Monday, June 25, 2007

A Moment of Levity - Wisdom and Aging

A senior citizen drove his brand new BMW Z3 convertible out of the Car sales room.

Taking off down the motorway, he floored it to 90 mph, enjoying the wind blowing through what little hair he had left. "Amazing!" he thought as he flew down the fast lane, enjoying pushing the pedal to the metal even more.

Looking in his rear view mirror, he saw a police car behind him, blue lights flashing and siren blaring.

"I can get away from him - no problem!" thought the elderly nutcase as he floored it to 110mph, then 120, then 130mph. Suddenly, he thought, "What on earth am I doing? I'm too old for this nonsense!" So he pulledover to the side of the road and waited for the police car to catch up with him.

Pulling in behind him, the police officer walked up to the driver's side of the BMW, looked at his watch and said, "Sir, my shift ends in 10 minutes. Today is Friday and I'm taking off for the weekend. If you can give me a reason why you were speeding that I've never heard before, I'll let you go." The man, looked very seriously at the policeman, and replied,

"Years ago, my boyfriend ran off with a policeman. I thought you were bringing him back."

"Have a good day, Sir," said the policeman.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Not-so-Lilliputian Paraders at ‘Reyna Elena’, Flores de Mayo

The Reigning Reyna Elena

And every year, there are also lots of Reyna Elena (Queen Elena) parades within the Flores de Mayo celebrations … for not-so-Lilliputian persons.

Gays in the Philippines are seen as part of the community rather than apart from it. Which is not to say that gays are necessarily equal here. But queans often have certain specific recognized roles in the social structure. For example, as (often unpaid) workers within political campaigns, and within the Church.

There has recently been an election of the second and third tiers of government – that is, the congress and local councils and their mayors. Patterned after the US system. And the nexus between the gay community and politics was evidenced in the Elena Parade - the escorts of the ‘Beauties’ being new council members. The relationship is reciprocal – gays gain social recognition and councilors involve themselves with the Gay Community for political support.

But this is all the outsiders’ point of view! And, as a local friend rightly tells me, I have missed the essence or spirit of Reyna Elena completely. So I’ll try to capture something of his (positive) criticism. And the local gay point of view on the event.

To be the Elena is the dream of every gay and no-so-gay guy in a provincial community. A dream because it is a great honour to be chosen by your peers – by the old matriarchs, by past Elenas (who on the night endlessly re-live their moment/s of glory), by your peers – the couturiers, make-up artists, and in fact by all the members of gay society. It is an acknowledgment of your popularity and worth, your sexual appeal, your intelligence, and your good looks. Beauty is not enough - you also need grunt in the community. It’s like being Prom Queen – everyone wants to be The Chosen One. It might be seem old-fashioned but it is also a very affirmative image for gays – proud, defiant, putting it out there, not caring what anyone thinks and exhilarating in a distinctive gay identity. And the extraordinary exhilaration for the Reyna of being the focus of the provincial gay calendar!

Preparing for the Pre-Parade Photo-Op:

‘And I too young to do drag?’:

‘No way!’

The Photo Op:

Momentary (but understandable) losses of concentration:

Composure re-gained:

A moments’ relaxation before big parading:

Some repair work:

‘That’s better!’:

Some would-be Elenas:

Final group photo before parading:

On parade with escorts:

‘We lost our escorts!’

The Reyna parading:

‘I’m much prettied - I should’ve been Reyna Elena!’

‘No, it should’ve been me!’

The parade moves on … :

And now we all have to wait for another three years ... for the next parade. Like the Olympics.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Lilliputians at a Flores de Mayo Parade

Every year, I guess there must be tons of Flores de Mayo parades in various places round the world. But this one in Marilao, Bulacan in the Philippines must rank as one of the sweetest. Most of the participants must be all of four or five! At ten, I bet you are a has-been-non-entity and disbarred from participating.

This year, the parade began appropriately with some little angel men, bedecked with wonderfully fluffy celestial wings:

I think the second diminutive spirit might actually be contemplating his dins! I was. After all, it was 10pm.

And then came the ‘flores’ proper.

Lead off by an absolutely pocket-sized set of matching princesses. Super cuteness plus. And momentarily camera shy.

Followed by a somewhat sombre sweetie, also a tad overawed by the gravity of the occasion.

And then a fan-bearing beauty wrestling with a recalcitrant lolly:

And one enjoying her regal moment, displaying parading abilities to rival the late Princess Diana:

One of the last Lilliputians modelled a red gown to kill for. And controlled its shoe-string straps in a manner that any Hollywood actress with taste and distinction would envy.

