Posts Tagged ‘family and friends’

pop goes the world: pinoy this way

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today29 September 2011, Thursday

Pinoy This Way

San Francisco, California – Every two or three years I hop on a plane for a vacation in the US with friends and family. I divide my precious few weeks’ of leave between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, revisiting old haunts and discovering new.

At Pebble Beach, one of my favorite places to visit. 26 Sept. 2011.

On the plane I sat between two prayerful Filipina ladies, both US citizens. The one on my right at the window seat was chatty. She had just escorted her ailing mother, also a citizen, to Cavite to be cared for there by other family members. “I’ll miss her,” she said, “but it’s not easy to care for seniors in the US.”

The older lady on my left (aisle seat) was meticulously made-up and dressed, a teacher at a college in Bukidnon, handling public administration and law. She was on her way to rejoin her daughter and grandchildren.

We didn’t know each other’s names, but that didn’t matter. “Ingat,” we said in farewell.

When I emerged from the airport doors pulling my luggage stuffed with ensaymada, hopia, and Queensland butter in cans, my family enfolded me in their arms and took me to IHOP for a meal. “We’re sure you’re hungry,” they said. They urged me to eat a bacon omelette, pancakes slathered with whipped butter and syrup, hash browns. (It was eleven o’clock in the evening.)

The next day we went to Target, where the woman behind the mobile phone counter explained in Tagalog-accented English to a tall white man that they do not sell jailbroken iPhones. When he had left, she shrugged at me. “Ganun talaga dito,” she said, knowing I was Pinay even if I had not opened my mouth.

The cashier who rang up our purchases was an elderly Filipina with carefully-waved salt-and-pepper hair and a stylish black-and-white scarf around her neck. She smiled knowingly as my sister and I spoke to each other in Tagalog.

At a Filipino supermarket the day after, I saw shelves crammed with Cream Silk and Sunsilk, Chippy and Chiz Curls, and Ligo sardines; refrigerated cases stuffed with Star margarine, Magnolia Ube with Beans ice cream (made in a California facility), and Pampanga tocino; racks full of San Mig Light, Pale Pilsen, and Red Horse Beer.

The aisles were decorated with fake coconut trees and banig on the walls as backdrops, whereas Target and Wal*Mart had pumpkins and Halloween masks. There was a Goldilocks’ outside and a bakery that sold hot pandesal. “Ibili natin si Papa ng mamon,” I overheard a young girl say. In those few hundred square meters was recreated a little slice of the Philippines, filled with even more bits of the Philippines that the homesick can buy to alleviate the longing for the flavors of Inang Bayan.

My sister at Island Pacific supermarket, Union City, CA.

At home, my sister uses a thick paper towel to wipe the bathroom and kitchen counters clean; she rinses it and hangs it to dry. She reuses these paper towels until they fall apart. “Sayang e. Puede pa naman.” Our leftovers from the huge American portions at restaurants are boxed and taken home; she makes sure we eat them the next day.

When Pedring hits, Filipinos call each other up. “Have you heard about the flooding in the Philippines? Kamusta pamilya mo doon?” We trade news and commiseration.

All this reminds me of Fil-Canadian Mikey Bustos’s “Pinoy This Way” (a parody of a Lady Gaga hit), that became an Internet sensation in April: “Back home, a land far away/ Where we work hard every day/ It makes us grateful, baby, we’re Pinoy this way….Nothing ever goes to waste/ Appreciate, don’t throw away/ Baby, we’re Pinoy this way!”

 

Cultural values embedded through socialization at home, school, and other settings in context are difficult to shake off. They permeate our core, unconsciously, communicated through language and food and tradition and rituals.

No matter how we may intellectualize “What makes a Filipino?” and debate from whence comes identity, the reality is that if we are born in the Philippines we are steeped in it from birth, through communication, behaviors, and expectations. If we are not, it can be learned, and is generally taught by immediate family members who developed their personalities within the context of Filipino culture. It is all carried inside us and comes out when we interact with others.

What’s it all about, wherever the Filipino may be? Work. Frugality. Sacrifice. Hospitality. Food. Family. Because we’re Pinoy that way.

* * * * *

Book Bonanza:  From University of the Philippines professor emerita and University of Santo Tomas Publishing House directress Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo:

“In February of this year, the UST Publishing House launched seven more new titles… all by Thomasian writers…: The House of True Desire, essays by Cirilo Bautista; Selected Poems by Rita Gadi; At Sa Tahanan ng Alabok , poetry by Louie Sanchez; Insectisimo, poetry by Lourd de Veyra;  Superpanalo Sound,s a novel by Lourd de Veyra; Clairvoyance, poetry by Carlomar Daoana; and Body Haul, poetry by Allan Pastrana.” Also launched was Everyday Things by US-based poet Fidelito Cortes.

