Archive of ‘photo essays’ category

sailor lecoule

This is a step-by-step unboxing and inking of a Sailor Lecoule.

Since an image is worth a thousand words, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

The packaging: first comes a cardboard outer sleeve…

…and an acrylic inner box. Inside it are the pen and two short cartridges. The converter is an option. 

The parts of a Lecoule: cap with chrome trim, barrel with pearlescent white body, converter, and stainless steel MF nib in a transparent section.

I decided to use Pilot Iroshizuku ink in Tsutsuji (azalea), a vibrant hot pink.

Slowly lowering the section and converter into the ink…

…drawing the ink halfway up the converter…

…until the converter is full.

The nib, stained with Tsutsuji, rests on the ink bottle cap.

After inking, the pieces are fitted back together.

A writing sample. The Sailor Lecoule nib only comes in MF -medium-fine – and is a nail with a very slight hint of spring. For those used to nibs that yield a bit, this one will take some getting used to. It would be a good entry pen for those coming from ballpoints. 

The design is all about simplicity and tradition, with an added touch of fun. I love how the transparent material makes it almost a demonstrator!

Pilot Iroshizuku Tsutsuji ink and Sailor Lecoule – an interesting combination. 

I bought this red Sailor Lecoule at Scribe Writing Essentials store in Eastwood City Mall, C-5 Road, Quezon City. (No affiliation, only that it’s the only in-mall fountain pen specialty store in the country.)

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S, edited for sharpness and color with iPhoto.

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picture this

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” they say.

As a writer, I know this to be true. There are things and experiences that make you gasp like a punch to the gut or a slap in the face or a hug of exceeding warmth and lovingkindness and in that moment of speechlessness words are inadequate to convey with full nuance or intensity of meaning what they made you think or feel.

So I take pictures.

“Pages”, uploaded to Instagram on 10 Aug. 2012.

“Wind-Tossed”, tree and sky in Bohol. 13 Aug. 2012

“Patchwork Tile”,  floor of Aristocrat Restaurant,  Manila. 28 Aug. 2012

“Pearl Sun”, at the Cultural Center complex, Pasay City. 31 Aug. 2012

“Blue Pen”, closeup of a Lamy Safari’s 1.1 italic nib. 11 Sep. 2o12.




All photos taken with an iPhone 4S and edited with Snapseed.

Find me on Instagram: @jensdecember

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pop goes the world: paradise in mindanao

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  14 June 2012, Thursday

Paradise in Mindanao

Maayong buntag ka ninyong tanan. (Good day to all of you.)

I’m practicing my Visayan because I have fallen in love with Mindanao, after visiting Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City, and Davao City last week.

In Cagayan de Oro City last Friday, I witnessed the turnover of an integrated health facility by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Employees Union (PCSO-SEU) to the residents of a typhoon Sendong settlement area built by Habitat for Humanity in Barangay Canitoan.

It was my second visit to the city; the first time was in January, a few weeks after Sendong devastated the area. We spent less than a day in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, not enough time to get to know the place.

This time around, I got to stay a couple of days.

The PCSO-SEU project is an advocacy of the PCSO employees, who have internalized the agency’s mission of charity. By contributing a portion of their bonuses to the SEU fund, they were able to put up a 54 square meter clinic on a 100 square meter lot donated by the city government under Mayor Vicente Emano, through a linkage of the SEU with Mater et Puer (Mother and Child) Foundation, a non-government organization whose members are women professionals, most of them from Davao City.

The PCSO-SEU Integrated Health Facility at Bgy. Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. At the left are personnel from PCSO-Manila and Misamis Oriental who attended the inauguration.

The clinic includes a reception area, treatment room, birthing room, recovery room, and standby water tank, all donated by the SEU. The rest of the land will be planted with vegetables and herbs.

