Friday, 31 March 2017

Don Bosco's Mary, Help of Christians

I was rummaging through some old stuff when I stumbled upon this extra colored print of the painting of Mary, Help of Christians that stands right at the altar of the Basilica di Maria Ausiliatrice in Don Bosco Valdocco in Turin, Italy.

I had another copy of this print but after a few years inside a picture frame, it faded. I was glad I found this extra print. These prints I bought from the bookstore next to the Basilica in Turin.

So I brought it to the local shop that laminated photographs and had it encased in a sealed, sturdy, plastic lamination to prevent it from losing its grandiose colors. After all, the painter who created this masterpiece over three years had wanted everyone to see Don Bosco's dream in a resplendent presentation and in a spectacle of colors.

This was the description of the painting according to the Don Bosco website:

"The Virgin standing out in a sea of light and majesty, surrounded by a horde of angels paying homage as if to their queen. With her right hand, she holds the sceptre, the symbol of her power, and with the left, the child with its arms open wide, offering its grace and mercy to those appealing to the majesty of his mother.

Around and below them are the Apostles and the Evangelists in a state of s
weet ecstasy, almost exclaiming: ‘Regina Apostolorum, ora pro nobis’, they contemplate the Holy Virgin in amazement. At the bottom of the picture, there is the city of Turin with the sanctuary of Valdocco in close up and with Superga in the background. The picture’s greatest value is the religious ideal that makes a pious impression on whoever admire it."

This painting, as commissioned by Saint John Bosco himself from the Italian painter Lorenzone as he saw in his dream, now sits at the main altar of the Basilica di Maria Ausiliatrice, which was consecrated in 1868, and is the Mother Church of the Salesian Family from which every year missionaries leave for the farthest ends of the world.

This painting was granted a canonical coronation by Pope Leo XIII on May 17, 1903, that officially conferred on it the title of 'Mary, Help of Christians'.

Having been educated in Salesian schools since I was 6, I was very familiar with this picture. The image was everywhere at school and on estampitas given to us. This vision of Mary holding Jesus and a scepter, and standing on a white cloud and surrounded by angels, Apostles and Evangelists, and looking down on a big church, which I thought was St. Peter's Basilica when I was young, fascinated me. I only learned that the 'big church' was the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians when I read about the painting.

And when I had the chance to travel to Italy years ago, I made sure I visited our Salesian Mother Church in Turin. I thought, since I was already in the country, why not travel north to Turin for a couple of days? 

And on that morning when I sat in front of the altar of the Basilica di Maria Ausiliatrice (Basilica of Mary Help of Christians) in the Don Bosco Valdocco area of Turin, praying in silence and in awe, I could not believe where I was and the surreal vision that was before me.

From my memory of this painting during my schools days at Don Bosco in Victorias, to my pilgrimage to the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, and then back home, bringing with me this colored print of the painting, I traced the path of countless Salesian missionaries who traveled from this Church and into the hearts of young boys, bringing faith, education and virtues of a Bosconian.

Mabuhay to all Bosconians all over the world!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Kong: Skull Island

I thought the big ape was killed when he fell off the Empire State Building. It turned out, he was resurrected in this movie Kong: Skull Island.

Unlike King Kong, set in the 1930s and where Jack Black brought a complete team of film crew to the Skull Island, this time, in the Kong: Skull Island, Samuel L. Jackson brought a military team, instead of The Avengers.

And that team just didn't include ordinary actors, Jackson brought along Brie Larson, Academy Award winner for Room, and Tom Hiddleston, Loki himself!

Although the whole film revolved around Jackson's resolve to avenge the death of his dead soldiers on the big ape, I just kept on wondering why both the Russians and Americans weren't able to discover this island, when at that time, before the 1970s, both countries had already sent men into outer space.

Although the action scenes between ape and humans, and between ape and other big creatures kept me entertained, it was the costumes and make-up of these ethnic tribes living in the island that impressed me. Very creative. And you should see the graffiti art inside their hallowed ground inside an old ship. The tribesmen's acting though was just sad. The big insects in the film were better actors.

As expected, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston were credible even as they shared the billing with a furry primate in costume, and even as they hadn't bathed nor brushed their teeth in days while in the island. 

I preferred that 2005 King Kong film over this 2017 Kong: Skull Island. That was more enchanting and suspenseful, and made more sense.