These books and others forthcoming are part of the “400 Years, 400 Books” Project and will be presented to the public at the closing of the University’s Quadricentennial Celebrations in January 2012. The books are already available at the UST Publishing House Bookstore on campus and in National Bookstore branches. ***

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pop goes the world: we are family

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 10 June 2010, Thursday

We Are Family

If the Philippines had a theme song, it would be Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”.

Taking yesterday’s proclamation of senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as president –elect and of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as vice-president-elect at the Batasan Pambansa from a semiotic viewpoint, the theme of ‘family’ emerged as one of the dominant signs.

Present were children and babies held by nannies or parents, because it is part of Filipino traditional culture that significant celebrations be held with family.

Also in the hall were members from the several dozen ruling dynasties of the country. Some were incoming, others outgoing, elected or appointed public officials. Their faces and genders and credentials may change, but the names stay the same, election year after election year. We might as well be a monarchy with a hierarchy of nobility and aristocracy.

The Aquino family members received much on-camera exposure during the television coverage of the event. Noynoy’s sisters Ballsy, Viel, Pinky, and Kris were seated in a row, clad in black, showbiz celebrity Kris in a glamorous off-shoulder number, her older sisters dressed more conservatively. Apart from showing the difference in their personalities and fashion taste, the clothes were a sign of two things: that the customary one-year mourning period for their mother, the late president Corazon Aquino, is not over; and of just who their mother was, and her place in history.

President-elect Aquino, Enrile, and Nograles are joined by Aquino’s sisters and brothers-in-law. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA).

By extension, their dark garb was also a reminder of the other family member they lost – their father, former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose assassination may be said to have set this wave of events in motion, bringing an entire country to this point, where his only son holds the highest office in the land, borne to power on the crest of public sentiment for his parents.

This image references Kris’s hosting of game show “Deal Or No Deal”, which ended 2009.

Seated near the Aquino sisters was Shalani Soledad, Noynoy’s significant other, speaking to singer Ogie Alcasid. The showbiz family of Kris Aquino was well-represented too. It is from their ranks that the incoming president considers recruiting heads of government agencies – Boy Abunda for Tourism, Dingdong Dantes for the National Youth Commission, and Grace Poe for the MTRCB are some of the names he mentioned. Of course he makes these choices based on their qualifications, because it can’t be out of gratitude, can it, for their help in his campaign?

Shalani Soledad being interviewed by a radio news reporter. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA)

In behalf of yet another prominent family, Senate President pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada read a message from his father Joseph. The senator extended his father’s “humble” acceptance of his defeat to Noynoy in the elections, and wished him well. From there the speech degenerated into a rant, citing the “failures” of Comelec and Smartmatic, stating again, as if we didn’t know, that the elder Estrada once served as president, and warning the Filipino people to guard against the corruption in government which he was unable to stem during his own administration.

There too at the Batasan were the Binays of Makati City. With son Junjun taking over from his father as Makati mayor, and daughter Abby the new congresswoman of the second district, they carry on decades of Binay administration in one of the country’s richest cities. The same goes for the Belmontes of Quezon City – father Sonny moves up from mayor to Congress while his daughter Joy steps in as vice-mayor to Herbert Bautista, who for years has held that same position.

We could go on and on.

But what about the families of the millions of people who gave the reins of government to these people via their votes? Who thinks of them?

As a citizen of this republic and the head of a family of my own, I lay this solemn charge upon the incoming set of political leaders – remember the families.

Think of the overseas contract workers who endure separation for years from their loved ones to toil in foreign lands to ensure the survival of their children in a country that cannot provide jobs and better life opportunities for them and their parents, while the government brags of a high GNP pumped by the billions of dollars they remit, ignoring the social cost and its consequences.

Seek to improve the lot of the widowed and children of those murdered in the Ampatuan massacre; those who die fighting on both sides of the insurgents’ war; those who live in hovels mired in abject poverty in sight of your grand mansions; those who cannot continue their education because of financial constraints.

Rescue those who are victims of abuse by the military and private armies and by those who because of the inflated condition of their pockets and egos assert their power over those who have little or none, since they thrive unpunished in a culture of impunity.

Filipino culture values family above all, even above God and country. The way we address each other reflects this – kuya or manong security guard, ate or manang food vendor, nanaytatay this or the other. And how often have we heard someone say, “Gagawin ko ang lahat para sa pamilya”? A Filipino will do, endure, and sacrifice all, for the sake of family.