Mayor Emano attended the ceremony, along with personnel from the PCSO: physician Jose Bernardo Gochoco, special projects department manager, and SEU officers Chris Bautista, president; Andreo Nualda, first vice-president; Andrew Barcelona, second VP; Soledad Rasing, third VP; Jerusa Corpuz, secretary; Estela Divina, treasurer; Alex Asuit, auditor; Teddy Tomas, budget and accounting department representative; Archie Sopenasky, PR department representative; and lawyer Ravena Joy Rama, VisMin cluster representative.

PCSO will be donating medical supplies and equipment for the clinic, while the Cagayan de Oro government will provide the people to run it – doctors, nurses, dentists, and maintenance workers.

PCSO-SEU water tank in Bgy. Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. A similar tank will be installed at a PCSO-SEU clinic in Iligan City.

The PCSO-SEU plans to put up a similar health facility in a settlement in nearby Iligan City, which we also visited. Details on its construction are being worked out with the project partners.

Among the other places we got to see were the Agus 4 and Agus 6/7 hydroelectric facilities in Iligan City, the City of Waterfalls. Unbeknownst to many are the vast catchment basin of Agus 4, covered with water plants on the surface, while underground tunnels honeycomb the earth beneath. Three giant turbines of shiny steel there are among those driving power to the region.

Underground tunnel at Agus 4 hydroelectric plant, Iligan City.

The cascading waters of Maria Cristina Falls power Agus 6/7. The foliage around the falls are lush and exotic; its waters rush down to a nature park which welcomes visitors who take pictures under the spray of the falls.

Maria Cristina Falls, Iligan City. It had rained the night before our visit, hence the muddy waters. Usually the waters are clear, say the locals. 

There’s a nature park in Davao, too. Nestled in the pine-covered hills of Toril is Eden Nature Park, which has a zipline facility, buffet dining hall, and activities for visitors such as hiking.

Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and Davao have highly urbanized centers with malls and shops. The ambiance is Quezon City or Las Piñas, but with more trees. Everything is so clean. The roads are well-paved. Many of the cars tooling about on the roads are late models. The area looks prosperous and developed, but still closer to nature than Manila.

So close, in fact, that the beaches on Samal Island are a mere half-hour away from Davao city proper, including a banca ride across a stretch of sea. At Chema’s by the Sea, a private garden resort on the island, a pocket white sand beach and saltwater infinity pool invite relaxation, as the wide-spreading branches of talisay trees provide shade.

Saltwater infinity pool at Chema’s By the Sea resort, Samal Island. 

SMART’s 3G signal is fairly strong; I can imagine myself filing my MST columns from there, toes in the sand and drink in hand, cackling evilly while my editors hunch over their keyboards in their cramped windowless offices in Makati.

I now know where I’m going to build my retirement cottage.

A cup of brewed mountain arabica coffee at Chema’s By the Sea.

Mag-amping kamo. (Take care.)  *** 

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S. Check out my Instagram feed: @jennydecember

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mary grace cafe

Looking for a place that serves great food in a warm, inviting, cozy atmosphere? Check out Mary Grace Cafe at Greenbelt Makati and Serendra Taguig.

My first visit to this restaurant was last month, and I’ve been going at least once a week ever since, on a weekend, sometimes to eat there twice a day – brunch and dinner.

First, let’s look at the interiors. They’re all country, no rock-n-roll. Think of a cottage decorated with Papemelroti accessories and salvaged architectural elements such as carved wood trim and balusters and stained-glass windows.

The facade of Mary Grace Cafe in Greenbelt, Makati City. Notice the fairy lights around the windows! Information such as store hours and contact numbers are painted on the glass door, rather than inscribed on a sign that would mar the view.

Inside, look up and be amazed at the ceiling’s display of clusters of lanterns  and glass jars. I love this! I will duplicate this in my home. One day. When I get around to it.

The upper level of the cafe in Greenbelt is a loft that might be the dining room and sala of your quirky artist aunt’s cottage in Laguna, or something. It murmurs “come in, sit down, eat!”