In this one, Samuel L. Jackson was like Donald Trump, unreasonable and always thought about himself, when, in fact, there was something bigger (or bigly!) than himself. 

Go watch if you have nothing else to do.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: LIFE

The movie trailer of Life seemed like an alien experiment gone bad. Interesting, I thought. And since I love these outer space movies, I had to watch it.

Life is about a group of scientists, doctors and engineers living inside the International Space Station (ISS). They're supposed to be a very smart bunch. 

Smart...until they were outsmarted.

Fresh from the planet Mars, a pack of soil samples was delivered to the ISS and was tested by the resident doctor. And all the while I thought Matt Damon had already done this in The Martian, where he even grew some potatoes! 

And that's when the trouble started - when the doctor started experimenting on the soil samples and you just have to watch it how.

And that's also the time when I realized this doctor wasn't smart at all. First, this was an alien organism, and he wanted to immediately touch it? Didn't he watch Sigourney Weaver's Alien series?  Second, he could have just closed the valves for oxygen to deprive the organism of air and kill it!  Well, if he did, there wouldn't have been any movie, would it? Ha-ha-ha!

Ryan Reynolds, as the ISS engineer, was just his comic self compared to another astronaut, George Clooney, who was sarcastically witty in Gravity. They both died in space. Oops!

It was Gravity that probably gave us the idea that a lot of action could still happen in these space vehicles in outer space, where everything's in slow motion.

With these very expensive space ships made up of millions of pieces, it only would need one loose bolt to screw up the whole thing. And in this case, it only needed one Martian cell to make the movie. 

This wasn't a heavy drama movie, so we need not expect stellar performances. But in the end, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson left to share the screen with 'Calvin', the Martian, both reminded me of Sandra Bullock's last minutes in Gravity inside the Shenzhou capsule.

And did Jake and Rebecca's plan work? 

Unfortunately, I figured out the ending even before the landing. Ha-ha-ha! So, I wasn't that surprised, unlike the Vietnamese fishermen. 

As to how it ended, you have to watch it, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the voyage as well! 

                           *   *   *   *   *

I have no idea how large the ISS is when it's on land, but this movie gave me an idea to look for it in the skies when it passes over the Philippines. 

If you want, too, here's the ISS website to track its passage over your city:

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Summer Breeze....

"Summer breeze....makes me feel fine...blowing through the jasmine in my mind..."

That Seals and Crofts classic would probably also ring in your head when you're sitting comfortably by a huge fish pond in the countryside with the cool late afternoon breezes blowing around you.

This is why I enjoy being out in the countryside: the freshest air, the most serene of surroundings and the closeness to nature, where the only sounds you can hear are the birds singing and the leaves' swaying with the breeze.

In the Negros island, aside from the endless vistas of haciendas full of green sugarcane plants, the cool places where you can relax are the fish ponds, usually located far from the highway and hidden within the sugar plantations.

These fish ponds in boxes of water where thousands of fish are being grown provide a relaxing atmosphere that city folks would envy any day.

And here I am, thanks to a few titos and tita, lazily sitting on a bench right in the middle of a few quadrants of fish ponds under the blue tropical skies and with the cool, late afternoon breezes blowing from the north, and presented with a table full of barbecue, bread and a cold bottle of Coke! 
And as I take my first bite of the warm pork barbecue, we just let the summer breeze cool our spot, allowing it to waft the aroma of our merienda and "blow the jasmine of my mind".   

Thursday, 9 March 2017

A Pinoy At The Movies: Logan

This is one superhero movie that doesn't feature cars being blown up, buildings razed to the ground by a mere stare, or a whole lake turning into a tsunami. 

Logan is not your typical super hero movie because this superhero is weak, drunk and got buried in the end!

Yes, the almost 200-year old Wolverine finally got killed in the end, unless, of course, somewhere in the future, the franchise resurrects him like the way they did to Charles Xavier.

If you are expecting a display of superpowers like in the other X-Men movies, you'd be disappointed. There isn't any Storm or Cyclops here, where a lot of CGIs were required in almost every action scene. Here, the only CGI was probably every time Logan shows off his shiny andamantium blades. 

Here, an older, aged Logan wasn't as strong and had a drinking problem. He lived like an ordinary human, providing stretch limousine services and had regular customers. He was also looking after two mutants. 

His ordinary life became interesting when a nurse from a mutant-producing corporation was able to track him down and made him a babysitter for his own mutant daughter. 