To our new leaders, do not forget you are Filipinos, imbued with this land’s culture and norms. Accept that you are members of a larger family – the nation. Perform your mandated tasks, bearing in mind that you have our trust, because we have nowhere else to put it.

Remember the Filipino families – not only your own.   ***

“My Brother’s Keeper” by Ronnie T. Tres Reyes. Top Five finalist, 2008 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office “Isang Pitik sa Charity” photo contest. Reyes describes his photo: “Taken one chilly night outside a McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City. For over a year, this five year old boy has been taking care of his baby brother every night on the steps of the restaurant. Sometimes he lies on the concrete and allows himself to be the baby’s bed and source of warmth.”

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china’s ‘four treasures of the study’

China possesses one of the world’s oldest scholarly traditions, dating back millenia. Symbols scratched on oracle bones found in Jiahu, a Neolithic settlement, suggest that the evolution of Chinese writing began around 6600 BCE. A trove of classical works from 770 BCE onwards enriches Chinese literature; these were appreciated and added to by the intelligentsia and, upon the invention of woodblock and moveable type printing, were widely disseminated and read by the learned for generations.

From carvings on bone and turtle plastrons for divinatory purposes, Chinese writing evolved into logosyllabic characters of ink brushed on paper serving practical (record-keeping) and artistic (literary) functions. The art of writing and calligraphy became skills cultivated among the upper and middle classes.

The tools of calligraphy were highly prized. Chinese scholars called them “the four treasures of the study” – the inkstone, inkstick, brushes, and paper. Other tools used were carved seals of stone, wood, or ivory; seal paste of cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands or plant fiber; sculpted or carved paperweights; and desk pads.

Calligraphy is still taught in Chinese schools to the present day, all over the world. Filipino students work with writing sets, learning to imbue characters with emotion using deft, fluid strokes with an ink-dipped brush.

UK-based AL Merginio-Murgatroyd, a friend from school days, sent me this set. The cardboard box is covered with green silk that shines bluish in sunlight; the pattern is embroidered with violet-gray thread.

Inside, on red felt, three of the ‘four precious things of the library’. This set includes a seal and seal paste.

The seal is marble, uncarved, waiting for me to choose a special sign to have engraved upon it. The inkstick has a golden dragon upon it – it’s too beautiful to use!

Inksticks were traditionally made from soot and glue. They often have carvings or were molded into whimsical shapes like flowers. Many inkstones, especially antiques, are works of art and cherished by collectors.

To use, drag water from the inkstone’s ‘well’ on to the ‘plain’; grind the inkstick against the stone until the water in the well runs dark enough.

Seals are used like rubber stamps – dab the carved side into seal paste, and gently press it onto the surface of the paper, rocking it back and forth to ensure a good impression. Remember to keep seal paste containers covered and in the box to prevent it from drying out.

As I hold this box in my lap, I think of many things – the sheer weight of the thousands of years of Chinese culture; the literature classics written with materials like these, from the Tao Te Ching to the Confucian Analects; that practical things may also be works of beauty, and uplift to an art the labor done with them; how writing tools have evolved through time in various civilizations; and more, and more.

Most of all I think of how a friend now in a cold country far from her motherland’s tropical warmth, who taught me Math and conversed with me when I was in elementary and she in high school with license to ignore the small fry yet still kindled the fires of friendship, a friend whom I have not seen for more than two decades, keeps our connection burning with this and other tokens of remembrance.

Thank you, AL. I hope one day to see you again, and embrace you again, and show you my gratitude for your love through the years. Be blessed.

Photos by Alex Alcasid; inkstone and seal ‘how-to’ images here.

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christmas pen

Sometime in late December last year, our high school batch came together for a reunion. For many of us, it was the first time we had seen each other again since graduation day. From all over the Philippines, North America, and Australia, more than twenty of us, almost the entire batch, trekked back to the place where we spent most of our waking hours for ten of the most formative years of our lives.

It was a notable event in many ways; I’ll tell the story some other time. Suffice to say that it would not have happened if not for our class president, Amerlon Enriquez. He’s now a physician specializing in pulmonary and sleep disorders, based with his family in Iowa.

You can take the boy out of the Philippines, but you can’t take the Philippines out of the boy. Amer might live and work in America, but his heart and soul are pure Pinoy and will remain so. Memories of school days played a sentimental arpeggio on his heartstrings, and, recalling a milestone for our batch was nigh, took time from his busy schedule to organize a reunion.

