Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Art in the Philippines

Five days into the New Year already and I'm immersed in Philippine art and music every day. There's no avoiding it here. On the outside, the urban areas look like a post-apocalyptic crumbling heat-blasted war zone but mixed in throughout is a fierce national pride and mastery of the things that make life bearable here - art and music.

Antonette and I declared the first day of the New Year a international day of rest as we happily did absolutely nothing. I fell asleep at 4:30 p.m. and didn't wake up until late the next morning. As a nice surprise, I awoke to learn that we had been invited by our friend Jofre to come for lunch followed by a visit to the Pinto Art Museum - a privately owned estate filled with endless buildings and rooms of art in the municipality of Antipolo, north east of Manila. The art was an amazing collection of bold statements of the state of the country, its politics and culture. Anyone who wants to learn about what the Philippine people are really made of needs to get immersed in their art.




January 3rd was a full-day marathon in Nolit Abanilla's Indie Pinoy recording studio with my friend and fellow song-writer, Joan Bonito and her band, Komik's Tale. We had one day to lay down all the tracks (drums, bass, guitar, vocals, harmonies AND violin) for five songs for an EP Joan wanted to produce. An ambitious project, but I'm pleased to report we did it - from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. An important part of the experience was spending time working with Nolit, visiting with his lovely wife Angela (a DJ in her own musical life), Komik's Tale drummer Zandro Sotto, a highly talented photographer, and meeting the hilarious Alan - the one-take-wonder of a bass player, and the solid and stoic Steven, new guitarist for the band, who worked miracles to make my violin track mesh with the rest of the band's rocking sound.

The day ended with a surprise coffee and chocolate visit with Antonette, the Nachors, and a musician friend with whom I had worked in Winnipeg in November when she toured through. Another happy, unplanned meeting!

Our attempt to rest on Monday, Jan. 4th was foiled when impromptu plans to meet and spend some quality time with our friend Robert came up - so I dragged him along to dinner with friends in Pasay City - the family I stayed with on my first visit to the Philippines in January, 2012. It was like coming home as we took the MRT to Libertad Station and wended our way to Facundo Street in the heart of this notorious, bustling neighbourhood. It turned out to be a great opportunity for Robert to enjoy some down time listening to tunes with Alfie while I caught up with Alf's sister, Lovelle. The evening ended with a brief visit to see a blues jam at Back to the 90's - a live music Venue in Cubao that - as luck would have it, I will be performing at next week with Luna, a U2 cover band founded by Nolit (although he has since passed it on to other excellent musicians.

January 5th was a day devoted to Art in Angono, the City devoted entirely to Art, thanks to the influence of Philippine national artist, Carlos 'Botong' Francisco. I was amazed and honoured to meet his grandson, also named Carlos and also an artist. He let me play a violin he had turned into art for a commissioned work. Our friend Rembrandt Vocalan (so named because his father is a renowned artist as well) invited us to his family restaurant/art gallery and showed us around to the Francisco gallery and then the gallery/private home of Jose Blanco where we saw the works of the master and his seven children. A long and amazing art-filled day.

And now in contrast, we will experience pop art: off to the television studios to sit in the audience of popular noon hour variety show, Eat Bulaga! We'll see how this goes...

Photos to come. Gotta run!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

It's all about the chocolate cake! Happy New Year from Manila!

Maligayan Bagong Taon! Happy New Year from Manila! The Maniquis family and I are settling down to rest with our bellies full of chocolate cake and many traditional Filipino foods. Firecrackers continued to go off like gunshots well into the new year on this side of the globe while my family and friends in Winnipeg still have 14 hours to go.

New Year's Eve with the Maniquis family.

I must admit that somewhere above Northern Mongolia, I started to wonder why I had undertaken this long trip that was taking 28 hours to get to a hot, congested place where I would be away from my family and friends - and would miss out on my annual New Year’s Day ski in fresh, new snow. I was tired. Then at the Hong Kong airport, on seeing the excited posts and messages from friends anticipating my arrival, I started to get excited again.

Friends reunited after 2.5 years. 
Bugsy the siamese kitten.
Farmer's Market at Araneta Centre.
Christmas corner at the Maniquis house.

Even though most people would be busy with family events and New Years’ Celebrations for the first week of my visit, plans were falling into place. As it has turned out, today - New Year’s Eve, is the first day of rest I’ve had since landing at midnight at the Ninoy Aquino airport. Except that we went grocery shopping at Araneta Centre and happened upon a Hello Kitty store that had everything from a humidifier (hm...I actually need one) to band aids.

It has been incredible witnessing and taking part first hand in New Year’s celebrations here where everyone scrambles like crazy on December 31 during the day to buy last minute groceries for giant family feasting. 

Here’s a short recap of the days since I landed at midnight, Dec 28th:

  • Dinner at a 24-hour Wendy’s;
  • After a good 8 hour sleep, went to a nearby mall (Robinsons’ Magnolia) to get a cheap local cell phone, SIM card and ‘Load’ - pay-as-you-go minutes, then take out pesos from an ATM - next priority was to visit Lyric, a music supply store for guitar strings, a strap, and pics for my friend Antonette’s brother’s electric guitar that I discovered leaning next to the couch on which I would be sleeping;

  • Dec 29 - Go back to the mall for a few errands, attempt to find Power Up, the indoor climbing gym near University of the Philippines only to find they were closed, take the Jeepney and MRT home, then head out to meet some friends for dinner and then a local live music hot spot, 70s Bistro, to hear well-known Manila bands The Youth and Datu’s Tribe perform. 
    With Robert Javier of The Youth.