The interior of Mary Grace Cafe – Serendra. It’s small but still warm with brick and wood trim accents, and all sorts of country-style decor. There are racks of magazines to read while waiting.

Now for the food!

The tables are wooden, the tops covered with glass, underneath which are handwritten notes from happy patrons. Popular menu items include Mary Grace hot chocolate, Filipino-style with ground peanuts, served in a mismatched cup and saucer for a colorful touch; and the cassava chips and onion dip. You must try these. YOU MUST.

Here’s a tip: bring a large 16-oz tumbler with lid or a thermos and combine a cup of the hot chocolate with a cup of brewed coffee. It’s mocha, Pinoy-style.

Their iced teas are really good, and come in several fruity flavors. Our favorite is the apple and cinnamon honey – “Apple pie in a glass!” my youngest daughter calls it.

Start with a bowl of hearty soup. This is my eldest daughter’s favorite – the cream of mushroom soup. It’s savory without being too salty; it’s just right.

The menu runs to salads, pastas, and pastries. Craving a rice meal? They serve Filipino breakfast with rice until 5pm. This is the Vigan longganisa (sausage) plate that comes with two eggs anyway you like it. 

The seafood pasta blends flavors of the sea with earthy vegetables and bread.

The tomato pasta is muy delicioso.

The Kesong Puti salad with Calamansi Vinaigrette teases your palate with interesting flavors.

The mushroom and cheese pizza is on a crunchy thin crust sprinkled with cornmeal for added texture.

Cap off your meal with a slice – or two – of  cinnamony, nutmeggy, whipped cream-y apple pie.

Grilled ensaymada – grilling melts the cheese, toasts the top of the pastry, and warms it through.

Mary Grace started out as a home business in the mid-90s, with the owner selling melt-in-your-mouth ensaymada from her dad’s machinery store along Vito Cruz Street, Manila. I remember how fame of her pastries spread via word-of-mouth, and bought boxes of ensaymada one holiday in the late 90s to give as gifts. I gave a box to the late Speaker of the House Ramon V. Mitra Jr., and was surprised when he called back saying he loved them and asking where to buy.

It’s heartwarming to see that from those humble beginnings more than a decade ago, Mary Grace has grown, giving it more ways to bring its delicious baked goods and food to a wider clientele.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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montblanc noblesse

Well, hello, there. What an interesting way to start the year, fountain-pen-wise – meeting a Montblanc I’ve never come across before.

This is a Montblanc Noblesse. It was available from the late ’70s to ’80s.

The pen has a slimline design popular during that period.

The Montblanc white star is on the cap, as usual. The nib of this particular pen is an 18k Fine. The gold cap band is engraved with the words “Montblanc Noblesse”.

The filling system is a converter. As you can see, this one’s pristine. Never been inked. *heartbeat*

It came with a bottle of Montblanc Emerald Green ink, a color that has been discontinued.

Filling this vintage pen for the first time is a fantastic way to start the year.

The nib is a nail without a hint of spring, writes buttery-smooth, and simply glides over paper.

This gem of a Montblanc is not mine, but I am glad to have met it and been the one to fill it and write with it for the first time. A distinct honor, I must say.

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the starbucks planner 2012

The Starbucks planner for 2012 is a 180-degree turn from last year’s elegant design that came in red velvet and metallic finishes. This time around, it’s all about trees, evoked with natural materials – wood and coarse-weave fabric. It’s acquired through the usual means of stickers for each drink purchased during the designated holiday period (November to January).

There are five iterations shading from light to dark, each named after a tree. This one’s Cherry, the middle shade (#3).

What’s more, the design took more than a few cues from the Moleskine notebook.

This unboxing happened at Starbucks Harbour Square at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex.

“Let’s give big hugs – and little gifts of hope.” Actually, I’m fine with the big hugs. Really.

The coarse-weave pouch is an innovation – it’s the first time it’s been done by Starbucks Philippines. The pouch keeps the planner clean, and is also handy for receipts, a pen, and other little items.

