I originally wrote this in the old version of this blog in 2005. It was originally entitled “Beso-Beso with Neil Gaiman” but non-Filipinos wouldn’t understand that “beso-beso” means “air kiss”, or cheek kisses among friends, like the Europeans do. I’m glad I found this account again, because this was 14 years ago and I had forgotten some of the little details that made the meeting interesting.

Incidentally, the book “Melinda” never came to light; I wonder if I heard wrong or if it was rewritten with another title.



Brandishing his Omas 1950s flexi-nib fountainpen, he signed in burgundy ink on the frontispiece of my “Brief Lives” graphic novel (Sandman Volume 7): “Mona, Sweet Dreams — Neil Gaiman.” A salesgirl took our photo (I made sure I brought my digital camera), but I won’t be posting it here; it’s for my secret delectation. I’m so glad I didn’t do anything stupid like burst into tears or freeze. In a tiny voice I managed to say, “Thanks for signing, Neil.” He smiled and said, “You’re welcome, Mona.” Then I bent down a bit to make beso beso, and to my surprise it wasn’t an air-kiss — he kissed my right cheek. (All the girls were doing it, so I figured I’d get in on the kissing action, hehehe.) As I straightened up again, clutching my book in a sort of daze, I realized how exceedingly tired he was. Poor guy. He looked like he hadn’t slept for weeks and sported massive eye luggage. But he was determined to accommodate as many fans as possible.

YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! I walked out the bookstore with a spring in my step and with a stupid grin on my face.

(In your mind picture me jumping up and down on Oprah’s yellow sofa a la the delirious Tom Cruise, and you can imagine how ridiculous it looks. Of course, I didn’t really do that. But I tell you, it felt so great to be so amply rewarded for waiting in line at Fully Booked Gateway for nearly six hours last Monday, on the last day of Neil’s signing tour in Manila.)

Neil is such a simpatico person; incredibly kind, patient and generous to all his fans. I suppose he was pleasantly surprised to realize his fan base in the Philippines was bigger than his publishers had originally thought. I guess he didn’t expect that thousands of fans would want to meet him (I heard some fans even travelled to Manila from as far away as Davao and Cebu). Last night I read his blog and he said he “never felt more loved by so many people”, that Pinoys were more enthusiastic than the Brazilians in expressing their cheer, and that he was thinking of returning again to Manila, perhaps in a couple of years or so.

I was number 480 in a line of just over 600 fans who heroically lined up. When I arrived at Gateway, the line began outside Fully Booked on the third floor and snaked down two flights of stairs to outside the Aurora Boulevard exit to the front of the nearest 7-11. I tell you, the sight of that line would have discouraged a less determined person. I just felt that getting Neil’s autograph would be worth it. For the first two hours the line stayed put and I had nothing to do but stare at the changing cloud patterns in the sliver of blue sky between the mall and the MRT. My friend Juned advised via text: “Imagine you’re back in UP enlisting for classes.”

Originally, rules stated that one had to buy a book from Fully Booked in order to get a signing pass. Later on they changed the rules, allowing people to bring any Gaiman book they owned for signing. Those who bought a book and got a signing pass were then entitled to have two books signed. This was a good idea, since most fans, like myself, had already bought books prior to the signing promo. Changing the rules meant that more people would participate, and that any marketing data they would gather from the signing promo would be more representative of Neil’s fan base.

Waiting in line can get interesting, though. Two college girls behind me were looking at Neil’s picture on the back cover of my graphic novel. Later, as we approached Neil’s table, they looked at him and back at the photo and whispered to each other: “He’s that lolo (grandfather)-looking guy? But he’s OLD!!!” I wanted to laugh; and then I felt my age. When Vertigo first published Sandman I was just out of college. I was young enough to have borrowed and read the comics when they first came out but couldn’t afford to buy them at the time. These two girls each had a paperback copy of “Stardust” which (apart from the paperback of “Coraline”) was among the more affordable Gaiman books in the market (roughly PhP 350). Two lawyers lined up just ahead of me were clutching hardbound graphic novels that cost nearly PhP 2000 each (One was the Sandman Dustcovers book and the other was Marvel’s latest release, “1602”.) I couldn’t help but overhear that one of them even bought a VHS tape box set of “Neverwhere” from the BBC when he was last in London. Normally I’d be secretly peeved if it sounded as if he was gloating about his purchase, but he sounded so happy to have bought it even if it was in PAL-SECAM format and not compatible with his player, I couldn’t begrudge him his glee.