And what happened to him and his daughter?

Well, that's as far as I can go. You have to watch the movie to see the journey of the father-daughter tandem. And if you think engaging the Wolverine in a hand-to-andamantium-hand combat was scary, wait till you see how ruthless his daughter could be.

Like father, like daughter, I guess.

Logan will make you think how mutants just wanted to live a 'normal' life, and with a life spent among humans, there might have been a lot of painful kills here that you wouldn't necessary see in the other X-Men movies with comic book plots.

It will also make you think how you'll react to the next X-Men movie when Logan superbly humanized an X-Man, and succeeded in offering a superhero movie without a superhero.

Go watch it!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Roberto's: The Best Siopao In The Islands

                       (In front of Roberto's)

I wondered why my brother always asked for Roberto's siopao (steamed buns) every time someone in the family crosses the Iloilo Strait from Iloilo City to the Negros Island in the Philippines.

So, when I crossed the Iloilo Strait myself, I decided to find out why.
              (Long line at the take-out counter)

(A lady selling langka or jack fruit outside Roberto's)

Roberto's is a restaurant along Iloilo City's JM Basa Street, one of the city's busiest, that sells steamed buns and other popular dishes. But on my first ever visit during the Dinagyang Festival, what I discovered was that this restaurant was busy inside and out!

The line for the 'dine-in' customers was long, but the line for the take-out counter was even longer! I saw for myself how popular those siopaos were!

                           (Roberto's menu)

Not only were the dishes reasonably priced, they were good, too. Since my tummy was grumbly and complaining, I decided on fried rice with fried chicken for a fulfilling purpose, pairing it with some meatball on stick and fried lumpia.

We also took home siopaos in case the need for a midnight snack at our hotel arose.

And later that night, as I was munching down a siopao, I understood why the popularity of Roberto's steamed buns extended beyond the island of Panay!

            (Roberto's very busy take-out counter)
The size of the siopao is bigger than my clenched fist and the bun is thick with the filling firmly squeezed into it. And this was why Roberto's siopao was a bite above the rest: the savor of the cooked meat dish as the filling was flavorful that, as its sign on the counter suggested, the siopao didn't need any sauce.

Most siopaos require sauce in order to brighten up its flavor; Roberto's siopao doesn't need any. And that for me is even more convenient and efficient. Putting sauce can be messy and every time you need a bite, you have to drop more sauce on it.

    (My take-out siopao visited the next restaurant)

The meat was soft and the taste chicken and pork adobo mixed with chinese sausage and boiled egg were the most flavorful and efficient way to enjoy the rich culinary heritage of the Filipino-Chinese families.

Yes, when it comes to Chinese food in the Philippines, I defer to the menus offered by restaurants run by Filipino-Chinese families. They know what they are doing, or in this case, cooking!

When we left Iloilo for Bacolod, we had to stop by one more time. I lined up for a turn at the take-out counter and bought a few siopaos.

This time, the jumbo siopaos, along with their reputation, crossed the Iloilo Strait and went home with us.

So, the next time you're in Iloilo City, make sure you have time to line up (or dine in!) at Roberto's to enjoy its siopaos. 

Burp! :-)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

An Arachnid Education From The Real Spidermen And Scorpion Kings

               (The Bacolod Tarantula Keepers' 
                      exhibit at Victorias Plaza)

I remember playing with spiders when I was a kid. My playmates and I used empty match boxes to store the spiders. I never caught my own spiders because I got them from Melchor, a playmate who had a wider knowledge about spiders and street life.

                   (A bronze-colored scorpion)

So, when I stumbled upon an exhibit of tarantulas, scorpions, geckos and snakes right in the Victorias Public Plaza, those memories about my childhood days I spent watching spiders fight against each other on a long stick came back.

But this time, the spiders brought by the Bacolod Tarantula Keepers to the exhibit were not the kind that could fit into match boxes. They were the big tarantulas which were native to other continents.

                (Young visitors pointing to the 
                 unique creatures on display)

                 (Jake lending an albino boa to a 
               high school student for photo-op)
                 (The fascinating colors of the 
                  greenbottle blue tarantula)

At the exhibition, I spoke to July and Jake, the young advocates from the Bacolod Tarantula Keepers, from whom I learned that, in the Negros Island, we have our own native tarantulas!