No worries that the planner inside will be damaged by things you might keep in the pouch – the covers are made of thin pieces of wood, with the siren design and edge text in bas-relief.

There’s a Moleskine-style elastic on the back. As always, the planner comes with coupons – nine, this time around, less than there used to be, at one per month, but then it takes less drinks to get the planner this season.

Instead of a Moleskine-type ribbon marker, a kraft-cardboard bookmark is provided. I love the horizontal layout. 

Now we come to the best thing about this planner – the paper. It is smooth, creamy, and fountain-pen friendly. The stiff nib of my daily-warrior Parker Jotter simply glides across the paper, as if it were glass. Or ice.

Another good thing for FP  users – there’s minimal show-through! 

As with every Starbucks planner, this one has magnificent photography.

A pocket attached to the inside back cover holds the coupons and bookmark. Again, just like the Moleskine. It’s handy-dandy for keeping more stray bits of paper and other ephemera. 

The size is smaller too, compared to previous editions. It’s about the size of a Kindle and fits neatly in my handbag, where I hope it gets along with all the pink things in there.

Photos taken with a 2MP Nokia C3.

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namaste in baguio

When in Baguio last April I visited one of the most interesting shops I’ve ever entered – Namaste, at Porto Vaga Building along Session Road.

Namaste attendant Meg Reyes with writers Clarissa Militante and Genevieve Asenjo.

a place of wonder

It is said to be the only shop in the Philippines that sells Nepali and Tibetan fine goods and art, as well as crystals and semi-precious stone beads to be made into custom jewelry.

The shop is filled with wonderful things. Everywhere, the gleam of brass, or perhaps gold leaf, the shimmer of fine pashmina wool, the sheen of beads displayed on countless racks.

The shop windows are crammed with interesting objects. Here, a brass figure holds center stage, perhaps an avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion); behind it walk Meg and fictionist Yvette Tan.

Yet another gleaming Buddha sits serenely in the window, behind a quartz geode and metal elephant. Elephants (gaja in Sanskrit) symbolize fertility, abundance, richness, boldness and strength,  wisdom and royalty. In Buddhism, the “Precious Elephant” means strength of mind, a “symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the Path.”

The walls are adorned with paintings, carvings, masks, even a  musical instrument or two…

…while from the ceiling dangle bells, wind chimes, patchwork fabric hangings, and more.

A view of the Namaste shop interior. I’d love to have one of those intricately-carved wooden stools.

A prayer wheel sits atop a display case.

Buddha figures in all shapes, sizes, and forms abound…

One of my favorite tableaus – a Buddha in the center, flanked by a warrior and a horse. In Chinese mythology, horses stand for virtue and power. From obvious associations, it also connotes speed, intelligence, and natural forces, like the wind and waves. In Buddhism, the “Precious Horse” is one of the “Seven Jewels of Royal Power”, said to “travel among the clouds and and mirror the Buddha’s abandonment of or “rising above” the cares of worldly existence.”

This very interesting triptych is carved from wood and painted. On the center of the left-hand panel is  a prayer wheel with the Sanskrit symbol for OM , the “eternal syllable”. Buddha sits upon a lotus, with more on the other panels; in Buddism, the lotus refers to “the complete purification of body, speech, and mind.”

More Buddhas sit atop a pile of silk and wool fabric – shawls and what-not. From the ceiling in front of them is suspended a wooden charm carved and painted with the Chinese symbol for good luck.

The shop has many of these displays of bracelets and necklaces made from crystals and stones.

I asked Meg to make me a bracelet. She asked me, “Ano’ng kailangan mo?” (What do you need?) I asked her, “Ano ang tingin mong kailangan ko?” (What do you think I need?) She looked into my eyes, while her own narrowed. Then she said, slowly, “Maraming naiinggit sa iyo.” (Many people envy you.) I was taken aback by that; it was unexpected.