The crowd kept their good humor, though. Several times as the line moved, we saw a good-looking young guy counting people in the line. He turned out to be named Jaime, and was apparently the manager of Fully Booked Gateway. I joked to the two girls behind me: “Sa kanya na lang kaya tayo magpa-sign? Cute pa naman siya.” (“Shall we have HIM sign our books instead? He’s cute.”) The two promptly developed a crush on him, entertaining themselves taking pictures of him with their camera phones. As for the two lawyers ahead of me, they joked that Bro. Eddie Villanueva could only get 2000 people to attend his people power rally, while everybody else would have preferred to wait in line for Neil Gaiman.

I guess for a lot of people meeting Neil Gaiman was a positive, life-defining moment. The last time I felt like this was when I had waited in line to get tickets for seats I wanted at the first Sting concert in Manila ten years ago. Of course my collection is far from complete, and Neil has two books still to be released, “Melinda” and “Anansi Boys.” And who knows? Maybe one day soon they’ll screen “Mirrormask” here. Or release it on DVD. Like many fans, I’ll be waiting.

In the meantime, I have introduced my mom to the pleasures of reading Neil Gaiman. (Really!)



Photo from Google

This is not a review.  This is a read-in-progress. I received a copy of this book from my dad, for Christmas.  Closed Casket is the new book from Sophie Hannah, who was authorized by the Christie estate to write more books featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Hannah is a well-received writer of psychological crime thrillers, as well as a poet.

The Washington Post’s review notes that Closed Casket “lacks the special charm of the originals”, yet calls it “endearing”.  They wanted more of Poirot’s larger-than-life brilliance, I suspect. I suppose it’s difficult to take one author’s character and write with her template in mind. I won’t let this review color my judgment – I find the first few chapters well-written and intriguing.

I’m not a fangirl nitpicker, I just want to read an interesting mystery, regardless of who reboots the franchise.  The Christie estate has resisted what The Guardian calls “authorial regeneration” for the longest time. I guess the truth is that ultimately, nobody will measure up to Agatha Christie.

I still want to buy The Monogram Murders.  A friend of mine who has both books says, “You know it’s not Agatha Christie, but you can enjoy it anyway.”

Daily Prompt: Renewal



[Tsundoku: “is the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them… It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf. As currently written, the word combines the characters for “pile up” (積) and the character for “read” (読).” Wikipedia]

It’s ten days before Christmas, and my mother is clearing up the clutter of boxes lining our hallway. The boxes are full of books – books meant to be shipped to her home town. Just a week ago she went to the warehouse sale of a publishing house and made away with yet another box of books she got for PhP5 apiece. Our hallway looks like a warehouse of books. On Monday she plans to ship them all off to San Enrique. We wonder why she waits until the very last minute to do things like this. My father is frustrated by the amount of clutter. He wants an orderly house by Christmas. My mother is doing her best.

Our house will never be one of those showcase houses, the kind you see in the magazines or on tv. It’s a decent-sized condominium unit good for a family of six, but we are overrun by books. In the living room we have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf screwed to the wall (in case of earthquakes), and it’s full. There’s another shelf just for my niece’s children’s books. Every bedroom has bookshelves, but we are out of space. We have given away or donated boxes of books but we never seem to create significant space for new ones.

In the last couple of years we have been buying e-books so that we can just store them in our smartphones and e-readers instead of real books taking up space. But we have also been regularly attending the Manila International Book Fair every September, buying books for gifts. Our folly is that we can’t resist real books – you don’t need a battery to read them, and it’s comforting to have a tsundoku pile near your bed in case you can’t sleep. My mother is a retired professor who raised us to read, read, read. We daughters feel like Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.

Life hasn’t become an episode of “Hoarders” yet. Too many books is not such a bad problem to have. We just need to make an act of will to give away the books we no longer read to others.

