Eulogy for an Unregarded Eighty Year-Old

A stone’s throw from the turbid waters of the Pasig stands a structure derelict with age and neglect, a remnant of a different city and a different time. Where once thrived a botanical garden, now roil exhaust fumes that blacken the old building’s flanks, shrouding the looming edifice in generations of soot and carbon. Where once stood a symbol of our culture now towers a monument to our apathy and shame.

Were it to evanesce, would no one notice its absence?

The Metropolitan Theater’s halcyon days, just within living memory, resonate with diminishing echoes across the chasm of time. And as mournful Manilans cast vacant stares at its withered façade, we lament its passing prematurely, as if it no longer stands before us.

RUIN

Its architects, the brothers Arellano, now long dead, would have wept to see their work reduced to its present state of abject disrepute. Despite having risen from the rubble of a World War, the MET knows the ravages of battle are not the only requisites for ruin; indifference is deadlier by far. 

Still, its black turrets defy the changing of the seasons, and Monti’s stoic quartet of Siamese dancers mock the elements with their tragic smiles. Meanwhile, acid rain steadily melts away Tampingco’s bas reliefs and curlicues. Proud hallways that once sheltered Amorsolo’s art are now naked and bare. Inside its gutted auditorium, beads of rainwater drip down from cracks in the ceiling, a curtain of droplets drawing ripples on the stagnant murk of the flooded orchestra pit. The stage’s cavernous maw anticipates any apparition that might deign to perform upon the timbers of its crumbling proscenium.

Yet, dare we long for the day when the dulcet harmonies of a Manila Symphony Orchestra emanate from within that theater ever again?

It would be best, for now, to be wary of those who fan the flames of false hope.

90M 

The 90million pesos allotted to the MET’s resurrection have evaporated. Held hostage to fortune, the aging edifice awaits either life or death at the hands of those to whom its legacy has been entrusted. However, it is painfully observable at present: the theatre is more dead than it is alive.

Its plight has eluded any salvation through the graces of political will, and remains hitherto unaided by the otherwise outstretched hand of corporate philanthropy. This long-suffering victim of circumstance is an anachronism that, sadly, holds no currency in this present age of Industry.

The Metropolitan Theater faces the desolate and luckless reality of having survived years of abasement, only to be euthanized in an era where cultural inheritance yields no returns.

HERITAGE 

This is not merely obsessive nostalgia; an architectural artifact is worth more than the steel and concrete from which it is built; it possesses within its lines and spaces the ideas and ideals its creators held dearly enough to bequeath to posterity.

Yet we would relegate our patrimony to oblivion, paying lip service to history and feigning regret, as we knowingly abetted the annihilation of their memory.

The old building stands, unregarded and unremembered, its fate uncertain; a decaying specter clinging to the last scraps of its dwindling dignity; a shameful reminder of the beggared state of our Culture and Art.

Should we surrender the MET to a heartless future that holds no place for it, we would not only have lost part of our Heritage, we would also be guilty of the ignominious act of having thrown it away.

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Lessons From Falling Off a Bicycle

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 4.27.48 PMThe mountainbiker charges through the forest, the soundtrack fills his head, stoking his exhilaration. The music takes him over and the rider careens down the trail, cranking like a man driven mad by the intoxicating thrill of the ride. No other bikers are in sight and he cuts through the misty morning air, the wind whistling past as he hurtles forward, unfettered by the daily grind.

Behind dark lenses, his eyes scan the uneven terrain; there are rocks ahead. He leans back in anticipation. His tires have bite and speed is his ally. The bike rolls over the jagged contours of the rough section, its suspension soaking up the punishment; and the rider grins as his wheels pound the stones deeper into the ground.

Suddenly, roots! Gnarled, broken fingers lying in wait, a pit of petrified snakes.

The treacherous serpents poison resolve, and their venom takes immediate and deadly effect: doubt sets in, concentration vanishes and commitment evaporates. His wheels slide out from underneath him, and the rider goes down with his bike, mouth agape in disbelief, arms flailing in an awkward, raggedy ballet of ignominious regret.

Seconds before impact, time protracts with agonizing clarity; the mind burning each terrible frame into vivid memory. And then, the crash: it emits the unnerving hiss of fabric tearing on gravel and tender flesh abrading onto the earth’s ragged teeth. The miserable din is punctuated by a blunted grunt as the ground brings the rider’s pummelled body to a grinding halt. It is a short but painful cacophony.

Not far away, in a powdery haze of settling dust, his bike lies on its side lifeless, contorted; a heap of twisted, groaning metal. No other eyes behold the wreckage; but even this small consolation fails to diminish the indignity the rider suffers at the hands of solitary misfortune. His head is hung low.

All is silent but for the muffled, tinny chatter of a distant melody; his left earphone swings loosely against his chest, ejected by the recent violence.

Bruised and bedraggled, he dusts himself off, limping gingerly towards his crumpled bicycle. The decal on its down tube is gashed. He has crashed before; every scar tells a story. The rest of the machine is none the worse for wear. He heaves it upright.

Arms outstretched, gloved hands on its bars, the rider pushes the bike in the direction from which he came crashing in. He hobbles past the offending root section, muttering invectives under his breath. The evil roots stare smugly back at him, daring the fool to ride them again.

The mountainbiker does not need much goading. He turns around several meters up the track, mounts his ride, steels his resolve, and charges down the path once more, towards the root-mangled patch of trail.

This time there is no inhibition, only single-minded purpose. As his knobby tires grind into the forest’s wooden veins, he allows the bicycle to carry him over its crisscrossing ridges; suspension, momentum, traction and tenacity working seamlessly to deliver both bike and rider from the perilous clutches of the serpentine pit.

Clearing the section, the biker raises a fist, defiant, into the air. Redemption.