But then I recalled two Enochian card readings I was given last year, in November and December; the reader, Malou Mallari, told me both times to be wary of workplace envy. For the same issue to crop up again was an uncanny coincidence; I decided to take heed, and let Meg guide me in the choice of stones for my bracelet.

She put in a mix of power (creativity, health, success, etc.) and protection (anti-negativity, anti-envy, returning back ill-wishing) stones. Because the power stones cost more, I got only one of each, while the rest of the length of the bracelet was made up of the less expensive jet black “anti-negative” stones.

Meg makes my bracelet…

…choosing from these beads – tourmaline, quartz, amethyst, jet, lapis lazuli, angelite, and onyx among them. Beside the box of amethyst beads are two tiny (less than 1.5 inches high) Buddha statues that I was choosing between. I got the one on the left. I carry it with me everyday in a pouch in my bag, putting it in front of my computer monitor when I get to work in the mornings.

Meg places my chosen beads on a makeshift cardboard stand, like a Scrabble tile holder, and strings them on several strands of elastic thread, knotting the ends tightly and fusing them together in a candle flame.

The finished bracelet.

Before handing me my items, Meg “blessed” both the bracelet and the mini-Buddha in a Tibetan metal “healing bowl”, running a wooden implement around the rim to create a ringing, echoing sound while telling me to think of good things. As I drew the bracelet on my wrist, Meg advised me to wear the power stones next to my pulse.

envy breaks rock

Fast-forward to May 2011. Now one of the protection stones on my bracelet has cracked in half, and half of the bead beside it has changed color, from black to a murky gray. I was puzzled – I don’t slam my hand around, while the color change is frankly inexplicable.

The other day a friend at work told me that at least four people in our department, three men and a woman – people I had known from before we came to our present office, people whom I thought were my friends – have been griping about my position at work, though they acknowledged I had never done anything against them, either professionally or personally.

I noticed these four people have barely spoken to me the past several months – now I know why. This was not the first manifestation of their envy. (The first time around, the woman staged a weird and uncalled-for temper tantrum, texting me strange messages.) When envy rears its ugly head in erstwhile friendly relationships, especially in the workplace, it spells the end of friendships. Or not, because now I realize these people never were my true friends.

When Malou read my cards last year and told me that my biggest problem this year would be office envy – “It would really be severe,” she said – I shrugged it off, paid no heed; I was more interested in hearing about whether my lovelife would improve. Now I see what she meant.

And I can’t help thinking that my bracelet took the hit of all that negative energy. A coincidence? Still, it’s uncanny. Three friends (a writer, a lawyer, and an editor) I had showed the damaged bracelet to pushed it away and averted their eyes. “Nakakakilabot,” (gives me the shivers, frightening) they said.

I plan to go up to Baguio on the next long weekend and visit Namaste again, this time to ask Meg for a bracelet made entirely of the “anti-negative” stones as a pangontra. Though I believe luck is what we make it, some coincidences are just too strange and cannot be ignored.

It will also be a treat to immerse myself once more in a world of wondrous things replete with symbolism, a trove of exotic treasures from a different place,  a haven for unraveling stress and instilling a sense of deep peace.   ***

All photos by JennyO, taken April 2011  with a Nikon Coolpix L21.

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laptops i have known

The other night I was going through my blog stats and found these search terms: “jennyo laptop” and “jenny ortuoste netbook”. Or something like that. Point is, someone seems to be curious about what laptop I am using, if any.

Since I am all about ibigay ang hilig (give what’s wanted), then here’s a rundown of the portable computers in my life.


WARNING: This post contains many photos of laptop porn that will be of interest only to gadget geeks.

PROCEED ONLY if truly interested in hardware.

I got my first laptop in 2005 – this Stormtrooper white Ebox made in China. At the time it was quite expensive. It served me well for a couple of years and I was happy with it. It had a PENTIUM M processor! Centrino technology! It even had a – gasp! – DISKETTE drive!

(For young people, old people, and people who have been living under a rock since 1985 who do not know what a “diskette” is, click here.)

