonder how those unfamiliar with the musical reacted to the floating re-animated Burton head with the wiggling eyebrows? I read that they also went ahead with their plan of having a life-size tripod on stage hovering above the actors. I haven't seen the video yet where this appears.

One of the things I had been looking forward to was Russell Watson's performance. Russell the opera singer (actually he's more of a crossover artist), with no theater training whatsoever, took on the role of the famed madman, Parson Nathaniel. Having watched Spirit of Man on youtube, I can see why some were less than happy about him bringing his operatic singing style to the role (I should also report that most reviews I've read declared his performance as "stunning", "excellent", and "outstanding".). Spirit of Man is, after all, one of the rocking-est songs in the musical, and fans are bound to have heard the passionate version of Philip Lynott a hundred times over. You know how some fans tend to be, nothing can be better than the original. Perhaps Russell’s tenor didn't quite ring mad enough for some audience members. Notice for instance, the sustained last note in “When the demons arrive the survivors will envy the deaaaaaad”. Wooah I'm sure that sounded great live and I might have been compelled to stand up and applaud, except that the number would have barely reached the middle by then and it wasn't meant to be an aria, yah? In any case, I like Russell's voice so I'm sure I'll like his version better as I listen to it more and more.

As for the acting, it can still be improved, but it wasn't bad. And to think of what he was going through then! You see, I just recently found out that Russell had been suffering from migraines during the WOTW tour, pains which later progressed to excruciating headaches and impaired vision while recording his new album Love Affair in Los Angeles. Russell was then diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo surgery sometime in September. He’s now reportedly recovering well, and is set to defend his title in the UK tv reality show Just the Two of Us (a celebrity duets challenge; funny how they should have a whole show about something we regularly see on Philippine tv, eh? You know, celebrities who dare to pretend they can sing, and do so with real singers.). Btw, before I move on, Rusell’s makeup in the youtube vid looks awful, what the frack, does a madman have to look like that? *posts nice picture of Russell to erase bad make-up from memory*

Ok I've babbled long enough. Here are the wondrous, fabulous youtube WOTW linkies!

Credits & Prologue (something that isn't found in the Jeff Wayne WOTW), where the Martians plan their attack on Earth. I'm not sure if this scene connects with something else in the production (have not seen the whole thing yet), but for me, the original intro was good enough to start the story. The creepy floating head of Richard Burton is visible already, at the left side of the stage, albeit in shadow. I'm no expert, but the CGI reminds me of video games from several years back.

Part 1 (The well-loved Eve of the War. If you can listen to only one track right now, this is it, this defines the musical WOTW. The creepy floating head starts to talk here.)

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4 (Justin Hayward sings Forever Autumn. Sublime!)

Part 5 (Thunder Child ought to be in here.)

Part 6 (Parson Nathaniel makes his entrance at around 7”; Spirit of Man starts here.)

Part 7 (Spirit of Man continues here)

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

TWOTW Musical Live: How it started

Monday, December 18, 2006

Found this web radio thingie

Le'mmesee now... *tinkers*

Hwah it works!!! *claps with glee* (You have to click on the play button.)

Nifty, eh? Stumbled upon, searched for some tracks, joined the site (it's free!), played with it a bit and presto hey, I got me a track bar! You can also listen to music from the site without joining. Uploading files and creating your own playlist is a little bit more complicated from what I gather, but that track bar above? Took me 3 minutes ;-)

Oh, in case some of you are wondering what Elliott looks like these days (and just so I can take a jab at the lookist nasties who kept harping on his imperfect teeth during the AI5 days - eat your shoes, you!!!), here are some recent pics. He got his teeth done, sat on a dentist's chair for some 20 hours for dental work that normally would have cost $50,000 (lucky E, the dentist offered his services for free). I'm not liking the hair but the boy is looking nice. (And still, it's the voice that melts.)

Elliott's This Christmas above is available from iTunes, and is doing rather well. Who needs the AI crown? Bah. Last I heard, there might be an announcement of a record deal soon. (A couple of weeks ago he did announce a publishing deal with Sony at his myspace page. Who knows, maybe they know something we don't? Might he turn out to also be a gifted songwriter? Why ink a publishing deal otherwise? Rather unusual, that.)

(Special thanks to L-Dub of Yaminions for gifting me with This Christmas via iTunes. *hugs*)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Angkor: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

So my friend falafel, worlds away, `neath the middle-eastern skies (whenever she manages to go out, that is), e-mails me and remarks, “Have you heard, seems Siem Reap and Angkor are sinking.”. Eek. So I googled it and sure enough, this article states that there is growing concern among experts over the hotels that have been sprouting like mushrooms in the city known as the gateway to Angkor.

National Geographic Traveler’s November/December issue features this article (Pssst my Angkor companions, check this out, see those tourists sprawled over the temple steps?) and this telling image on page 112:

(View larger version here.)

