Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the many faces of poverty.

Some 30 years ago (upon her return from her world tour), my grandmother said that it's better to be poor in a poor country, than to be poor in a rich country. I never really understood what she meant until that day I was walking the narrow streets of Termini in Rome. My sister Mcel and I were shocked. Literally.

The previous day, we were floored by the Colosseum. Truly, it was the glory that was Rome. And that morning, we were at St. Peter's Square. The Vatican City tour overwhelmed us. I bragged about my limitted knowledge of history, and told my brother that the oldest monarch in the world lives there. My brother in return, impressed me with his knowledge of the works of Bernini, Raphael, and Michaelangelo.

But nothing impressed me there as much as the opulence of the building's interior. The attention to detail, and the massiveness of the structure. Everything was grand and majestic. I never thought the Catholic Church was that rich, and especially during the Baroque period.

That evening however, when Mcel, J and I walked to the Termini, we were welcomed by homeless and vagabonds. Most of them are dark skinned. Right at the Pope's backyard, there was poverty. It was lurking in every street, and every corner. It was unfathomable. I was outraged and scandalized.

I couldn't get the impression out of my head that everytime I think of Italy now, I think of those homeless gypsies.

When I went to UK, I also saw some beggars. They didn't strike me as poor. I mean, how could you afford to have a dog with you and beg at the same time? You see, all the beggars that I ran into during my brief stay in the UK, have dogs with them. (have a good look at the pic I posted.)

It was infuriating. But then again, how could you be angry at someone who has given up pride? Someone who looks hopeless, cold, and hungry?


In Chicago, the homeless live under bridges. They didn't beg. They demanded that you give them something. Some were pushy, even rough. Others were mentally challenged. And there were those children who reminded me so much of the street children in Manila. (Today, they sell sampaguitas. Tomorrow, they sell their bodies.)

I must say that the poor people I saw while I was visiting Chicago, were either Afro-Americans or Latinos. Thank goodness, I did not bump into a Filipino beggar. That would have been quite an experience!

Berlin was different. The poor people there were mostly confined in the eastern part of the city, and the places most frequented by tourists such as the Brandenburg Gates, Museums Island.

In this part of Europe, beggars speak different languages. It was amazing! One girl who looks Polish to me, asked me if I were Spanish. I said, yes. Then, she started to talk in Spanish. She was telling me how hungry she was. I was so impressed, I decided to give her a euro! (Normally, I don´t give money. Food is ok, but money is out of the question.)

According to my friend, most of these beggars are Romanians, Czechs, Polish, and Russians. Germans don´t beg, he said.

And today, I was bothered by the news about the 300,000 poor children in the Netherlands. As I went through the article (yes, in Dutch! hehehe), I realized that their definition of "poor" is entirely different from my concept of what poverty is all about!

It says, a poor person is "someone who is denied to go on vacations; someone who doesn't have an LCD television; someone who eats 5 small quantity but healthy meals a day, and can not afford to have burger and fries."

The article is appealing to the government to allot a budget for these poor children so that the kids can go on vacation, have LCD tv, and eat more.

When I reached that point, I folded the paper and went to the bathroom for a warm bath! See, this is one of the reasons why I never bother to read papers on weekdays. I only get annoyed!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sinterklaas is here!

Last Saturday, Sinterklaas (the Dutch Santa Claus) and zwarte Piet arrived in Hengelo. There was a grand parade around the city center. Extremely excited children were there to welcome him! Yes, it´s that time of year again....

In the next couple of weeks, Sinterklaas will be busy visiting houses.

In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas arrives in a boat from Spain. Together with him are his assistants called zwarte Piet (Black Pete). According to legend, Sinterklaas rides a white horse and travels from rooftop to rooftop; or passes through an open window. His assistants, Black Petes, come down the chimney and give you presents in your klompen (wooden shoes).

So kids set their shoes near the chimney with a carrot in them (for the horse) before they go to bed. (My 4-year-old pupil told me that she also placed a vase of water for the horse! lol) The next morning, they wake up with small gifts and candies if they are good. They get twigs in the shoes if they have misbehaved.

I guess the most interesting part about this Sinterklaas tradition is Black Pete, the helpers. It sounds derogatory ....... condescending even. I must admit that I, too, was distrubed when I heard this word for the first time. Also, these Black Petes are far from being black. They are actually white people painted black! hahahahahaha

But everybody loves Sinterklaas here. So on the eve of his feast day (December 5th), we all celebrate it ---- young and old, Christian and non-Christian. And the good thing about it is that, it is observed without any religious overtones. (Although we all agree about the Christian origin of the tradition. hahahaha)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

what language?

My 17-year-old student told me about his recent trip to London. He said that in East London, people use a very strange language. They call it cockney. He asked me if I knew that britneys means beer; and rub a dub means pub? I said, no. He smiled.

That´s the beauty of language, I suppose. It´s dynamic, alive. It´s changing and moving with our times. And yes, people will always create new words to describe things, feelings, actions, etc...