Even back then, laptops already had a track pad and two buttons that were the equivalent of the right-click and left-click buttons on a mouse.

But this Ebox is heavy and I used it as my work computer, keeping it on my desk at the office. In time, models with bigger and badder specs emerged, and this guy was relegated to the kitchen, for my helper’s use. (Facebook, mostly.) It still works, and she says it’s a whiz at picking up wifi signals. (Yay, Intel!)

Then in 2006 my sister gave me this powerful Acer Travelmate 6292 installed with Windows Vista and that same bad-ass Centrino tech, but “Duo” this time, and with a Core 2 Duo processor. It has a fierce number of ports – USB, Firewire, you name it, it’s got it.

It also has a DVD writer and a built-in card reader, very handy for uploading photos and files from different storage media. It can be connected to a projector for presentations, and to video cameras for editing. One of my video editor friends told me, “This rocks, it’s got everything we need for video and photos. Don’t give it to your kids!”    

Since I prefer having other people do video editing for me than doing it myself (mainly because I can’t video-edit), I ended up giving this Acer to my kids. My eldest still uses it, not only for video editing but for a whole lot more besides, like downloading Korean pop music videos and other important stuff. This is one good puppy of a lappy. However, it now runs Windows 7, because as the whole world and his aged grandmother know, Windows Vista is one of the crappiest OS’s ever to come out of Microsoft.

I realized I didn’t need a monster lappy powerful enough to run black-ops by itself. In the dark. Without backup. What I really needed was something simple – the electronic equivalent of paper and pen – in short, a gadget running just Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and an Internet browser would be enough.

Then netbooks were invented. (Insert “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by divine celestial beings here.) Around 2008 I got this wee cute little pink Acer Aspire One. What sold me on it was the fact that it was pink.

Being a netbook, it is smaller and lighter than regular laptops. Compare it with the Acer Travelmate, which my daughter has covered with Tokio Hotel and Puffy Ami Yumi stickers. Big diff, right?

The bad thing, the EVIL thing, about the Acer Aspire One models, was their batteries. My sister also has one in black – she bought hers in Dubai – and both our batteries gave out after only a year or so of use. Of careful use. I had to ask a friend in the US get me a new one, and he did in grand style, getting me the largest he could find on eBay. It is so big, it functions as a stand. It also lasts for nine hours of regular netsurfing and Word use.

Being so tiny, the Acer did have one disadvantage for me – the keys were all cramped on the keyboard, and it was difficult to type. I ended up not being comfortable using it to write, a defeat of purpose because that was the reason I got it. I did like the design of the trackpad, with the right- and left-click keys placed on either side of it, instead of below.

The Acer Aspire One runs Atom and was designed for Windows XP, but being the contrarian that I am, I had Windows Vista installed in it. This was before I learned Vista is crap, okay?

This pretty baby has no DVD drive, but it has several USB ports, a card reader, the usual jacks for mic and headphones, and a port for projectors and LAN connections. I’ve used it successfully for Skype/Yahoo! Messenger and projector presentations. Like the Acer Travelmate, it has a built-in webcam at the top of the screen, now a standard feature for these gadgets. It’s still heavy, though. Especially with that gargantuan battery.

So I was happy when the office issued me this delightfully slim and elegant Sony Vaio.

It’s still not as light, as, say, an Apple iPad 2, but then those thingies are tablets, which are a whole different animal altogether. The Vaio possesses decent specs, and runs like a charm. It’s got Windows 7, one of the least crappy OS’s Microsoft has come up with (showing that some people do learn their lessons, although for some it takes a while), and an Intel Core i3 processor that is frakkishly fast.

I like the Vaio’s chiclet keyboard. In overall size the Vaio is larger than the Acer Aspire One, but as a person gets older (I’m not speaking from personal experience, I can just imagine), it’s more comfortable to work with a decent-sized screen and keyboard. Squinting is so not cool.