After rounding up as many stray sheep as he could, this shepherd cajoled, guided, asked, reminded, and pleaded with classmates to prepare for the event. (He didn’t scold – he’s too nice to do that.) It was a huge undertaking, involving much effort on the part of the Manila-based organizers and expense on those abroad who flew over. It took a year or so, but Amer pulled it off.

I knew there was a reason we landslide-voted him class president – every single school year.

Finally we come to the point of this post. Amer and his wife Eva’s pasalubong for me, when they came to Manila last December, was a custom-made fountain pen.

The pen comes in this handsome pine box. A ‘Q’ is laser-cut into the lid, with a backing of etched plastic inserted into the other side.

Inside was the maker’s card and a pack of ink cartridges. The pen was made by Rob Beers of Quill and Nib in West Des Moines.

The pen is hefty; the metal trim is engraved with lovely detail. Grape leaves adorn both bands.

Grapes cover the clip.

The barrel is hand-turned, cut from a resin rod. The color reminds me of fresh purple grapes held up to the light.

This long part at the bottom allows the pen cap to be posted, although for me it’s too heavy to write that way. I don’t post this pen.

The nib is a two-tone medium nib marked “Iridium Point Germany” – perhaps a Bock?

Writing sample with grape-violet Waterman ink. The pen has a converter and can take standard carts.

With care, the pen will last many lifetimes, to be passed on to my daughters and their children to come, along with the story that goes with it. For the pen is more than iridium and resin and plastic;  is a sign of that which is greater and stronger – the friendship, the concern, and the love of the Enriquez family. For that, they have my endless gratitude and the blessings of a friend who wishes them the best of everything always.

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frankenpen; or, a pen reborn

Oh joy of joys! A frankenpen for my very own from frankenpen creator Tom Overfield!

The term “frankenpen” is used by fountain pen collectors to refer to a pen that incorporates parts from other pens – say, a cap or a barrel. The prefix “franken-” comes from the fictional monster cobbled together by Dr. Frankenstein.

Tom, an IT expert and a FP user and collector, makes entire pens from vintage Sheaffer parts. Like works of art, his creations have titles or names. This is “Thinenstein”. It has other siblings, all Sheaffer Snorkels – the first one he made was called “Frankensnork”, followed by “Son of Frankensnork” and “Bride of Frankensnork”, and all in the collections of Filipino penfriends.

Thinenstein is made from Thin Model (TM) parts and has a Touchdown fill system and a Triumph nib. The parts are of different colors – the cap burgundy, the barrel blue, the end cap green, the section dark amber.

“Sheaffer TMs were made for only a few years,” wrote Tom in an accompanying note. A Penspotters article says that the TM pens were introduced in 1950 and were fitted with the Touchdown system until the switch to the Snorkel filling system in 1952. For the bodies of their pens, Sheaffer used Radite (celluloid) until 1948, then brought in a new synthetic cast resin called “Fortical”.

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Thinenstein’s section is a translucent or “visulated” dark amber plastic, which could not be used later on with the Snorkel “because of the need to house the Snorkel tube.”

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The 14k two-tone gold Triumph nib is a marvel of design and engineering. It is a firm and sturdy nail, without the slightest hint of flex, making it more than robust enough for daily use.  Slightly upturned at the tip like a Turkish slipper, it lays ink in a consistent line.

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It is is steady, reliable writer, one that can be counted on to perform day in and day out.

Its appeal also lies in its origin. Made from rare, old, and unusual but discarded parts joined to create an object of function that is at the same time an original work of art, Thinenstein is a perfect road warrior, combining the charm of vintage things, the attraction of beauty and exclusivity, and the practicality of performance.

Thank you very much, Tom, for this token of friendship that I will always treasure!

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on writing

Someone once asked me, “What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?”

I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather do.

I grew up in homes full of books. Wherever we lived, there were always bookcases stuffed to bursting with my mother’s self-help books, collection of hardbound classics, and mystery, fantasy, horror, and science fiction paperbacks, or low shelves on the floor with my father’s choices in literature – Somerset Maugham, Gore Vidal, Sholom Aleichem.

My parents never consciously encouraged me to read, but surrounded by books and little else to do, I gravitated towards the shelves that were always open to me. I thrived on a literary diet of Enid Blyton and Louisa May Alcott, Nancy Drew and The Bobbsey Twins, Bulfinch’s Mythology and old-fashioned poetry, the rhyming kind like Gunga Din and The Ballad of Sam McGee.

In time, words and the putting together of them in sentences to convey meaning came as naturally to me as breathing. In school, my favorites subjects were the ones that used a lot of words – English, Social Studies. Math was anathema. In college, I took up Journalism. It was either that or English Studies, and I figured I’d have a better chance of earning through writing if I were a journalist, although my mother always said that there was no money in writing.