Back in college, we used the word malandicious to describe someone who is crazy, flirtatious but in a friendly way. At home, we used kadurat. Nowadays, I hear my nieces use the word kikay.

My husband said that 10 or so years ago, it was fashionable here to use French words and expressions. These days, the Dutch language is highly peppered with English words and expressions. For example last Friday I heard a TV host saying, `ben jij happy?´ (are you happy?) And today, my student told me while narrating a story `hij moet to the point zijn´ (hij should go straight to the point).

We do the same thing in the Philippines of course. We play with words a lot. So imagine what will happen to our language, and especially the spelling, years from now. My nieces are already doing it when they email me. They use truncated English. And here I am, constantly reminding them to use the proper spelling. Because, I said, it is important that their fingers know where to locate the other letters on the keyboard! LOL

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Charlie Brown.

CMae and I went to a Charlie Brown concert today. The American music director, Abby, is an old acquaintance of mine. She knows that I'm a musicologist and that I play several musical instruments. So when she put up this concert 6 months ago, I was in the must-come guest list. Why, she even invited me to the dinner party after the concert!

The day started weird. Hubby had to go to the observatory, and I didn't have a ride to the concert hall which was in another city. I was grumpy for about 20 seconds and decided to hire a cab, instead of going by public transport. I thought it was better that way. I didn't have to worry about the location because that's what cab drivers do. They pick you up and drop you off where you want to go.

But this particular cab driver was from Turkey. When I told him I wanted to go to Walstraat (wal is pronounced with a short "a") , he took me to Waalstraat (pronounced with a long "a"). Walstraat is in the heart of the city. That's where the concert was held. Whereas Waalstraat is in the suburbs. About 16 kms away from the theater! But he was Turkish. I can't possibly blame him for his ethnicity.

When he dropped us off at the city center, he instructed me to just follow that street and said that I would find the concert hall at the end of it. Needless to say, we were lost! But I tried to stay calm, and dismissed the whole thing. We asked for directions, and finally after walking around in circles for 30 minutes, found the place.

The hall was jampacked. Their repertoire included broadway hitsongs from Man of La Mancha, South Pacific, Hair, Grease, Cats, etc... Songs like The Impossible Dream, Some Enchanted Evening, Summer nights, Memory. Songs that are very familiar to videoke-lovers Filipinos. Songs that CMae and I are also dying to sing!

So imagine us surrounded by refined Dutch audience! It felt like we were gagged. You see, Dutch people are a bit uptight. Like their English neighbor, they too try very hard to show no emotions. Oh yes, they are frank and straightforward. But when you show your true emotions, you are immediately labeled as "common" or "simple". Meaning, an uneducated person. And believe me, even for this tiny country of 16 million population with 98% literacy, I assure you that noone here would like to be the simple guy. So, a poker face is a face of someone who has attained Dutch-hood. LOL

When intermission came, CMae and I decided to get something to drink. Some people had cola, jus d'orange, hot cocoa, and milk. Yes, milk! lol While others had beer, red and white wine. A cup of tea cost one euro fifty cents. A glass of red wine costs 2 euros. We should have opted for a glass of red wine, right? But it's cold outside and we're Asians, so we had tea instead. LOL

The second part, was from the You're a good man Charlie Brown musical. It went very fast. I guess, I was having such a great time! The performers were not exactly what one would call professional singers, but hey, they tried their best and the costumes were nice.

So I give them an "A" for the effort! (my friend Mica says, A for A-ffort! hahahaha)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

children's hour.

Cpie called. There was an incessant noise in the background. Her two Pocahontas were singing, talking and playing. Gabrielle who´s almost six, is the teacher; her sister Emmanuelle, three, the pupil. I chuckled while I listened to them play. I could hear Gabrielle hitting the table with a stick while calling the attention of the younger sister. LOL

It reminded me so much of our childhood. When our teachers sat in the middle of our universe, and we believed everything that they said, as if they were direct descendants of Mozes.

That's the difference between Dutch and Filipino children, I guess. Here, the children think that the teachers are their equal and the only role the teachers play in their lives, is to assist and guide them. Children are not obliged to listen to their teachers. They are free to say whatever they want to say. There is no such thing as impertinent answers. There are only outspoken children with creative minds and self-esteem. They are therefore trained to be bold and fearless.

Likewise, children are not pushed in one direction. It's all right to fail in math or science. It's not the end of the world. You can always be a mechanic, a miner, a stevedore, or a plumber. It is all right not to go to college. You don't need a college diploma to have a good education.

In the Philippines, it's different. The teachers are revered. The role of the teacher is to mold the minds of the children. The teacher does not only guide. She also teaches them good manners. She is a disciplinarian too. The second mother. She encourages them to excel and push them whenever necessary. For a Filipino teacher, there are no gray areas. There's only black or white.