The Vaio’s trackpad is sensitive enough, made of plastic with the click-keys below it. It’s fairly responsive, and I hope it’s not that way just because it’s new. I’ve already used it for a Powerpoint presentation, hooking it up to a projector with no problem at all.

The gold standard in laptops for creatives is still Apple. I want one, but I can’t decide yet between a Macbook Pro or a Macbook Air. In any case, it might be cheaper to buy abroad than in Manila.

I’ve become increasingly dependent lately on my Samsung Galaxy Tab for media consumption – surfing the Net, using Facebook and Twitter, reading ebooks – that I can’t leave home without it. Still, it is difficult to create content upon it – the touchscreen sucks for typing. Tablets are not the gadget of choice for writers. Laptops and netbooks are.

The babies I’ve featured here are good and reliable workhorses; in terms of function and utility, they get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

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philippine art at the ayala museum

Residents of Makati City are fortunate to have not one, but two top-class museums in the central business district. I visited the Yuchengco Museum with my PhD classmates and our professor a couple of months ago, enjoyed the experience very much, and decided to take my offspring on a trip to the other one – the Ayala Museum in Greenbelt Park.

The Zobel de Ayala family, a prominent one in Philippine business and society, are generous patrons of the arts; some members of the clan are artists themselves, notably Fernando Zobel (painting) and Jaime Zobel (photography). To sh0wcase and store their art collections, mostly of Philippine provenance, the family established this museum, a venue for sharing their beautiful possessions with the public.

The facade. The museum is connected by first- and second-floor walkways to Greenbelt mall at Ayala Center.

Painted metal sculptures grace the front courtyard.

The guards at the museum advised us to start our tour at the top floor, where tradeware in an array of colors was displayed – blue-and-white, celadon, and brown-and-white among them. There were many pottery items whose uses and functions seem strange to us now – tiny water droppers that barely hold a quarter cup of liquid and miniscule dishes among them. Other artifacts are now made in other materials, such as pen boxes.

Porcelain jars. Image from here.

After our tour of the porcelain, museum guards directed us to a dimly-lit section barred with steel. We entered with trepidation, and were told to sit in front of a dark screen. A switch was flipped, lights, sound, and video came on, and we were treated to a wonderfully-produced, well-written documentary – “Gold of Ancestors”. I won’t spoil it by giving away the narrative – I highly recommend you go see it.

After the show, more lights came on and we made the rounds of display cases filled with gold objects – jewelry, funerary masks, containers. By far the most spectacular piece was something that looked like a belt. From the flyer “Gold of Ancestors: Pre-Colonial Treasures in the Philippines”, written by Dr Florina H. Capistrano-Baker: “A magnificent gold halter…weighing almost four kilograms, is believed by some to be an upavita, or sacred thread. In traditional Hindu society, only members of the elite Brahmin class were entitled to wear an upavita after a purification ritual.”

The Sacred Thread: a magnificent item of jewelry, and a work of art. Image from here.

There were also paintings by Amorsolo and Luna. Of course my favorite was Luna’s “Lady at the Racetrack”.

Image from here.

We saw many other beautiful things in the museum’s collections – an exhibit of 19th century daily wear, heavily embroidered and quaintly tailored; a full suit of Jose Rizal’s everyday clothes; carabao horn salakots and top hats; intricate models of galleons and other sailing ships; and other curios.

Unfortunately, museum rules strictly prohibit photography of the collections and exhibits, which is very frustrating and annoying since other museums such as Yuchengco and the Getty and LACMA in Los Angeles allow it in certain areas. Ayala Museum even forbids photos in the lobby! Visitors who want a souvenir can only pose in front of a bizarre display of unrelated and not-to-scale stand-up figures off to one side of the lobby.  We hope the museum administrators will soon rethink this policy.

A visit to the museum’s gift shop yielded bookmarks, a tote bag, books, a metal pencase, and other little treasures. It’s a great way to spend a geekend afternoon.