Today I make my living from it.

Often people ask, “Can you teach me how to write?” It’s a difficult question to answer, because the process is different for everybody. Some say that the talent is inborn. Perhaps to some extent that might be true; I believe some inclinations come naturally to people, like musical talent or athletic ability. But writing is also a skill that can be learned and cultivated, and anyone can do it. For the philosopher Jean Jacques Rosseau, “However great a man’s natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.”

Some thoughts on writing that I’ve formed over the years:

1. Writing is a form of communication, just like speaking. Having problems starting your piece? Pretend you are talking to someone about it. Write it down that way. Then go back over what you’ve written and edit.

2. Writing uses language. To write effectively, you must know the language and its rules. Words are the construction materials, grammar the nails and mortar that hold them together. Immerse yourself in the language to build up your vocabulary. Even if you are writing in your mother tongue, don’t take it for granted that you know all the words or even enough of them. Read books and magazines. Watch television shows and films. Listen to native speakers and soak up the rhythm of their speech patterns. Choose a usage and composition guide – I was introduced to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in my freshman year of college, and have adhered to its tenets ever since.

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3. Less is more. I’ve always clung to Strunk’s Rule Number 17: “Omit needless words.” Bombarded as we are on all fronts by information vying for our attention, why make it harder for your reader to decode your message? Related to this is White’s advice: “Avoid fancy words.” If there exists a simpler word that conveys the same meaning and nuance, use it. But in the end, always go by your ear – use whatever sounds right. As Matthew Arnold said, “Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” The exception would be if you were deliberately using the fancy word or words to achieve a certain effect.

4. Organize, organize, organize. I believe this is the most important part of the writing process. It doesn’t matter that you can use big words like venustation or ptochology if you can’t put your thoughts and facts down in a sequence that will help the reader understand the message you wish to convey. Pay attention to the flow of your ideas; for your piece to be effective, it has to make sense, one thought leading to another in a logical manner.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a skill, like bicycling or blacksmithing. Write something everyday. Said Doris Lessing: “You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.” Or take Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” It takes discipline, but it pays off, I promise.  Take advantage of today’s technological advances and the myriad means of self-expression. Write your feelings down in a journal, or publish your opinions on a blog. One of the easiest ways is microblogging using applications like Twitter. If you can text, you can write!

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6. Edit, edit, edit. Few, if any, first drafts are perfect. Go over what you’ve written and clean up typographical errors, spelling and grammar mistakes, factual inaccuracies, conceptual inconsistencies, and sequence flow. Science fiction writer C. J. Cherryh asserted, “It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.”

7. Be yourself. In the beginning, writers tend to copy the style of the authors they admire. But the most natural and authentic voice is your own; have confidence in yourself. Said Bill Stout: “Whether or not you write well, write bravely.”

8. Write from your heart. Whether you seek to persuade or inform, the reader responds best to pieces that are sincere and honest.

Winston Churchill, one of the best statemen and writers that Britain has ever produced, once declared, “Writing is an adventure.” It is a journey anyone can take. May yours be filled with the thrill of discovery and the joy of creativity!

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the caswell has a phd in dance

This is officially the flexiest pen I have.

A Caswell black hard rubber with eyedropper fill, it comes from Prof. Butch Dalisay’s collection of vintage American pens.

Made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1910-1915, this would have been new and modern around the Art Nouveau period, one of my favorite movements in art. Though the pen itself is simply adorned with geometric feathering all along the cap and barrel, its flexible Sanford nib, in a practiced hand, can recreate all the whiplash curves, ornate flourishes, and  stylized lettering of that era.

Ink: Private Reserve Burgundy Mist + Diamine Cerise; Journal: teNeues.

A heart-shaped breather hole  decorates the nib; it’s a common design element in older pens that helps date them. As an eyedropper fill – the hollow barrel itself contains the ink – it holds an inordinate amount of writing potion, perhaps the best fill system to accomodate its lavish gushing.

The nib bends and sways at the lightest touch, delivering lines that vary from eyelash-thin to broad Pentel-wide with just the right combination of ease and pressure.

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It’s amazing that this pen has survived for nearly a century. Simple in design and construction, yet well-made enough to withstand the rigors of use by many hands, the Caswell proves the functionality and practicality of many vintage pens.

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alex attends her first penmeet

The Fountain Pen Network-Philippines had a penmeet last April 4. I wasn’t able to attend as it was a work weekend for me. The penmeet was held at Cravings restaurant in Shangri-La Mall, EDSA. I missed seeing my FPN-P friends, among them Butch Palma, who is Bali-based now and we seldom get to see him.