Incidentally, a Destination Scorecard survey recently conducted by Traveler and its National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations with George Washington University asked 419 well-traveled experts worldwide to rate 94 World Heritage destinations according to aesthetic appeal, quality of tourism management, social and cultural integrity, overall outlook for the future and such other criteria. (Check out the full criteria list here.) Angkor earned a dismal score of 48, dropping 4 points from its 2004 score. (To think that just 5 years earlier I was drooling over an Angkor article in Traveler’s 50 Places of a Lifetime special collectors' issue. *sigh*) A score of 48 means that the site is in moderate trouble (all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives). The experts say that yes, Angkor and its environs rate high in aesthetics and conservation efforts, but very poorly overall in terms of sustainable tourism and destination stewardship. As in the article I mentioned above, the magazine reports that the water table has become “so depleted by hotel wells that it is destabilizing the foundations of the ruins”. So yeah, Siem Reap and Angkor may be sinking.

In an impoverished country which relies solely on tourism for its lifeblood, it's no wonder that money is prioritized over preservation and sustainability. Even as Cambodia still suffers from the trauma wrought by the Khmer Rouge in the late `70s, those in government continue to fatten their pockets with the fruits of a continuously growing tourism industry. In the meantime, its citizens, most of them ethnic Khmer, descendants of the proud, highly-cultured society who built the famed temples in ancient times, struggle to eke a living out of the ruins of their heritage. (I cannot say how sad it is that I mean that literally.) Children work during the day selling books, postcards and souvenirs around the temples. A lot of young people, I imagine, are studying to become tour guides as one stands to earn a decent income in that occupation. Aside from hotels, ranging from budget guesthouses to the expensive boutique and five-star resort and spas, karaoke bars and who knows what other recreational establishments, are built every day. Siem Reap is fast losing its character as it is literally overrun by busloads of tourists (that includes those coming in planes and taxis, too. *cough*) I read elsewhere that a few years ago, horror of horrors, there were plans of installing a cable car network in Angkor. Let’s hope they never try to take that up again.

So my overly eager footfalls may well contribute to the continuous defacement of one of the world’s most remarkable man-made wonders, and my very arrival at Siem Reap to the irreversible loss of its old-world charm. Great. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Perhaps. National Geographic, UNESCO, I’m counting on you. Pardon me if in the meantime I still go anyway. I don’t want to have to go to a theme park, darn it. Cable cars? Presposterous.

Friday, December 08, 2006

From my postcard collection # 3

Recently sent from Bordeaux, France. Acquired at Venice. (Thanks Ninfa!)

Fritellino drawn by Maurice Sand, published in 1860. Commedia dell' Arte character wearing a mask and a plumed hat. Beard. Wooden sabre.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Happy Feet: Don’t Pan the Penguins!

“I saw an animal do that once, but then they rolled him over and he was dead.”
~ one of Ramon’s mariachi buddies, on Mumble’s singing

One word to sum up the movie: Delightful.

What I liked:

  • Need I write it down? It’s about penguins. Penguins are fascinating, and always adorable. Oh, except for Danny de Vito in the Batman movie.

  • Mumble is extremely adorable. I didn’t realize that Baby Mumble’s voice was not Elijah’s until I checked the cast list. In any case, Elijah Wood, himself somewhat odd-looking, is a good choice to cast as one set apart from all others by his less penguinly looks and talents. I thought it an amusing touch to make Mumble’s coloring such that the tuxedo effect was more pronounced – yeah, all penguins do look like they are wearing tuxedos, but Mumble more so, with a bowtie and grey vest. Tuxedos and tap dancing, hee.

  • The music. They had me at the 1st scene. The Norma Jean and Memphis opening duet was so fabulous it reminded me of Moulin Rouge. Gloria’s Somebody to Love at the graduation had me giggling the whole time. (Pretty good singing too, hey!) Pop, R&B, blues, hiphop, even some gospel, so much of the music was fun and enjoyable.

  • Ramon and his merry band of mariachi misfits (the tiny Adelie penguins) provided many of the laugh-or-cry moments that I loved in the movie.

  • The pathos. Naturally it can’t top National Geographic’s March of the Penguins when it comes to dramatizing the Emperor penguins’ journey to the most inhospitable of environments to bear their young, but I also found Mumble’s own struggle to express his individuality easy to relate to, and touching. `Course, those who aren’t into anthropomorphism might not agree.