I don't know which system works better. But this much I know. Sometimes, it only takes an innocent laughter of child to remind us of how beautiful life can be. I was happy to hear that somewhere in the exotic Arab state of Jeddah, my phenomenally naughty nieces are at play.... and are driving their mom crazy! HAHAHAHAHA

Monday, November 3, 2008

my music story and the maestra. Part I

My first musical recollection was at age 3. Perhaps noone will believe me if I'd tell them that I still remember that moment. My older sister Mcel was playing the piano with both her hands, and I was fascinated at the sight & the beautiful sound she was producing. I thought it was easy, and I could do it.

I tried imitating her on my piano toy. I don't think it came close, but during one of the visits of her piano teacher Mrs. Conde, the old lady saw instantly a musical child in me. Of course, I was too young. Piano teachers have this unwritten rule that the child should at least know how to distinguish A from B, before they could take her in as a student.

The old lady did not wait long. She said, I was too special. So when I was 4 , my first piano lesson began.

I still remember that day. A woman ushered me in to a dark living room. There was a lifesized picture that looked more like a painting, hanging above her pre-war upright piano. Later on, I found out that that woman in the picture is Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

The place had a musty odor, and there were music sheets laying everywhere. The maestra was sitting on a table, and was writing. She was oblivious and was obviously in the middle of something. The woman almost whispering, informed the maestra about my arrival.

The maestra immediately stood up and gave me a beautiful warm smile. She asked Iyay, the woman who let me in, to prepare something for me. The maestra then asked me to play something for her. I can´t recall what I played, but I remember her smiling after I finished the piece. She took out a piano book and taught me how to read notes. And that´s how it all started.

The maestra literally took me under her wing. I was not just the favored one, I was the favorite. I was her musical child. All her advanced students knew about me. They refered to me as the espesyal na batit or the `gifted child.´

The maestra had big plans for me. She always inspired me with her playing, and mind you, she doesn´t play for her other students. After our lessons, I always got a bowl of ice cream and cookies. She told me about the lives of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and even Rachmaninoff. She always held a fan in one hand, and everytime she mentioned their names, there was this twinkle in her eyes that is hard to describe.

She said, you need Bach for your technique; Mozart, to connect with the child in you; Beethoven, to understand emotions and how sturm und drang sounds; Chopin, to enjoy music poetry; Liszt, to paint provocative and stirring sounds; and Rachmaninoff, to capture that nationalist spirit in you. I sat there and listened to her stories. She became my idol. I just knew then that I wanted to become like her when I grow up.

But when I was 7, the maestra had a vehicular accident. She spent the next 15 years of her life, on a wheelchair. As for her piano students (myself included), we had to look for another teacher. She didn't want me to go. I was after all, her favorite. But she could not play the piano anymore. She can´t even stand, or sit for a long time.

So we had a new piano teacher. She was nice. But I could tell right away that she wasn't as good as the maestra. Her method of teaching was nothing like the maestra. She did everything by the book. There was no life. No passion. No intense love for music. She even gave me the impression that she taught music because she doesn´t know what else to do.

I also discovered one thing. She was not very good at sight reading. I was so cocky then, I really thought I was better than her. I went back to the maestra. Told her about my observations. She was silent. That same day, I told my mother that I don't need piano lessons anymore. That was in 1979, I was 11 years old then. I was learning Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata & Grieg's Anitra's dance, and I didn't have a teacher.

A year and a half later, maestra invited her nun, concert pianist niece to Sorsogon. Sor Ester, who was trained in Germany, took me in. I was so happy. You see, Sor Ester is a virtuoso pianist and an excellent teacher. She was soooo good, the 8 months I spent with her as a student was a humbling experience.

I´ll stop here.... will continue again another time.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

all souls day.

All Souls Day.... One of those heavy days. Those days that make me think about my existence. And let me tell you this, I try not to think so much about it! LOL

Except for a few, most of us will not live more than a hundred years and not one in a million that long. Yet even that one, spends half his life as a helpless child. Of the time left, half is spent in sleep, or wasted during the day. And still, of the time that remains, he is plagued by pain, illness, sorrow, bitterness, deaths, losses, worry, and fear.

Yes. No amount of money, fame, faith, or religion can make man feel totally at peace with himself or the world around him. He is constantly being gnawed by anxiety.

So what is man´s life for? What pleasure is there in it? Is it for appreciating beauty? For acquiring wealth? Taking care of your family?

We move around and live, preoccupied with the petty things we see and hear,... brooding over prejudices (discrimination even), passing by the joys of life without even knowing that we have missed anything.

And one day, a friend or a loved one goes. Just like that, we are changed forever. We realize that although in life all creatures are different, in death we are all the same. The myriad things are thus equal at birth and again become equal in death. All are equally wise, equally silly, equally noble, equally foolish. One lives ten years, another a hundred, but they all die.

These thoughts are not unique, I know that. Man is born into a world he did not make and can never completely understand. His life is full of duties and responsibility, harassed by fears and worries. He makes himself more miserable by demanding more of himself!

Then comes the epiphany..... the revelation of the ultimate truth that we are imprisoned at the bottom of the sea of life, chained and helpless.

It´s harsh, I know. But it´s the truth.