Leigh Reyes had a pen for me, as did Prof. Butch Dalisay and Raffy Abrina, so I sent  my daughter Alex to the penmeet in my stead to pick up the pens for me.

Here’s Alex’s impression of the meeting, in her own words and photos:

It was my first time to attend a penmeet on my own. Everyone was very nice. When I got inside Cravings, Prof. Butch saw me then I went in. And then someone said like “Hey, Alex is here!”

L: Caloy, Kurt, Butch Palma, Leigh. R: Prof. Butch Dalisay.

I just sat there and watched a bit, then roamed around, peeked over Tita Leigh’s shoulder when she opened her pencase, and watched people.

There were people around a table laden with pens, ink, and desserts, and water glasses with the water inside colored various shades. Like people rinsed pens in them. I was like, “I’m not drinking that.”

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L-R:  Chito, Iñigo, Leigh, Butch P., Caloy, Kurt, JP.

Tito Chito treated me to a chocolate banana split, and they included me in the raffle, and I won a bottle of Private Reserve Fast Dry Ultra Black. Tito TOB gave me a dip pen set with scented ink for Ik.

Then there was a small blueberry cheesecake on the table, and Tito Iñigo offered it to Tita Leigh, and she said “Yay, cheesecake!”, which I thought was so cute. You wouldn’t expect a grown lady who’s sophisticated to say that. She’s cool like that. Oh, and her calligraphy was pretty and elegant and I wish I could draw abstract flowers like she did.

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On the table in front of Iñigo is the cheesecake.

I don’t remember a lot because I have the attention span of a butterfly.

When I got home that evening, I was vastly entertained by Alex’s stories, besides being happy with the Pilot 74 from Leigh, the Caswell from Prof. Butch, the Lamy 26p from Raffy, and – a wonderful and unexpected surprise – a Sheaffer frankenpen from American penfriend Tom Overfield. (More on the pens in another post.)

So although I didn’t get to attend the penmeet myself, I saw it through my daughter’s eyes, and enjoyed it just the same.

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basic fountain pens 1: beginner’s guide

Wella - a friend from college who turned 27 some weeks ago (*wink*) - asked me to write an introduction to fountain pens as she is thinking of getting into them as well. While I don’t feel qualified to write a definitive and comprehensive beginner’s guide about this interesting and complex topic, I can at least share my personal experiences.

To begin with, as a writer and aesthete of sorts, I’ve always been fascinated by things that make marks on paper - all sorts of writing instruments, typewriters, brushes, seals and rubber stamps – and the things that make the marks – ink, paint, seal paste, and so on.

Over the years, I became more interested in vintage and antique things over modern things because of the historical  and aesthetic aspects. I find a fountain pen with its gleaming, pointed nib more visually appealing than a ballpoint pen, and found my interest concentrating on FPs.

Fountain Pens in the Philippines

However, in the Philippines, where I live, there isn’t much of a fountain pen culture. According to older folks who are now in their mid-50′s and older, usage of FPs was prevalent in schools until they were in high school, when ballpoints became cheaper and more readily available.

A 62-year old friend of mine told me of he and his elementary schoolmates stabbing the nibs of their Parkers and Sheaffers into their desks when they were bored. They eagerly embraced BP use later on as FPs, he said, “leaked, and my mom would get mad when I’d come home with ink stains all over my uniform.” (Apparently he never figured out that if he didn’t have the habit of stabbing his pen nibs into desks, perhaps his pens wouldn’t leak.)

FPs were also de riguer in some Philippine law schools and in some accountancy programs until perhaps fifteen years ago, though there are still a few law schools today, like Far Eastern University, that recommend FPs to their students.

Still, in the mainstream, few Filipinos have even heard of FPs, much less used them. I first learned of FPs as a child through reading and movies; I don’t recall actually seeing an FP being used by anyone in my family.

In college, I finally got myself an inexpensive Parker Jotter from National Bookstore. All I did was go to the pen section, browse, and get something I could afford.

But it wasn’t until a couple of years back that my interest really grew, when the choices of affordable FP brands available in readily accessible malls and chain bookstore expanded. Fully Booked began carrying Inoxcrom pens; they were made of plastic with steel nibs, and had colorful and attractive graphics.

The pink pens are Inoxcrom from the Jordi Labanda line; the red FP is a Pilot 78G and one of the best starter pens ever, available online for about $12. All three have steel nibs.

