CALLIGRAPHY MEET

I joined a calligraphy group on Facebook called Calligraphy Spot about a year ago. I joined because I liked looking at other people’s calligraphy, not that I wanted to make my own. I know, it’s weird. My focus is on using fountain pens for regular writing, rather than using dip pens for decorative work. But I managed to convince my sister to join the same group.  She even attended a calligraphy workshop and bought all the starter materials – Zebra G nibs, straight holder, oblique holder, Desiderata Daedalus pen, calligraphy pads, walnut ink, you name it.  I feel a little embarrassed that I’m not as determined as her to make art. She’s progressed so much in pointed pen calligraphy in a couple of months since she started.  I still print in my journals, and wonder whether my cursive handwriting will ever improve.

There was a small calligraphy meet scheduled the other day, at a little crepe restaurant in the mall near our house. It was supposed to be a pencil calligraphy and watercolor art meet.  Normally people bring their materials with them, order a snack, and share tips about what materials work best with what style, about techniques, things like that. My sister was there ahead of me, brandishing her Desiderata pen. I already knew some of the people there, they were also members of Fountain Pen Network-Philippines, which I help moderate. My sister explained to them that I just liked looking at other people’s calligraphy, but they said I was welcome anyway, hahaha.

The conversation veered from what fountain pen inks were archival (I participated in that discussion) to pencils being archival, to what pencils were locally available that could work best in calligraphy (Staedtler 6B, Caran d’Ache 9B, Palomino Blackwing, etc.), to special mechanical erasers, to Desiderata Daedalus pens being used as eyedroppers vs. with converters, to regular Zebra G nibs vs. the titanium version, to what locally available papers were worth investing in (Elias calligraphy pads and loose paper by the ream, Craftdoodle calligraphy pads, etc.).  It was all fun and fascinating. I should have brought my fountain pens (even though they don’t flex) and paper and doodled around just for fun.  There were a few one-on-one sessions for pencil calligraphy and how to use a Desiderata pen. The watercolorists were doing florals.

We had to leave before dinner, but we dropped by National Bookstore to buy specialty pencils. I had fun, and met new friends, and bonded with my sister.  I’m game to go to another meet in the future.

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REUNION

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Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, from upd.edu.ph.

My high school, the University of the Philippines Integrated School, is celebrating 100 years of existence tomorrow.  The old high school, on Katipunan Ave., Quezon City, was torn down a few years ago in favor of an Ayala mall, what is now known as the UP Town Center.  With the help of the Ayala Land, a new high school was built inside UP Campus in 2013, where the old Narra Residence Hall used to be.

The last time I went to a reunion was in 2012; the new high school building was still being built then, and we had the reunion at the elementary school grounds.  I’m actually excited to see the new building for the first time, and of course, to see my friends.  My high school class is pretty close-knit, probably more so than other classes, and we generally have a good time.

My high school friends and I were the children of UP faculty. Most of us lived on campus then.  We are still close; we meet several times a year. Over the years we have all moved out of UP campus, started working, raised families. Half of our barkada (gang) is in the United States and they try to come home for a visit at least once a year. We’re godparents to each others’ children.  I treasure the times we get to meet. Usually we spend the time just eating and talking.  I expect much of the same happening tomorrow at the reunion, only with more photos.

Daily Prompt: Treasure

PUT TO THE TEST

I saw several posts that B made on Facebook, full of anger, contempt and vitriol. It’s been a couple of years or so since he moved to Canada with his family. It looks like his life there is good, he has a good job and his kids are in a good school. But I see his anger is still directed at the imperfect country he left behind. He probably doesn’t think much of us who remain here through choice, or lack of choice. There are times his arrogance makes me want to unfollow him, but then I think of our shared past, and the reasons why we are still friends. I am surprised by his bitterness and negativity when the changes he has made to his life have resulted in what should be positive things.