Daily Prompt: Folly



The 34th Manila International Book Fair is back!  We went yesterday, on the first day, and were surprised by the number of people at opening time.    It’s good to know Manila has its share of voracious readers of all ages!

For the past few Book Fairs, my decision has been to buy books by Filipino writers – we must support our own – with the occasional international trade paperback.  Prices were slashed by 20% to 50% for most outlets.  My haul above was quite modest, given my limited budget and the fact that I’m running out of bookshelf real estate.  From Anvil Publishing I got Manila Noir, an anthology edited by Jessica Hagedorn (20% off), and Jose Dalisay, Jr.’s Killing Time In A Warm Place (50% off, since it was the only copy available).  “Killing Time” will go to a friend in the US, after I’ve had Butch Dalisay sign it at one of our fountain pen meets.  I also got Anna Maria L. Harper’s Agueda: A Ballad of Stone and Wind from University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Publishing House.  That one was P400 (I wonder if it’s because UST just turned 400 years old?).  It’s in my local book club reading list.  For my father I got  Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow (20% off, from Fully Booked).

I also went to Cosmos Bazaar’s stall, where they were selling Pilot Pens galore. I got two Pilot 78Gs and a Birdie (fountain pens, for P220 and 180 each).  The sales staff gave me a Pilot GreenRoller rollerball (with refills available at National Bookstore) and a 5-inch Pilot teddy bear on a keychain as promo items!

One thing I noticed about the Book Fair this year is that there seem to be less exhibitors, but these exhibitors had bigger stalls.  The food area was also much smaller.  Albergus catered as usual, but served undercooked pinakbet as a side viand with their lunch, not to mention undercooked rice.   However, their roast beef was excellent.  Maybe  on the other days of the Book Fair their food will improve, and we were just unlucky to have had lunch there on opening day.

It’s worth a visit!  The 34th Manila International Book Fair is from Sept. 11-15, 2013, 10:00am to 8pm, at the SMX Convention Center, SM Mall of Asia complex, Pasay City.




One of the members of our Manila fountain pen group decided to start a small book club.  We had our first meeting last weekend, where we figured out what books we’d all like to read.  We’ll focus on a book each month, focusing initially on Filipino writers writing in English.  There are so many good books out there, but it’s a shame not to read the writers of one’s own country.  The guys in our group made a request not to have to read romance novels, and the rest of us heartily agreed (hahaha!).

This May we’re tackling the late Kerima Polotan‘s 1961 Stonehill Award-winning novel “The Hand of the Enemy”.  In June we’ll be reading her collection of essays “Adventures in a Forgotten Country”.  Both books are published by the University of the Philippines Press.  Also in our list is Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr.‘s Killing Time in a Warm Place (Anvil Publishing), a novel based on his experiences as a Martial Law detainee.  (Incidentally, Butch Dalisay is the founder of our fountain pen group.  We’re asking him to sign our copies.)  We’ll follow with National Artist Nick Joaquin‘s May Day Eve & Other Stories.  Next up is Esteban Javellana‘s 1947 classic “Without Seeing The Dawn” (which was made into a Tagalog tv mini-series when I was a child).  We’re also reading young Palanca winner F. H. Batacan‘s mystery novel featuring a “Jesuit priest who is also a forensic anthropologist as sleuth”, Smaller and Smaller Circles (UP Press).  Then we’ll read another classic of  Filipino immigrant fiction, Carlos Bulosan‘s America is in the Heart (Anvil Publishing). Just so we don’t get stuck on novels, we also picked a book of essays edited by Erlinda Panlilio, The Manila We Knew (Anvil Publishing). Then for something totally different, there’s Resil Mojares‘s Isabelo’s Archive (Anvil Publishing), a compilation of essays and notes on Philippine culture and history, based “on Isabelo de los Reyes’ groundbreaking attempt to build an archive of popular knowledge in the Philippines.”  And then there is Bambi Harper‘s new historical novel, Agueda (University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House).  There is also Luis Francia‘s History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos to consider.

The titles or order of reading might change.  But it’s good to have a reading list.  If we didn’t sit down to plan this, we wouldn’t know where to start! We can’t always meet in person, but we can always email our reading notes to each other.