  • The animation. Eat your heart out, Pixar, those are darn life-like fluffy feathers! Check out the grey down on the baby penguins. And very smooth, fluid movements. Fear not though, you’ve got one over Animal Logic where it comes to facial expressions (Animal Logic or whichever of the two other special effects companies they employed, that is). The filmmakers relied on music to convey emotions, not so much on characters’ visible expressions. To be fair though, how can you do that with only beady penguin eyes, a beak and a whole lot of feathers? Not that Mumble's eyes are anywhere near beady, nor Elijah's. They could have taken advantage of those clear blue pools, imo. (No one can beat Weta’s Gollum yet where emotions of CG characters are concerned, though.)

What I willingly overlooked: the booboos

  • The abrupt transition from Mumble in Penguin Park to his return home. Surely they could have done that better? I would have loved to see a National Geographic reference.

  • Apparently Lovelace is a rockhopper penguin. (Yes, there is such a creature, check it out here.) Robin Williams is great as a rock-hopping mad guru figure. Thing is, there are only 2 species of penguins that live in Antartica, and rockhoppers aren’t one of them. Well, they could have written a backstory for him, say Lovelace stowed away on a ship to Antartica... nah, too Madagascar, that. Well any long-travelling guru and such and such story then. (Heh, Lovelace should have been Latino too, rockhoppers live in South America.)
  • Some critics gripe that the movie tried to be everything all at once: it was advocating for the environment, it was about being different, surviving in the Antartican wilderness, about love, loss of innocence, coming of age, humans' continuing domination of the planet, the cruelty of uprooting animals from their natural habitat, etc etc. Yes, it was ambitious to try to convey all that. But who cares if it worked in that respect or not? Happy Feet is about penguins. Who doesn’t like penguins?

    Interesting detail: Steve Irwin, the late crocodile hunter, provided the voice for Trev, one of the humongous elephant seals who Mumble and company spoke to as they approached the ocean. The movie was dedicated to Irwin.

R. Hidalgo St., with arms wide open

Several months ago I read an article about the local government's plan (based on John Chua's initiative) to rehabilitate what was once widely popular as Quiapo's camera street. For the clueless, R. Hidalgo in years past was as synonymous to cameras as Raon was to electronics. (Still clueless? Never mind, just take my word for it.) Nowadays photographers who know of Hidalgo can be classified into 2 categories: (1) the uh *cough* most experienced, i.e., the mature ones *cough* and (2) the more persistent and dedicated hobbyists and professionals. Some photographers have never even set foot on Hidalgo, opting to get their gear elsewhere. (A common misperception is that cameras sold there don't carry warranties.)

I went there last Saturday to buy replacement batteries for my camera (I have killed my original batteries after 2 years of use, pretty good I guess), and I was surprised to find that I could actually see through to the end of the street. Ah, so that's what it looks like. Ehehe.

Whereas before, navigating your way through involved skillful slinking and maneuvering between crates, kaings, bilaos, banigs, boxboard sheets, make-shift stalls, and carts filled with all manner of items for sale -- say fruits, vegetables, garments, underwear, toys, plasticware, custom jewelry, fashion accessories, crafts components and other knick knacks -- in addition to the continuous surrounding human traffic moving at varying rates, from leisurely to quick-paced to so annoyingly hurried that you'd get pushed and pulled from and to every direction, now you can actually walk in the middle of the calle with both arms stretched! No more intimate, sweaty hobnobbing with every Kulas and Kulasa you pass by. In place of all that clutter now are streetlamps and benches. And oh, the ground is paved with brick tiles. All still quite ugly, but hey, there's air!

So now, if you're in R. Hidalgo and a pungent smell assaults your nose (meaning it's somewhere close), but you're standing in the middle of the street with so much space about you, chances are, it's probably you.

For directions to R. Hidalgo St., Quiapo, go here.

Disclaimer: I'm not actually suggesting that you go there stand with arms stretched out, particularly if you have something expensive-looking slung over your shoulder. That sort of thing might well be an invitation to get robbed.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Contemplating Angkor

If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.
~ Henry Miller

Yeah, you read that right. Angkor. “Angkor what?”, you say? Exactly, Angkor Wat. You know, the UNESCO world heritage site, Hindu & Buddhist temple ruins, one of the wonders of the world, site of some of the most magnificent man-made monuments on this planet. Huh, still asking “Angkor what?”? *sigh* Eh, haller, try to remember Tomb Raider movie # 1 then, that might ring a bell.

I had always wanted to go see the Angkor temples. You see, I have a thing for ruins and other vestiges of the ancient world. In any case, when my friend Cho and I heard about discounted Bangkok flights a couple of months back, my first thought was setting foot at last on Cambodia, that land of the Khmer that is associated with Pol Pot’s killing fields as much as it is with the magnificent sandstone monuments built in the heyday of Khmerian god-kings.