Their objective, they told me, was to educate everyone, especially the young, about the need to respect these creatures in case they stumble upon them in the wild, teaching them of their harmless character when left alone. This is human nature; when we see a scary-looking creature which we know little about, we kill it.

(Let sleeping scorpions lie)

         (A papier-mache skull to add drama to 
       a tarantula's nest, very Indiana Jones-ish)

Little do we know that those creatures only fight back when they are a human!

Just like most, I thought tarantulas are dangerous because of their sting. They were safe to handle actually as I had one crawl on my left hand, watching it quietly and slowly alternating each of its eight hairy legs as it navigated along a human visitor's hand.

                 (This Brazilian tarantula must be 
                       fluent in Portuguese)

I was fascinated by the beautiful colors of one tarantula, the greenbottle blue tarantula with legs of greenish blue and an abdomen of gold, which looked as though they were especially designed and colored to attract and fascinate. 

Although I was game to handle a tarantula, I stayed away from the scorpions, which were probably just happy to sting any intruder at their transparent cage. Although there was a small medical clinic five minutes away by tricycle from the exhibit, I'd rather remain a visitor, and not a patient. Ha-ha-ha!

       (A beautiful gecko in yellow-orange color that             reminds me of a very ripe Guimaras mango)

I remember seeing the movie Arachnophobia on cable TV, starring Jeff Daniels. It's about a South American tarantula that was accidentally brought into California, multiplied into thousands and attacked a small town. Although I'm sure those scared of spiders stayed away from the movie, it did pretty well at the box office. Arachnophobia, by the way, is the phobia of spiders and scorpions.

As I was sure none of those who visited the exhibit suffered from clinical arachnophobia, I, along with most visitors, appreciated the efforts of the Bacolod Tarantula Keepers in their advocacy of educating the public about spiders, scorpions, geckos and snakes.

Although we might not be stumbling upon a tarantula with a golden abdomen soon, or a gecko with yellow-orange skin, let's keep in mind that these fascinating creatures don't harm unless threatened. 

So, thanks to the Bacolod Tarantula Keepers T. Genus, Bacolod Tarantula Keepers BTK, and North Negros Tarantula Keepers, who I think are the real spidermen and scorpion kings, for the education and exhibit on arachnids.

And let's always remember what these groups are actively advocating: 

"These creatures are to be cared for, instead of being hated".
               (A lot of interested students visited 
                      the successful exhibit)

Friday, 3 March 2017

Fire Prevention Month And The Gifts From Nanjo City, Japan!

I was awakened one morning with loud music coming from the city plaza. There must be an event, I thought. 
But seeing a fire truck with Japanese characters written on its side near the plaza, and the Japanese flag flying alongside that of the Philippines on the right of the stage, I thought of only one thing: we had visitors from the Japan and the fire truck must have been a present!

I was right!
From where I was standing, I was initially impressed that the tricycles and a Ceres bus passing by the plaza stopped to respect the Philippine national anthem being played. But I cringed when those vehicles simply continued on even when the national anthem of Japan was playing. The city officials obviously forgot to remind the traffic enforcers posted along the highway to halt all vehicles when the two national anthems played. 

Well, the traffic enforces and the drivers of those vehicles were only familiar with the Philippine national anthem, and weren't really aware that the second song was the national anthem of the city's honored guests!

I hope the city officials of Nanjo City in Okinawa, Japan, who were standing on the stage with their right hand resting on their right chest as the Japanese national anthem played, didn't mind this boo-boo at all. 

Anyway, after all the speeches were delivered, another delivery happened: the ceremonial turnover of the fire truck and a raft. A fireman tested the fire truck by hosing water in the plaza. Even though this might have been a second-hand fire truck, it was probably made in Japan, which means it's reliable. Did it come with a warranty? Kidding.
So, arigato-gozaimasu to the officials and the citizens of Nanjo-shi in Okinawa, Japan, for their gifts. 

Although it's Fire Prevention Month and we don't exactly wish for any accident, these gifts would be helpful in times when Victoriahanons would really need it.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

And The Oscar Goes To....

Yes, the Oscar Best Picture was La La Land.  For two minutes and 28 seconds.

It was like deja vĂș. It was also a Monday morning in December 2015 when Steve Harvey announced the wrong Miss Universe. Since the show was held Sunday night in the US, we saw it here Monday morning in Asia.