From this list you can see we all have this common interest in literature, history (national and personal) and culture.  Indeed, in Jose Rizal’s words, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa kanyang paroroonan.” (He who does not look back from where he came will never reach his destination.)


I just found out via The New York Times today that Polish poet and 1996 Nobel prizewinner Wislawa Szymborska had passed away.

I had been lucky enough to buy a copy of her book, View With A Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, several years ago at a local bookstore.  Later, I found that my sister also owned a copy of her Poems: New and Collected, which contained basically the same poems as in my book, but including newer works.

A former member of the Polish Communist Party, Szymborska later turned away from her early “Stalinist” work.  She was also an essayist and translator.  Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize, she said in a New York Times interview that although “life crosses politics… my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life.”  Many of her poems that I have read deal with the aftermath of war, of people rising from its ashes.  Her words can be stark, but manage to convey hopefulness and sympathy.

I wanted to share here two of her poems, which I enjoyed reading:


Die — you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
In an empty apartment?
Climb up the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there’s more space.
At at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish in the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here
Then suddenly disappeared,
And stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet has been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken,
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
Just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do with a cat.
Sidle towards him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.


Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
That we arrive here improvised
And leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is offered only once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with exactly the same kisses.

One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.

The next day, though, you’re here with me
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose?  A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

(translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh,
from “View with a Grain of Sand”, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1995)

There are more translations of Szymborska’s poems online on the Polish-American Network,, and the State University of New York (Buffalo).


Last October 6th, I woke up to the announcement that the Nobel Committee had awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.  He bested other luminaries in the running such as Syrian poet Adonis and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (even long shot Bob Dylan).  Considered Sweden’s greatest living poet, Transtromer’s work has been translated into 50 languages.  Ironically, despite being a best-seller in Sweden, Transtromer is not as well-known in other parts of the world.  He recently turned 80, and continues to write poetry.

I am posting three of his poems that I like here, and am as of now actively looking for any of his poetry collections. The New York Observer says a number of Transtromer’s poem collections in English will certainly be reprinted following his win.  Wikipedia also lists his published books in English translation.  As a layman I find it easier to approach Nobel Prizewinning works in poetry since short but complete samples are available online for immediate appreciation.  I hope you enjoy the three I’ve selected:

(translated by Robin Fulton)

There’s a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand.  It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.

When the rain stops, so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear nights
waiting as we do for the moment
when the snowflakes blossom in space.

(translated by Robin Fulton)

Spring lies desolate.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side
without reflections.

The only thing that shines
is yellow flowers.

I am carried in my shadow
like a violin
in its black case.

The only thing I want to say
glitters out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnbroker’s.

(translated by Robert Bly)

They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
Like a tablet in a glass of darkness.  Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.
The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thought meet as when
two colors meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent.  But the town has pulled closer
tonight.  With quenched windows.  The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.

All poems copyright Tomas Transtromer.  Many thanks to John Baker, Bloodaxe Blogs, and for texts of these poems.


Sebastian Faulks writes in his novel Charlotte Gray:  “When you reach the age 40 there is no cell in your body that you had when you were 18.”  You are the same person, and yet a new person, and yet an older person.  And thus there are limited slots to be filled by new data in your short-term memory; there’s always the need for things like a smart phone scheduler and directory and Post-its. Only the most significant or the most-repeated bits of data find a place in long-term memory as you grow.   Memory and learning require will, and we are the architects of that process.

In the last couple of months I read a couple of books that mention the term “memory palace” –  Daniel J. Boorstin‘s history book The Discoverers (a personal favorite), and Salman Rushdie‘s The Enchantress of Florence.  What an evocative, romantic term, I thought.  Also called “method of loci”, a memory palace is a mnemonic technique that involves assigning data to virtual place-holders in an imaginary structure in one’s head.  It’s a mental map, a prompt.  Associating a memory with an item located in a specific area in that map makes it easier to return to it and retrieve it, among the plethora of other related memories.