  • Dec 30 - Meet a good friend and songwriting collaborator, Joan, for late lunch and then home - after witnessing the lights of Ayala - to rehearse a song for future recording.
    With Joan Bonito of Komik's Tale. 
  • Then off to a far-away venue to meet Manila music encyclopedia and Mod-father, Bing Austria in person and experience Filipino-reggae and ska music
With Bing Austria and Antonette Maniquis.
Impromptu reggae jam with Bing.

  • Dec 31 - grocery shop, cooking sumptuous feast, a city united by fireworks and loud karaoke.

Tomorrow is the New Year and I plan to take a good, long rest - 2016 is going to be incredible!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

En Route to Manila - again!

Does one lose one’s passion for travel when it becomes part of work? So far I’ve been able to avoid that. It would be like waking up one day to realize I’m an actual grown-up, not able to find joy anywhere. I’m at the Winnipeg airport again - awaiting a flight to Chicago, then one to Hong Kong, with a final destination of - that’s right - Manila, again!

In the year since my last entry, I’ve been to Quebec City (May, for work), Vancouver (August, for family), Mantario (Thanksgiving - and yes that counts as travel even though I walked that 63 km trail for the 12th time!), Vancouver again (October, for work), then Calgary-Kananaskis (October, for work), and finally Ottawa (December for work). 

Quebec City was 2 days of work meetings, followed by a weekend of museums and wandering around Canada’s oldest city. A great opportunity to practice my French, discover some amazing history, peruse beautiful Quebec fashion and get a cool haircut from a fellow free-spirit and world traveller. 

Vancouver was a good chance to meet and reconnect with family, visit my favourite haunts in Chinatown, Gastown and downtown (Art Gallery). Kananaskis in October - work followed by play - hiking with my good friend Corey whom I had not seen in about four years. As he said while we wandered around Lake Minnewonka, “We’ve got no where to go and all day to get there.” The best way to catch up with old friends - take a long walk to nowhere!

Even in Ottawa the other week, I managed to learn about the metal-punk scene from the sales-kid at the Doc Martens store and checked out an incredible thrown-together blues band at the Rainbow Bistro. The key to playing the blues, I learned, is in the notes that you DON’T play, not in trying to cram in all the notes. And it’s about HOW you play those few, key notes. As with everything good in life, it’s about quality, not quantity.

So here I am again, travelling for play, not work, taking my fiddle on the road, hoping to reconnect with old friends and maybe make some new!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Return to the ROM, Fashion and Politics

Museums and movies were the order of today, not to mention lunch with a very dear friend from long ago now living and working in Toronto.


I haven't seen the inside of the Royal Ontario Museum in some time but I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.


Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome were well represented, beautiful and evocative of another place and time:

The cultural displays were very brief, though - and I found the tiny one on the Philippines very lacking in...well, everything. It simply made the PH seem so far away, unknowable and alien. There was a pair of flip flops, a shirt, and a few hats. And some old black and white photos of people weaving baskets living in grass huts looking old and severe. Not remotely the Philippines I have come to know and love. No wonder many Canadians think of it as being so disconnected and far away in place and time, while for me it seems like just yesterday I was just there!

ROM display of the Philippines
The Philippines: as archived in the ROM
Seeing these woefully inadequate attempts at educational displays made me realize how desperately important it is for everyone to travel and see the world with their own eyes and not just take the word of experts and historians. There's so much more to people and life than a few artifacts. Here's my personal archive of a very much alive and non-dust-gathering-museum-artifact Philippines, to supplement the ROM display and also to indulge in a walk down memory lane!

Manila Bay
Facundo Street off Aurora just south of Arnaiz Blvd in Pasay City

Overlooking Coron Town, Palawan

Very energetic art by modern Philippine artists

My favorite bakery on Aurora Street in Pasay City.

Sampling the modern Philippine music scene.
Not something possible to skewer on a pin and put on display in a museum

Japanese Garden at the University of the Philippines.
With my own personal garden gnome!

Dancing the Tinikling at Barbara's -
not possible to do in a museum!

Non-dusty traditional hats on display on our heads, not behind glass cases.

Under a Dao tree at Biak na Bato National Park.

Traditional costumes worn by live children on
Facundo Street preparing for a Saint Day parade.
Sigh. I need to go back! Meanwhile, back at the ROM, I found great displays I'd like to one day take my nieces to see. A bat cave for the ones obsessed with Bat Man and bugs, and dinosaurs for the one obsessed with big scary monsters.



Later I caught a special exhibit at the DX (District Exchange) fashion gallery on Fashion and Politics. Among the interesting and thought-provoking items on display were Margaret Trudeau's simple wedding dress which she designed and made herself, and the clothes of her charismatic husband Pierre which inspired and alarmed the nation:
Also fascinating was the phenomenon of paper dresses - a fad that lasted about one year in 1967.

Yes, even Trudeau ended up on a paper dress, that fashionable man!
The highlight of my day, though was spending time with a very much living person and non-historical artifact, my friend Evan - a Canadian artist with no less than a book being recently published of his artistic legacy.

Evanus Tapperosaurus formerly native to the Great Lake Agassi region
now thriving in his adapted natural habitat, the region known as
Toronto-better-opportunitus artisticas.
 I ended the day catching a film at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Light Box - an indie thing starring Jason Schwartzman as an annoying academic novelist consumed by his own ego who pushes away everyone in his life who attempts to love him by being an arrogant little s@$t. The many shaky close-ups and jump cuts made people leave and I felt a bit nauseous as well. Not a very uplifting film but rather one that leaves you feeling mildly sick and very irritated. Wow. Not a very flattering review! But an honest one!

Flying home tomorrow but packing in all I can. It's not often I'm here so I make the most of it!