And just two mornings ago, it was exactly the same boo-boo on international TV.

Faye Dunaway blurted out "La La Land" while reading from the wrong envelope Warren Beatty was holding. That envelope was for Best Actress, and not for Best Picture!

"Someone screwed up", I thought.

In events involving live television, thorough planning and precise execution are what it takes to do things perfectly. I should know; I handled real-time tabulation and presentation during some award shows a few times during my career.

I remember my team and I tabulated scores straight from the judges' scoresheets during a national modeling competition in the Philippines (whose winner was sent to Europe for the finals), and that singing competition that launched the career of Sarah Geronimo. 

Yes, my team was there on the night when Sharon Cuneta read her name from the golden, glittery envelope my boss handed to her on stage as Boss Vic stood by. And who made that golden, glittery envelope? I did.  We were even there during the final rehearsals the night before where each contestant sang without an audience. Well, good for her, she's now a big star.

During the planning, I made sure the words written on the envelope would only be the ones needed to declare the winner. That's why I wondered why Steve Harvey screwed it up when he only needed to read two names: the 2nd runner up and the Miss Universe.

But when they later showed on TV the envelope he was holding, there were three names, which made it confusing for him. As I said, planning. The official tabulators should have been smart enough to realize that, since Harvey wasn't actually going to announce the name of the 1st runner-up, leaving it out from the print-out would have been logical and correct. Poor Miss Colombia. It was probably the most awkward moment on that stage with her and Miss Philippines, Pia Wurtzbach, waiting for someone to fix the boo-boo seen all over the universe.

Oh, well. I guess the Miss Universe Organization, Steve Harvey, and its official tabulators learned their lesson. And that huge mistake was forgotten until....the Oscars!

Although the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the official tabulators for the Academy Awards, already issued an apology, there was no official narration on what happened behind the scenes that lead to the biggest Oscar fiasco in recent memory.

But I think what caused this boo-boo was just simple: someone lost focus!

The two partners from PwC safeguarding the envelopes were on the wings, with the female partner standing on the stage wing left, according to the BBC News, and this meant, the male partner was standing on the stage wing right. Since they both carried identical sets of the winner's envelopes, one would just give the envelope for a specific category to the presenter/s of that category if the presenter/s were coming from his/her side of the stage.

So easy, wasn't it? Just keep track of the categories, give the envelope for the category being presented, and wait for the next one!

But as I said, someone lost focus, and the PwC partner, from whose side Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty came (probably at the stage wing right), gave the legendary stars the Best Actress envelope, the wrong envelope.

That PwC partner tweeted a photo of Emma Stone backstage after she received the Best Actress award. If you watched the show, Emma Stone walked with Leonardo di Caprio towards the stage wing right after her speech. This made me think the male PwC partner probably got starstruck and was so excited that he wanted to tweet the photo to his Twitter followers to show them that he saw Emma Stone fresh from her Oscar win.

The fact that he was busy tweeting backstage showed that he lost focus. And his tweeting probably made him forget to ditch his copy of the Best Actress envelope he was holding and retrieve from his black bag the Best Picture envelope, which was to be presented next. 

Leonardo, who presented the Best Actress award to Emma Stone came from the stage wing left (to your right if you're in the audience), and received the Best Actress envelope from the female PwC partner standing on that side. After her speech, Emma Stone, along with Leonardo di Caprio, walked towards the stage wing right, where the other male PwC partner stood. And that's how this partner was able to take a photo of Emma Stone with her trophy.

The male PwC partner probably thought he was already holding the Best Picture envelope, but I believe at this point, he was still holding the Best Actress envelope, which he then gave to Warren Beatty, who along with Faye Dunaway, was presenting the Best Picture award to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their classic, Bonnie and Clyde. 

And the rest, as they say, is Oscar history. And you can always watch the fiasco over and over on Youtube.

Well, there's always a lesson to be learned. Planning is nothing when the execution is poor. You can plan all you want, but when you lose focus and don't execute those plans, everything falls apart. 

I haven't seen Moonlight, but I trust the Academy that it is the best film for 2016. Being the last award to be given out, the best picture is the highest accolade and honor Hollywood bestows in an industry that makes hundreds of films every year.

Too bad, the producers and the team behind Moonlight weren't able to get their moment on Hollywood's biggest night, just because someone wanted to tweet.

             (Screenshot of the tweet from Twitter)