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communication environment series 4: yuchengco museum

This article is the fourth in a series of research studies about Philippine communication environments. See Part 1 for an introduction to the topic of the communication environment and its relationship to culture. Read Part 2 and Part 3 to know more.

On his turn to take us on a trip to explore an out-of-the-ordinary environment, UP College of Mass Communication Graduate Studies department chairman Dr Jose Lacson chose to show us the Yuchengco Museum at RCBC Plaza, Makati City.

The museum, which houses the art collection of banker and ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco, was established to “foster a greater public appreciation of the finest in Filipino and Filipino-Chinese visual arts and creativity.” (from a flyer)

Photography is prohibited only at the first and second floors.

Yuchengco Museum: Art, Intimately

The Architecture

The museum is located in the Yuchengco Tower at the RCBC (Rizal Commercial Banking Center) complex of buildings along Ayala Avenue. Passersby see massive erections of glass and steel, a familiar conglomeration of materials for this area. More than a profit-oriented real estate development, it is  a monument to the power and wealth of its owner.

Yet tucked in a corner of the megaphallic mass is what looks like a thimble. An odd, even aberrant, design choice, many think. Yet once inside the museum, the structure yields up the interesting secret of its shape.

Inside, the interior is neutral – gray, white, and chrome provide a nearly invisible setting that allow the collections to shine like gems in white gold.

The first floor is a wide space with high ceilings. Here, the museum’s most significant paintings are displayed, the public kept from close contact with the artworks by blue velvet ropes. As the museum patron’s first encounter with the collections, the ground floor’s  rope barriers, though soft and of a luxurious material, seem to say, “Look, but don’t get too close.” Limits are thus set, immediately; the “welcome” into the space is not as warm as might be desired.

However, the barriers also serve to reinforce the importance of these particular pieces. That they were chosen for this form of protection highlights their value, both artistic and commercial.

At the second floor, exhibit spaces are smaller, the ceilings lower, thus more intimate. There are no more barriers from hereon, communicating an invitation: “Come closer.” Patrons may approach the artworks, peer closely at them, and inspect the brush strokes and textures of materials.

The Artifacts

The Yuchengco family’s collection of personal art (reproduction ancestor scroll, commissioned portraits) and antiques (a jade horse, a breathtaking carved ivory tusk) is impressive. Obvious in the care lavished upon these objects is the family’s love of art and history, reflected in a “timeline” display of the Chinese presence in the Philippines beginning with arrival of the merchant ships bringing  Chinese traders to these shores.

The intricately-detailed ivory faces of these tiny figures, turned upward to the viewer as if in supplication to a god, are a marvel of the carver’s art.

Rotating exhibits punctuate the permanent displays. At the time of our visit, works from paper were prominently displayed and provided an interesting look at modern art using found and discarded materials.

The glory of the museum and my personal favorite is “Suspended Garden”. This is the “thimble’s” well-kept secret – a site-specific installation by Tony Gonzales and Tes Pasola.

Hung from different heights by fishing line from a metal grid in the ceiling of the “thimble” is a multitude of papier-mache rocks, looking like so many planets suspended in space. One may view the work from all sides, from the floor above, and from underneath, lying on the carpet on the floor, upon which more rocks are scattered. The rocks also line the inner circumference of the space.

The integration of space and materials into the piece is enhanced by the accidental effect of light on the “rocks”. They look like the river rocks kept in some Filipino bathrooms and used for exfoliating – panghilod – and are thus a familiar size and shape, further inviting the viewer to explore, touch, and play.

The Patrons

There is a sense of freedom in the upper floors lacking in the first floor and lobby. Visitors to the museum feel free to sit, squat, and lie down to take photographs and experience the art. This interaction allows viewers to become one with the art and absorb its meaning and beauty in a personal way.

This may have been inadvertent, but it is a happy effect for all that, enhancing one’s experience at the museum, and ensuring that one will return again and again to enjoy the carefully chosen art for the special exhibits, and revisit the permament treasures that the Yuchengco family is so generously sharing with the world.

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