As he pedals away, he muses on his brief episode; tempted to contort it into a metaphor for Life. There is a human condition that impels us to make villains of circumstances and victims of ourselves; it is a cretinous tendency that subverts our aversion for trite cliché and hackneyed plot.

He resists the condition and summarily dismisses the vapid epiphany.

There are no villains.

There are no victims.

There are only circumstances we recast into opportunities to prove ourselves.

He reaches down and lodges the dangling earphone back into its lobe. The music takes him over and the rider careens down the trail, cranking like a man driven mad by the intoxicating thrill of the ride.

Why Should I Cry For You?

Awesome. Not the cheap, pop culture, Bill & Ted sense of ‘awesome’.
Awesome is when you catch your breath as you witness the majesty of a landscape unfolding; it is the emotion that wells up inside you at the vision of a sun dying violently in a distant galaxy.
Music should possess the same aspect that awakens our innate capacity for awe.
In THAT sense, is this song awesome.

Cheap Justice

The conviction of the Chief Justice may seem like a triumph for the prosecution panel, but it is a hollow victory. Left to their own devices, the inexperienced prosecutors would have had a snowflake’s chance in hell against the legal leviathans of the defense panel. Despite their courtroom success, we must not deceive ourselves with the cheap, romantic notion that the prosecution attorneys were ever the heroic underdogs.

As a purely legal exercise, the Impeachment proceedings border on judicial farce. However, don’t let’s forget, that this ‘historic’ event was never, at its heart, a purely legal exercise.

In the days preceding the Trial, as sordid allegations of corruption in the hallowed Judiciary reached breaking point, the defrauded masses of our nation demanded that justice be served (in this case a Chief Justice’s head; served, as one would expect, on a platter). And the country’s elected lawmakers found themselves more than willing to seize the opportunity, and pander to the vengeful lusts of their frenzied electorate.

The Impeachment Trial was held in the court of public opinion, and arbitrated by politicians who, by definition, COURT public opinion.

In hindsight, it may be said, that the guilty verdict’s bureaucratic inevitability was as capricious as the judicial untenability of the decision itself. It would have been impossible for the arbiters to reach their decision to convict unless their criteria for judging differed from the rules of the courtroom. In other words, the Impeachment Tribunal’s final decision, although legally unjustifiable was, ultimately, a matter of political expedience.

Historically, this will serve as an illustration of the tenuous liaison between the Rule of Law and the Power of Politics.

I, for one, am willing to concede that justice of a kind has been served. But it is admittedly, not the kind of justice as prescribed by the Letter of the Law.

And if it is not justice as prescribed by the Letter of the Law, we must ask ourselves two very disturbing questions, “Exactly what kind of justice is it?” and “Will there be more where it came from?”

De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da

It’s an observable fact that society has been conditioned by media to revel in its own ignorance. People have not only developed an aversion to ‘big words’, they actively suppress their use.

George Orwell, in his book 1984, articulated the correlation between vocabulary and thinking:

“Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”

Without diction we are unable to express what we think; consequently, we relinquish our faculty to reason.

Therefore, beware those who would inhibit the learning of language in the name of ‘making things more understandable’. These acts not only encourage illiteracy, they glorify ignorance. The insidious process isn’t called ‘dumbing down’ for nothing.

Thirty two years ago, the Police released a song whose deceptively frivolous title (composed of eight monosyllables strung together in a salvo of infantile gibberish) belied a scathing message about the banality and abuse of words: De Do Do Do De Da Da Da.

Torquemada Does Broadway

The Spanish Inquisition was established by the Pope in the 1400s to convert people to Catholicism through the use of torture. It’s leader, the Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada became the personification of religious power and prejudice. In 2004, Pope John Paul II apologized officially for the atrocities committed by Rome in those days of ignorance and cruelty. However, Hitchens puts it succinctly:

“We have no right to forget what religion was like before its fangs were drawn.”

In the Philippines, the CBCP is a toothless 21st Century equivalent of the Inquisition. Thankfully, because of Enlightenment and Reason, their dogma is today regarded with ridicule rather than the fear it once commanded.
But, lurking inside every unctuous bishop is a Torquemada, waiting to be worshipped by the credulous.

And ridiculed by everyone else.

300

This movie was so faithful to the graphic novel, it used Frank Miller’s panels and illustrations as its storyboard.
It’s now been five years since the Spartan sausage fest hit theatres, and despite the story’s historical inaccuracies and gratuitous violence, I would be hard pressed to find a film whose riveting imagery and creative technique matched the imagination and originality of 300.

Every Breath You Take Unplugged

Every Breath You Take showed us the dark side of romantic obsession; in this variation of the Police classic, Sting eschews the electric and lays down a steady tempo in the opening measures, explodes into the chorus, recapitulates, and then deftly guides the arrangement into a brilliant crescendo.
The finish is as tender as a feather touching down.
Then, you realize the world is a little bit better than it was five minutes ago.

Why Attenborough Rocks

Decades before Steve Irwin or Jeff Corwin even decided to pull on their khaki shorts, a visionary British naturalist and BBC broadcast pioneer had already paved the way for what would become modern wildlife television.

The level of excellence of his groundbreaking documentaries remains the standard against which all others must be measured.

And, as far as I’m concerned, not even Morgan Freeman’s lordly timbre can hold a candle to the endearingly engaging inflections of the singular Sir David Attenborough.

If You’re Gone

Have you ever faced the prospect of a loss so significant it hurt to imagine it? With incisive, insightful lyrics, a haunting melody, and one of the most emotionally stirring horn section arrangements in pop music, Matchbox Twenty explores the grave hypothesis; and they do so with a hope we wish we could ourselves muster, if dark occasion demanded.