The parade came to a close in a suitably grand manner with a float whose centre-piece was an electrically-lit religious icon festooned in real ‘flores’.

A really great night!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

‘Remembrance of Two Favourite Restaurants – ‘Chartier’ (Paris) and ‘Family Li’s Chinese Court Dishes’ (Beijing)

These are two treasured souvenirs of long-loved eating establishments: one in Paris, where I lived in as a teenager, and the other in Beijing, where I worked a year at Beida University.

The menu of ‘Chartier’, 7 Faurbourg, Montmartre:

This restaurant was an old converted C19 library, with its card catalogues still in place in their long wooden drawers attached to the walls. And the floors covered in sawdust, to be swept up at the end of each meal sitting to clean the wooden boards.

It was the first place I had (cliché of cliché) ‘escargots’ (snails), laced with overpoweringly aromatic garlic sauce at 3.50 francs a half dozen. When the rate was four to the dollar. I was addicted to ‘cervelle de veau meuniere’ (veal brains) as the entrée. And ‘gigot d’agneau’ (lamb liver) for the main course. Accompanied by seriously rough ‘rouge de table 11°’, at 1.20 francs for a half carafe. Followed by my fav ‘fraise a la crème Chantilly’ (strawberries in cream) for desert - at a mere 2.80.

The business card of ‘Family Li’s Chinese Court Dishes’, 11 Yang Fang Hutong, De Nei Da Jie, Xi Cheng, Beijing:

The proprietor of the Li Family’s restaurant was the grand-daughter of the cook of the last Manchu Dowager Empress of China, Tz'u-hsi.

The Dowager Empress, Tz'u-hsi

Miss Li Li, grand-daughter of the cook of the last Dowager Empress of China, Tz'u-hsi

You needed to book Miss Li Li's entire establishment of around 20 places months in advance. And we all sat at one huge table. Each of the 12 courses of Chinese Court cuisine was described in terms of content and preparation prior to being laid on the table. The taste was milder and subtler than anything I'd experienced in the country.

The famous person appeared with great ceremony at the end of the meal for the photo opportunity shown above. This however was preceded by a talk from a relative who, among other things, drew our attention to some calligraphy on the wall by Pu Jei, brother of the last emperor, Pu Yi.

Pu Jei, brother of the last Emperor of China’s brother, Pu Yi

Years later, Miss Li Li made it super big time with a much grander but similar venture in the States, where she could also capitalise on her peerless connections with Qing dynastic history.

‘Noli Me Tangere’ (‘Touch Me Not’) – Jose Rizal

I’m just about to begin ‘Noli Me Tangere’ (‘Touch Me Not’), the famous novel written in Spanish by the Philippines national hero, Jose Rizal (1861-1896).

From a prosperous middle-class family, Rizal was educated both in his native country and in Europe, becoming not only a naturalist and linguist but taking a degree in medicine in Spain.

Berlin, 1879

It was while he was overseas that he became involved with the organization of resistance to the continued Spanish oppressive domination of his country, though, it has been argued, perhaps not advocating complete independence.

In this pursuit, he self-published his first story in Berlin 1887, with a second being 'El Filibusterismo' ('Intruders'?). Together they have a strong resemblance to Dumas' return and revenge 'The Count of Monte Cristo', and to 'Les Miserables'.

Self-Published 'Noli Me Tangere', 1887

In 'Noli Me Tangere', Juan Christomo Ibarra, of mixed blood, returns to The Philippines after some years of traveling and studying in Europe. To see his family, claim his heritage and marry Maria Clara. He is now quite out-of-touch with the current situation, where the friars are in complete control of the Church and local politics. With the knowledge of the death of his father in prison, Rizal naively believes in the possibilities of change, an idealism that Filipinos round him advise is doomed. However, through the course of the novel, all end up badly - an inaction that calls for redress.

Rizal was executed in 1896 for actions constructed by the establishment as subversive. He was shot in the back, the traitors’ death as recipients fall on their faces.

The Spanish were forced to relinquish their Asian colonial possession in 1898 in a war with America over Caribbean colonies. With the second colonial power departing after 1945, ‘not to return’.

The title of the novel has an ancient aetiology in Christianity, being the words spoken by the rise Christ outside his tomb to Mary Magdalene:

Fra Angelico 'Noli Me Tangere' 1440 Convent of San Marco Florence

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Cappella Scrovegni, Padua

Rizal uses his two literary works to awaken the consciousness of the middle classes to the need for action, though of course the novels are far more than simple political propaganda.

Not so incidentally, Maria Clara has become today a powerful national ideal, weaving a complex symbolism as the illegitimate daughter of a friar and being nearly raped by a priest.