The Dalai Lama says, “It is possible to develop a… forceful but far more controlled energy with which to handle difficult situations. This controlled energy comes not only from a compassionate attitude, but also from reason and patience. These are the most powerful antidotes to anger. Unfortunately, many people misjudge these qualities as signs of weakness. I believe the opposite to be true: that they are the true signs of inner strength. Compassion is by nature gentle, peaceful and soft, but it is very powerful. It is those who easily lose their patience who are insecure and unstable. Thus, to me, the arousal of anger is a direct sign of weakness.”

I ask myself if the ties that bind B and myself have faded. Time and distance have necessarily contributed to that. But time and distance afford me the conscious decision to try to be compassionate. I do not know exactly why he is an angry person, but I can only understand that he IS angry, and that there must be a good reason. I cannot stop him from dripping with contempt, I can only feel that it is one of his coping mechanisms. This does not make him a bad person, only different from how I am. I am not necessarily in a better place than he is, to think this way. I can only acknowledge that he is how he is now. And I can acknowledge my momentary distress with his behavior. I wish him good things, things everyone deserves. He makes it difficult, but friendship takes work. He still considers me a good friend, for what it’s worth.

The Dalai Lama continues: “For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential… Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people.”

Of course people also say not to surround yourself with toxic people. It’s not too bad; he’s half a world away. I love myself enough to be able to occasionally mute him. There will be times when things will be better and won’t be this way. We continue to grow.

Daily Prompt: Faded

MANILA CELEBRATES 100 YEARS OF SHEAFFER

Last May 2013, Sheaffer recently celebrated 100 years as a successful pen brand worldwide. The Manila celebration was held last May 29th, at the Yuchengco Museum, in Makati.   Walter A. Sheaffer originally built the company in 1913, in Fort Madison, Iowa.   While Sheaffer had been selling in the Philippines in the early 1990s, they pulled out and recently relaunched themselves a few years ago, in cooperation with the country’s foremost bookstore chain, National Bookstore.  They invited members of our fountain pen group, Fountain Pen Network – Philippines, most of whom are loyal customers.

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The event was hosted by media personality RJ Ledesma.  We were greeted by BIC Asia Regional Manager Alejandro Rodriguez Tabo, with gracious remarks from National Bookstore’s doyenne Mrs. Socorro Ramos.  There were on-the-spot games with the audience, where my friend Raffy won some gift certificates for having brought the oldest vintage Sheaffer pen in the room (a 1920s black-and-pearl flat top lever-filler).

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Among the items being featured that evening were the new Taranis, a hooded-nib fountain pen designed by US architect Charles Debbas, and the Sagaris, a fountain pen inspired by the earlier Sheaffer Triumph (1990s, a tribute in turn to the much earlier 1970s Imperials).   There were also three very special pens, collector’s limited editions:

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The sterling silver commemorative pen has an 18k inlaid nib and is one of only 516 made.  The 18k gold commemorative pen is one of only 45 that exist.  It also has an 18k inlaid nib, and comes with a commemorative ink (although I was not able to ask what color it was).

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The third commemorative pen was a sterling silver Legacy Heritage, with a palladium-coated 18k inlaid nib.  It is only one of 1,913 ever made.

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Towards the end of the evening, there was a raffle, at which my friends Carlos and Allan won the top two prizes.  Carlos won a Sheaffer Valor in brown marble, while Allan won the grand prize, a Sheaffer Legacy Heritage.

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We all went home with a Sheaffer Sagaris rollerball, stamped with Sheaffer’s centennial logo.

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It was an enjoyable night, after which FPN-P members continued with another pen meet at a nearby ramen restaurant.

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Many thanks to Robby da Silva, National Bookstore’s Sheaffer manager, for the kind invitation!

THE READING GROUP

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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.)

COFFEE SAFARI

Today I went with friends on a coffee safari.  No, we didn’t hop from one coffee shop to another!  We were invited to a coffee-tasting at a friend’s home.  The coffees, however, came from exotic locales – where the best coffees grow.

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I had no idea my friend Dante was a member of a local coffee club.  As you can guess, he doesn’t have coffee at coffee shops because he enjoys making his own at home.  He has a collection of coffee gadgets, ranging from grinders, to roasters, to French presses and espresso machines!  He buys international single-origin coffee beans from a trusted source, and only roasts 250g of beans at a time.  He grinds his beans just before making his coffee, in order to take advantage of the beans’ freshly-released flavor and aroma.