The route we picked (the overland Bangkok-Aranyaprathet-Border -Poipet-Siem Reap route) involves what by most accounts in the web, is popularly known as the bus ride to hell. At first I was unfazed. Surely it can’t be worse than the transportation system here, huh? For instance, I have taken the Baguio-Sagada bus ride that yes, is breathtakingly scenic and all that, but one that goes on forever and ever and ever, with toilet stops that make French tourists virtually cry while taking a pee in holes on concrete floors, or bumpy jeepney rides aggravated by worries about being ambushed by highway robbers in Kalinga (or is it Abra, I forget) and insensitive bus conductors and passengers who sing the karaoke (and very badly) on an hours-long trip where you’d rather sleep since there isn’t much to see anyway as you traverse the arid Aurora plains. And oh, let’s not forget my most hated bus trip of all: 10-hour Tuguegarao-Manila day trips. Arggh, boredom that stretches out to 10 hours, and that involves sun (being in an air-conditioned bus makes no difference to me)! Now that’s the pits. So going back to Cambodia. I was thinking: hmm, two four-hour bus rides across two foreign countries, with an interesting border crossing in between, how hard can it be? Might turn out to be a piece of cake, yeah?

Well, my research tells me the answer is No. Interesting yes, but hardly a piece of cake. For starters, take a gander at the picture here and here. Hwaah! Now I’m daunted. Once at Aranyaprathet, one is supposed to pass through Immigration, in itself proven to be an event-filled chore particularly for those who have to get a visa (thank goodness we Pinoys don’t have to because we're part of ASEAN), then take a short tuktuk ride to get to the Cambodian side. Poipet is said to be a hellhole (other travelers’ words, not mine) filled with thieves and scammers. The detailed description and travelers’ accounts in,, and make me think of Poipet as an exaggerated version of Quiapo or Cubao or Baclaran, but what do I know? The main thing to remember, they say, is not to spend more time in Poipet than you have to. Alright then, I guess I won’t be setting my tripod there. I haven’t even talked about the other bus ride yet. The Poipet-Siem Reap bus trip has been described as a total nightmare. Apart from the shitty road condition (there’s a rumour that a Thai airline company has been paying off Cambodian officials so that they won’t fix the roads thereby ensuring said Thai airline’s monopoly; not too farfetched, imo, if you check out how much the airline is charging for a crummy 45-minute flight), let’s see, there’s the “official” (government-run) bus which can take a good while as it is alas-puno, as we say in the vernacular. Alas-puno essentially means the bus will leave when it is full. Who knows how long that will take, huh? The alternative, the tourist bus is even worse. That is why this is called the scam bus. Unfortunate suckers who go for the dirt-cheap Bangkok-Siem Reap package commonly sold in Khao San Road have reportedly suffered through 10 hour or longer trips punctuated by interminable stop-overs, flat tires and all kinds of vehicular problems, only to find themselves magically booked in one of the bus company’s partner hostels and guesthouses. By “magically” I don’t mean they can Houdini themselves out of the uh arrangement. What a frack of an obstacle course to get to Siem Reap, huh? Fortunately, there’s a 3rd alternative: taking a taxi. So to hell with buses.

All of this will take anywhere from 6 to 8 or 9 hours of travel, assuming one doesn’t take the scam buses, as those can take forever. If one is clueless and is the type who sticks out like a dolled-up socialite standing amidst the human traffic in Villalobos Street on a Friday afternoon, then well, yeah, one might want to think twice about taking this route. But us? Nah, we’re not afraid, are we? What else is there to be afraid of? Swarms of locals selling their wares? Missing the sunrise and sunset hours? Viewing sunrise and sunset at popular Angkorian spots while rubbing elbows with thousands of tourists? Cameras running out of batteries? Running out of memory cards? Getting a guide who annoyingly commands you to “quick, take picture here!”? Accidentally falling into Tonle Sap? Climbing up Angkor Wat’s steep stairs (70 degrees baby!) under an unforgiving sun? Yeah those are daunting. But land mines? Terrifying.

ETA. Sssh don't mention land mines to my mom. Or Poipet.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A dream of saffron-robed monks

Some nights ago I had this dream. I am not sure where I was, somewhere in the city. There was an event, lots of people were coming to this place. My friend Q was there, she was coordinating with her hubby S on a walkie-talkie, apparently in-charge of securing the visiting monks. Buddhist monks in saffron robes walked by with fashionable duffel bags, Cartier and Gucci maybe, made of canvas and leather, predominantly brown-colored with saffron accents and big buckles. I was the main event. I was a boxer. Pretty strange because I don’t like boxing at all, as it’s a savage sport. (This was several days after the much-vaunted Pacquiao-Morales fight, which I didn’t watch with the rest of the country.) I went across to another building, my relatives were there. Some didn't take notice of me.

Now that I think of it, what was so striking about the dream was this: Buddhist monks, the most ascetic of creatures, were coming in droves (so many that security measures had to be ensured) to see me, the savage, perform my trade. Eh, that’s a lot to chew on.