I believe high school students in the US who join geographic contests create memory palaces based on National Geographic maps they’ve studied.  Even people who quote the Bible, chapter and verse, have a version.  Teachers, students taking exams, craftsmen, professionals and performing artists need them too.  I remember singer Christian Bautista being so nervous at Manny Pacquiao’s boxing match that he forgot the entire second stanza of our national anthem and just repeated the first!  Would you need a teleprompter just to sing the national anthem?  We’re human, surely we only need help when our senses are so bombarded and we are overwhelmed by information.

In Rushdie’s fable the protagonist “Il Machia” (the erstwhile Niccolo Machiavelli) regularly visits a courtesan’s salon in Florence to see an exotic noble-born beauty, recently freed from the Turks.  He is curious about her identity, and why she knows a story from his childhood, and stories from the genealogies of the Mughal emperor Akbar.  He coaxes the stories out of her, because he wants to solve a mystery to his potential benefit.  She plucks them out of her prodigious memory like Scheherezade in The Thousand and One Nights.  I suppose if you were a prisoner of war you’d rely on some type of mental discipline to keep going until you’ve achieved your purpose.

Lately I’ve been dreaming again of the house I grew up in, in UP Campus.  I can remember the floor plan, even every significant tree that grew on the property, and I would remember details from when I was a kid.  When I dream of “home”, it’s always of that house, not where I currently live.  The stories and the personal details from 1970-1989 remain in my long-term memory.  Beyond that period, I’m pretty selective.  So yes, I’ve used the floor plan and furniture location of the UP house for my personal memory palace. It becomes helpful when I write.

Memory palace?  Priceless.  For everything else, there’s Google… and possibly Facebook.


I used to think that one day I’d write a book.  Somehow I never made the jump into longer narrative fiction, as I woke up one day complaining of how work killed my creativity.  I still haven’t written a publication-worthy poem since I left Australia, but I did wake up another day to realize that creativity extended to what I could make with my hands.

You all know about the knitting and how it forced me to use Math.  I’d say that’s karma, since I chose a college course on the basis of what I did well and how few Math subjects were required, haha.

Now I’m binding books by hand, after taking a course with paper artist Loreto Apilado last May.  I always thought Moleskines were the kind of thing I’d never leave home without.  In the pre-Moleskine days I lugged around a Philamlife black diary, in which I wrote, colored and pasted everything that made life more interesting.  I didn’t know that would be called journaling and collecting ephemera today.  The black diary had really bad paper, although a Pilot 55 with a Japanese fine nib worked well on it.  I kept nine years’ worth of journaling in them, enough to fill a small baul (a mother-of-pearl inlaid chest my mother gave me when I turned 18).

My particular favorites were the Toyo Rock Drill engineers’ notebooks that my dad brought home from Japan.  Not only did they have the best paper, they also LAY FLAT when opened.  There was a major section with unlined paper and a smaller section in the back with grid-lined paper.  The pages were smooth and somewhat coated, perfect for fountain pens, without bleedthrough or feathering.

I kept thinking of this when I learned to make books.  Moleskines are ridiculously priced, and the paper quality is uneven.  If the only pen I can use on it is a Lamy with an extra fine nib, that would mean my other pens would go relatively unused!  I did go around and tested different brands of papers, and found some that fit my requirements:  smooth, no feathering with a wet medium nib, no bleedthrough.  Since I do support a number of fundraising projects, I thought my blank journals would make a good charity bazaar item.  They make splendid gifts people would actually use (well, if given to the people who appreciate these things).

So this month, after scouting around and accumulating materials, I was finally able to make two hardcover blank books with ribbon markers, one each for my good friends Jenny and TAO.  It’s good that I hadn’t forgotten how to make the books since May.  I tried as much as possible to make them look neat but they do retain hallmarks of the handmade (the deckle edges remain untrimmed, there are a few non-obvious glue bubbles that bug me, etc.).  The very first book I made, the product of the workshop, is now being used as an “ideas” journal for my knitting and binding.

May and Reg’s books are next up for production.  May made me a gorgeous silky pen wrap and I’m making her a book in exchange. Reg’s is a belated birthday gift. I’m also raffling off a couple of journals at the FPN-P Anniversary Pen Meet in July.  Then I’ll maybe try exposed-spine binding.  Ambitious, but when I get it done, you’ll know.  This year is full of creative opportunities.