Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Friendly Files

It's not always so bad, envy.

It can feed greed, of course, which leads to a bad side of desire then resentment and other darker things. But while it's true that even mild afflictions can keep weak minds up too many nights, many times envy's not so bad. It can even make you smile.

Kala and I were in Hanoi just a couple of months ago, yet with so many things happening in such a short period of time, it feels like it's been over a year since our nice lurch to Vietnam. Kala has been in the US for almost a month now and among the first photos she sent was this. I've hugged a few sequoias while trekking in the Muir Woods forest but I haven't climbed a redwood yet and I certainly haven't jumped off one. So I am envious -- Kala did both while she was in California. Three times. Ahem.

Since learning how to swim, I've always felt the pull of the sea. Among the many modes of transportation, I love boats the most (trains come in second). The swells and spray and smell of salt, the really breathtaking rolling waves (north of the Philippines, I've rode on tiny wooden fishing boats that bucked waves as high as church steeples), the wind, the white quiet, liquid shadows and turquoise waters -- the ocean is an enormous canvas. But I've never gone under it for periods longer than I could hold my breath.

I swim in the sea when I can and I like solitary swimming the most (swimming pools hold no attraction for me). And yet, although snorkeling continues to give me great pleasure, being a window that shows what's below, oftentimes I feel it only offers glimpses. So I am envious of the world known to the distinguished diver and videographer Boy Siojo and award-winning underwater photographer Danny Ocampo, who took this stunning photo of an eight-tentacled critter. These are two patient guys whose love for the sea is as big as the ocean itself.

Check out Sea-Cid, Boy's fine outfit,, and Danny's sparse but growing photo-blog (and thankfully there's no Madonna music playing there). Those who want serious, smart diving lessons, drop Boy a line. It's not just skills that you'll get from Boy. You'll bring back meaning as well as the lasting company of a good friend.

Envy is what I felt when I saw Anna Banana's photo of the blue, blue sky and the radiant moon hovering over Rotterdam in October 2005. I wanted to see that sky again and wished to drink its glow once more.

Anna's photo reminds me of the sky over Arles, France, which was so stunningly blue it was maddening. Walking along the city's old cobblestone streets and the open fields on its outskirts, I remember squinting and blinking at the unbelievable blueness of the Arles sky and how it occurred to me suddenly what role the cerulean canopy must have played in Vincent Van Gogh's dialogue with despair.

Here are two photos taken by the wandering mind of veteran photojournalist Pepito. The images are from his phlog -- a tiny collection of recent snapshots from his many and constant moments. Among his known attributes, Pepito's unhinged personality stands out the most, with its deep store of inanities and profanities, along with his preferred language. Pipi si Pepito is the tagline of his phlog -- Pepito is mute, save for the speech and conversation of his pictures.

Pepito's ironies are exquisite. He commands the respect of his peers, which is no mean feat considering the planetary egos orbiting his profession. He is a veteran in his field and his work is frequently crisp and yet spectral, a rare perspective which makes me envious. And yet his character remains as base, modest, droll and hackneyed as his jokes.

The Beirut-based Lebanese artist called Mazen Kerbaj is touring Oslo and Stockholm at present. This typically striking image Kerbaj calls "Vodka+olive+tabasco shot." But, no, he is not in Europe on a visual exhibit tour. He is playing the trumpet in Norway and Sweden and performing experimental and improvised music with colleagues. I envy and hold in high esteem those with such multiplicity of talent and generosity. Past visitors to this blog site will be familiar with the work of Kerbaj, who produced haunting and moving drawings of dignity, grief, fear and defiance during Israel's brutal bombing of Lebanon. Kindness untethered, a recent article I wrote on Lebanon, which used some of the Kerbaj drawings, can be read here.

I think I'm also envious of the work of Reg Hernandez. Here's a photo Reg took of a room at Pansukian Resort in Siargao Island, Surigao. What a boring looking place. Me, envious of Regman's work? Nah, I'm joking. I just look at the picture and think, eh, how unappealing. Sigh... When I saw his shots I think I actually I told him I would carry his bag and tripod for him if he took me along for free. And bought me beer. And another beer. And left me be. Never been to Siargao. Man o' man, perhaps one day, with the kindness of Regmanh Manmohanh Singh...

The Regman's also an accomplished diver and you can see a large part of the world he's been skimming and shooting and writing about from his topside down perspective. He also always gets a 99 percent score on karaoke machines when he sings the all-time hit called Rubber Ducky. Just make sure you get him to pay you 500 bucks before he belts out the classic. If Ungas is with him, demand an additional thousand bucks up front. You'll need it right after the song's done when you head for the nearest sanatorium.

Here's a source of envy, and everyone who was there that night should feel guilty (and they never do of course, not even Bar Bell Ben Razon). When the Irish girls all bade goodbye at the Oar House a couple of weeks ago, I was unable to make it (no, this is not the photo of that night; no one's posted the pics). All manner of reasons were texted to me so that I wouldn't feel too bad -- texted, actually, so that I wouldn't crowd them out... It was raining, said the Oar guys, and the roof was leaking and the floor was wet; the fridge had conked out and the beer was warm and the aircon was not working and it was hot inside the bar (and of course it was...). All night I could almost hear the ribbing and the shrieks and guffaws and the ogling -- because at the Oar, ogling is audible. I don't know why and Senyor Ben can't explain it, but it is...

What is envy if not a reminder of how alive we are, a veiled curious contest between desire and destination, contentment and hunger, and umbrage and enjoyment?

I envy a number of friends who were all able to join a political push in Vientiane some months ago. I wanted to be there not just for the work but also because of a bottle or two of red that I've long wanted to drink with a good friend, the writer Melody Kemp. This is an image from her -- lotus flowers wrapped on paper printed with an article about the Rights of the Child. I have kept the image close along with her writings and the thought that I will have that wine with Melody soon along with all manner of stories. And some more wine.

Envy makes me laugh at myself, because I really want that wine and the Laotian air and the stories -- the lush ground that fertilizes the lore and lure of our trespasses.

Envy's not all bad.

It makes me smile and grab a beer and put pen to paper.

Maybe I'll even go to the Oar in a while.

Thanks for dropping by. #

First two photos by Red. The rest of the photos in this post are used with the permission of the owners, except for the borrowed smiling mugshot of Boy Siojo, who is right now recovering from a bad leg injury. (Pagaling ka na Boy nang maka-inom na tayo uli at hindi lang puro donuts at iba pang bawal ang inaatupag mo).



Ben Razon said...

envy is best relieved by a cold beer at the oarhouse. and better yet with some irish eyes a'smilin. with pipi the pepito there, it would almost do for a very comfortable sanitarium.

G.C. UANAN said...


Nice blogs you have... i hope you still remember me.. I am Fr. Greg from the Diocese of Ilagan (Isabela)

Anonymous said...

Hi Red,

Great blog. Nice photo of Boy there. :-)
What camera do you use?

Mabuhay ka,
France Begonia
* writing from Lucena; ang pagbabalik ni Flordeluna sa probinsya

The Kamuning Republic said...

France! Huy. Halos lahat ng retrato kuha ng iba. Yuing sa asawa ko ako ang kumuha. Lumang Sony digicam, yung naunang Cybershot series. Zuper tibay and reliable, but it is time for a higher resolution piece...