Enter the power of the Internet. After blogging about the demise of one of my early Inoxcrom Jordi Labandas, I received an email from University of the Philippines professor Dr. Butch Dalisay inviting me to a gathering of FP collectors at his home, the first such meeting ever.

Upon meeting other collectors, I was exposed to more brands, kinds of nibs, modern and vintage pens, and a wide assortment of ink. The more I learned about FPs, the more I wanted to collect, and because of my newfound knowledge, I was able to discover what I really wanted, which are vintage pens, mainly 1930s Sheaffers and Parkers; pens with flexible nibs, whether vintage or modern; and Japanese pens.

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Vintage Sheaffer Balances. All are from the 1930s except the red Tuckaway in the center. I love ’30s pens for their Art Deco design, flexible and responsive nibs, and lovely celluloid barrels.

Fountain Pen Facts

You need to know that:

1. FPs differ from BPs in that they have nibs. The nibs come in a wide variety of types. Referring to the width of the line they lay down, there are the extra-fine (EF or XF), fine (F), medium (M), and broad (B) nibs. Some brands such as Pelikan carry double-broad and triple-broad nibs. The nibs of Japanese brands such as Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum tend to be ”one size smaller” – their M is a Western F, their XF a Western XXF, and so on.

Nibs come in gold, steel, and other metal alloys and are generally pointed in shape and have a ball of iridium on the tip for strength. But there are other shapes. Stubs are nibs with the iridium gone because the shape of the tip is flat across. Italics are pretty much the same but with sharper edges; they are used mainly for calligraphy. Obliques are cut at an angle.

Nibs may also differ as to whether they are flexible, semi-flexible, or firm. Modern nibs are usually very firm – “nails”, in collector parlance – since users most likely will have grown up as members of the BP generation. Some modern nibs are flexible – pens from Nakaya and Danitrio, and Pilot’s Falcon nib come to mind.

Semi-flex nibs give a bit of line variation – examples are the Pelikan M1000 and the Sailor Professional Gear -  but the best results in that regard may be had from true flex nibs. Many vintage pens, especially those from the ’40s and earlier, have flexible nibs because they were often made of 14K gold, and gold nibs tend to be more flexible than steel. In addition, antique pens were designed to flex to accommodate use of the Spencerian and Copperplate styles of handwriting.

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Two of my favorite flexy pens – a Moore vest pen, and a Sheaffer black hard rubber ringtop, meant to be worn by ladies around their neck on a chain. Notice the line variation with the Sheaffer.

2. FPs, unlike BPs, are refillable with ink from a bottle. For green advocates, they are a better choice as they are not disposable. Modern fill systems use a cartridge - a plastic tube pre-filled with ink is snapped inside the pen – or converter - also a plastic tube but with a twister-thingy that allows you to draw ink up through the nib. A converter is better since it is re-used over and over, but a cartridge can also be refilled using a syringe. Vintage pens have a variety of filling systems ranging from lever-fill, button-fill, etc. Stick to c/c (cartridge-converter) pens at the start for less mess.

Collecting Fountain Pens

If you would like to start a collection of fountain pens, you might want to:

1. Ask friends or family for their old fountain pens. Chances are there are pens gathering dust in some drawer or box somewhere, and your relatives and friends will only be too glad to pass them on to you.

2. Check out the fountain pens for sale at office supply stores. In the Philippines, try:

a) National Bookstore for the Parker Jotter, Vector, and other models that might catch your fancy. They also carry Aurora, Waterman, Inoxcrom, Cross, and Rotring. Inoxcrom make the most affordable kinds – plastic cartridge-fill pens suitable for children, or for anyone looking for a sturdy daily road warrior.

b) Luis Pen Store is the only fountain pen store in the country. Established in the late 1940s, it’s still near its original location on Escolta Avenue, Manila, near Sta. Cruz Church. There you’ll find NOS Parkers, Sheaffers, and Pilots from the ’70s, as well as newer models of those brands and Cross and Mont Blanc. They also do FP repair, do engraving, and sell Parker Quink ink.

c) Office Warehouse has cheap and fun Schneiders – the Zippi and other models.

d) Fully Booked carries Inoxcrom.

e) Office supplies stores in Recto, near the university belt, carry NOS (new old stock) Pilot Japanese pens from the ’70s – terrific buys for their reliability and beauty, and the antique factor as well. You might also find Lamy pens.

Try checking fountain pen sellers online for modern pens, and eBay for vintage pens.

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Three 1940s Parker Vacumatics with their pretty striped celluloid barrels; a Parker 51, iconic for its hooded nib; a Parker 45; a (restored) Parker 75 Milleraies, the pen that started my collection; a Parkette; a red Esterbrook; and a gold Wahl set of refillable pencil and fountain pen.

