Sunday, February 20, 2011

Another Unhappy Marriage?


Nick Joaquin gives us another look at marriage in our second short story for February: The Summer Solstice.

I wasn't actually going to introduce this as a story about marriage--although, after May Day Eve, of course that is what it looks like. What I wanted to do was mention Joaquin's fascination with the way pagan and Christian traditions have fused together in Philippine culture, to the point that they are as impossible to tear asunder . . . kind of like a husband and wife. =P

Obviously, the text itself bears out the marriage imagery, with Lupeng and Paeng's union becoming a kind of microcosmic expression of the tension between the cult of the Tadtarin and the devotees of St. John the Baptist.

In the May Day Eve discussion, Emily described the story as "another depiction of an unhappy marriage"--which rather surprised me. I've always seen Lupeng and Paeng as an ordinary couple: no longer ecstatically in love, perhaps, but not likely to separate, either. She's very restless in this story, and maybe she has been restless for a long time but just doesn't know it until she sees their driver uncharacteristically afraid of the wife he usually beats on a whim. It awakens something subversive in her--and then the attentions of the shallow Guido, who claims to find the old and overweight Tadtarin beautiful, make it worse.

Meanwhile, in space of three days, the celebration of St. John's Day, which is the "masculine" festival of the story, is swallowed up by the celebration of the Tadtarin, which Joaquin seems to say is the former's feminine counterpart. They are in a marriage in which there are only two options: the female submitting to the male's whip . . . or the male crawling on the floor to kiss the female's feet.

Not that it's much to worry about. I'm sure that by the next day, all the "possessed" couples are back to "normal."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another Poem with Another Mirror !


Just when you thought the only one you had to worry about seeing in a mirror was Bloody Mary . . .

by Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

I read this poem with a tutee earlier in the school year and now it is one of my favourite Plath poems of all time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Things in the Glass

This evening I was shelving books in our home library when I came across a volume of Bartlett's Quotations and upon flipping it open, saw this poem by Sarah Morgan Bryant Piatt (1836-1919):

My mother says I must not pass
Too near that glass;
She is afraid that I will see
A little witch that looks like me,
With a red mouth to whisper low
The very thing I should not know.
--The Witch in the Glass, 1888

Here's proof that looking glass legends have a long history in America! Or, Mrs. Piatt's husband served as American Consul to Ireland, so perhaps she picked up the story there.

The sum and total of my knowledge of Sarah Morgan Bryant Piatt

Friday, February 4, 2011

Leaping into February!


When I was younger, Manila had a huge power crisis that called for the rationing of electricity. There wasn't enough to go around, so everyone had to endure hours of blackouts (which my fellow locals have inexplicably called "brownouts" since before I was born) on a daily basis. The worst ones, as you can imagine, were those which came at night.

I wish I could recall all the scary "shorts" I heard at school in those days. Half urban legend, half familiar-sounding folktale, they all had something to do with darkness and candles and mirrors. The one I found most memorable was the first version of "Tres Marias" I had the dark pleasure of hearing.

The next time the lights go out, a breathless classmate told me, I should go to the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror, hold up my candle for light, close my eyes, say, "Maria, Maria, Maria," and open my eyes . . . and then I'd see "Maria" in the mirror before me.

Who this "Maria" was, nobody ever explained. You're supposed to know it in the part of your mind that understands scary stories.

Anyway, I very nearly tried summoning "Maria"--just to see if she would appear--but never got around to doing it after I heard that if you knock on the mirror instead, you'd summon the devil. For even then I had no doubt that, unlike "Maria," he seizes every opportunity to come when he's called.

The rolling blackouts had stopped completely by the time I was in the sixth grade, with my homeroom on my old school building's third floor--a level which had near-mythical status in the eyes of everyone in the lower grades. The "Tres Marias" story had been adjusted accordingly: if you want to see "Maria," everyone knew, all you had to do was remain on the third floor after the dismissal bell, wait for everyone else to leave you behind, and then say her name three times. I don't know if anyone ever tried it, but I know that everyone who had ever had to go back for something at the end of the day always took a friend with her--and that they always came back at a run, hands tightly clasped. (Heck, I once did the same with a girl I didn't even like and for whom the sentiment was mutual: for those frantic five minutes, we were besties!)

I mention these memories not to be tiresome (Forgive me if I failed!), but to introduce our first Nick Joaquin short story of the month: May Day Eve.

Joaquin is well-known for taking these kinds of legends and folktales--the kind that are only fully alive in an oral tradition--and weaving them into his otherwise realistic fiction. And I think the reason I love him so much is that the same oral tradition he draws from is part of my reality.

So when I came to that part in the story where Agueda stands in front of the dark mirror to chant the incantation--having convinced herself that she doesn't really believe in it and is only doing it to prove her superstitious friends wrong--I knew it wouldn't end well.

But this is more than a story of what you see in mirrors you aren't supposed to be looking into, and I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks of it after you've read it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Before We Leap into February . . .


(Before you begin, please know that I beg your tolerance if this post comes out badly. I just surfaced from a Big Bang Theory marathon and I sound like Sheldon in my head. Which is all wrong, I know, because he's far more elegant with words than I will ever be.)

Well, it seems that my turn to pick a book has come around only a couple of months after I first had it.

Now, I don't want to defy the arrangement of the alphabet or anything, but as a relatively new member myself, I'm willing to trade months with either Jamie or Dorian now, so that another newbie can get her feet wet faster! =)

Of course, one could argue that the alphabet is The Alphabet and that I have to choose a book whether I like it or not . . . in which case, I just have one question:

Do you want to read something else Filipino or should I go for something more "international"?

PS--Happy Candlemas, everyone!