We had, in order:  Peruvian, Ethiopian dry-process (where the coffee berries dry in the sun naturally, as opposed to wet-process where the berries are hulled and the beans are dried separately), Jamaican Blue Mountain, Panama La Esmeralda Gesha and Ethiopian Harar coffees.  Plus an Ethiopian dry-process Americano (1:1 espresso and water).

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Dante used the hand drip coffee method.  I was wondering if the ceramic dripper was available locally, and found out it was being sold at Craft Coffee Workshop along Broadway Ave. in New Manila, Quezon City.  It’s also available in different sizes , along with other coffee accessories, on Amazon.com.

The coffees all had a wonderful aroma, each different from the other.  The aroma of the ground coffee was much stronger than that of the whole roasted beans.  I wish I had taken tasting notes, but I don’t know the terms.  Dante arranged the progression of flavors in terms of complexity and body.  I guess it would be like how a sommelier arranges wines to complement a dinner.  We tried each coffee black, then with some muscovado sugar, then with non-dairy creamer.  All the coffees were very good, but the Jamaican Blue Mountain and Panama La Esmeralda Gesha were particularly delicious.  Sublime.  (Jude, to me:  “So, did you hear the choir of angels yet?” With my mouth full of coffee, all I could do was nod and smile.)

Yes, we had a LOT of coffee, in small cups, not the big American-size mugs.  We were served pan de sal (soft breakfast buns), with our choice of filling – butter, strawberry jam, peanut butter and Spanish-style sardines.  We also had a lot of water on the side, to cleanse our palates.  You would think that all that caffeine would render me into a quivering mess, but I checked my hands and they didn’t shake.  Dante explains that when coffee has been made properly, you get the flavor of the coffee without too much of the caffeine.  To prove his point, he served me and Christine an Americano each, made of the Ethiopian dry-process beans.    My sixth coffee, but in a tiny double espresso cup.  I felt extraordinarily alert, but I felt great!  No palpitations.

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Of course, this isn’t something I’d do on a daily basis.  I don’t think I’d ever get to experience that in a commercial coffee shop, or even in a hotel.  It was such a treat (thank you so much, Dante)!  I learned so much about coffee that I never knew before.

I like to support Philippine coffee bean producers.  My usual coffee at home is Arabica from the Cordilleras or Liberica from Batangas (“barako”), so Dante suggested I try the local coffee brand Monks’ Blend.   It’s produced by Benedictine monks from the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.  We have an active Philippine Coffee Board, so maybe one day I’ll work my way through the different local coffees, which I see being sold in organic weekend markets, food trade fairs and sustainable lifestyle stores like Echo Store.

TWO OLD PAMPANGA CHURCHES

Last August I joined a group of friends on a day tour of Pampanga.  It’s north of Manila, about a drive of an hour and a half.  We had a special ten-course lunch scheduled at Bale Dutung, but had the morning free to visit a couple of old  churches and take photos.

The San Guillermo Parish Church of Bacolor dates back to Spanish times.  After the original church (constructed in 1576) was destroyed in an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1897.  In 1991 half the church was buried in lahar during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.  In one of the photos below you’ll see that the arched windows on the sides of the church are now as low as the tops of the pews.

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From Bacolor we traveled to Betis, Guagua – an old town famous for hand-carved furniture.  Built in the 18th century, the Parish Church of Santiago Apostol (St. James the Apostle) is known for its splendid retablo art.  Its facade is quite simple and relatively recent, but old carvings decorate the church door and selected pieces of the church’s original wooden furniture.  The altar is rich with more carvings, gilt and saints.  But the showstopper is the church’s ceiling, painted in the early 20th century.  We were requested by church staff not to use flash photography, to protect the artwork.

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The lovely thing about these churches is that they’re still working churches, serving loyal parish families throughout their town’s history.  If you have a long weekend coming up, a map, a camera, and a sense of adventure, this sort of trip is immensely rewarding.