3. Research online about fountain pens and join collectors’ forums. Wiki has this informative article on fountain pens. Check out Fountain Pen Network and join the Fountain Pen Network Philippines Yahoo! groups. For more information and pictures, visit Leigh Reyes’ blog, My Life as a Verb; Thomas Overfield’s Bleubug; and Dr. Butch Dalisay’s Pinoy Penman.

Getting Started

Getting started is easy. Just go to your favorite pen place and get the pen that you like best that you can afford.

I’d suggest you start with something inexpensive  – say, a cartridge-fill Parker Jotter or Vector with a steel nib – to get used to the nib and the way it lays ink on paper, which is different from the way you’d use a BP. FPs need very little pressure to lay a dark line (this is assuming you are using dark ink), whereas for BPs, you have to press hard to achieve  a darker line, making FPs terrific for writing for extended periods. In addition, FPs don’t score the back and succeeding pages of your notebook, unlike BPs.

You also need to find out what width of nib you prefer – F, M, or B? Get an inexpensive one of each kind, or try them out in the store first before buying. Testing an FP is done by “dipping” – dip the nib for a few seconds in ink, and doodle on paper.

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A Lady Sheaffer from the ’70s; various Pilots, including a Pilot E Script pen, a Pilot 77 from Luis Store in Escolta, a teal Pilot from Recto, and a red Pilot 78G from Shanghai; an orange Sailor Professional Gear Colors; and Japanese long-shorts from the ’70s – a Sailor, a Pilot, and a Platinum.

Don’t forget to buy bottled ink! Available in Manila are Parker Quink, Waterman, and Aurora inks (at National Bookstore). Online, look for J. Herbin, Private Reserve, Noodler’s, Diamine, Caran d’Ache, and Pilot, especially their Iroshizuku line.

And as you become more enamoured of using FPs, you’ll also need to look for “fountain-pen friendly paper”. (Fully Booked has a nice assortment of Moleskine, Paper Blanks, Grand Luxe, and Miquelrius. For local brands, Corona and Cattleya are great – smooth paper, won’t snag your nib, no ink feathering.) Happy hunting!

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barack obama: dreams from my father

When still a law student in 1995, United States President Barack Obama penned the memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “in the wake of some modest publicity” he says, as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

Born to a white American mother and black father from Kenya, Obama, while growing up, struggled with  issues stemming from his multi-racial descent and from his father’s absence from his life.

As an adult, he established contact with his Kenyan relatives, who told him somewhat of their family history. But it wasn’t until after Obama visited Kenya, met other family members, and walked upon the soil of his ancestors that he achieved closure and a sense of resolution to his identity crisis.

It’s a wonderful book, written in a sensitive and lyrical manner, glowing in its honesty and simplicity, showcasing Obama’s considerable talents as a writer:

I watched these nimble hands stitch and cut and weave, and listened to the old woman’s voice roll over the sounds of work and barter, and for a moment the world seemed entirely transparent. I began to imagine an unchanging rhythm of days, lived on firm soil where you could wake up each morning and know that all was how it had been yesterday, where you saw how the things that you used had been made and could recite the lives of those who had made them and could believe that it would all hang together without computer terminals or fax machines.

Some years ago, I became interested in memoirs and other forms of biographical narrative  as an aspect of non-fictional creative writing. On my shelves are the life stories of individuals from varied walks of life, from English royalty to Japanese courtiers.

It’s interesting to learn about their different motivations, likes and dislikes, priorities, fears, loves – all the things that shaped and influenced them to become what they are.

Dreams from My Father is not merely a welcome addition to my collection of memoirs, a literary trophy to display on the shelf telling me about one man’s journey to discover himself. Unlike the other biographies I’ve read, it had a profound effect on me: that of forcing me to confront my own issues of identity and my relationship with my parents, especially my father. Even past middle age, I still don’t have the courage to explore the hidden recesses of my mind where childhood memories too painful to examine have been bricked up behind mentally-constructed walls.

Obama’s exploration of these issues in his own life and his decision to reveal them to the world show his strength of character and courage of conviction.

In 2006, when serving as the senator of Illinois, Obama wrote another book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which, like Dreams, topped the New York Times bestseller list.

I look forward to more books by this author, wondering if, as president of the most powerful nation in the world, he will still have the time and opportunity to write. I hope he makes the time to do so. I hope we don’t have to wait until after his presidency to enjoy another book by this man who is now one of the world’s foremost leaders and one of the literary world’s bright new lights.

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