Posts Tagged ‘photo essay’

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.

Click on a picture, then click again to see a full-size image.

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communication environment series part 3: santa ana park in naic, cavite

This article is the third 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 to know more.

As part of the requirements for our Communication Environment PhD class, I took my professor and classmates to the horse races.

Santa Ana Park: A Day at the Races

January 6, 2009 was a monumental day for Philippine horseracing fans.  It was the day the first races were held at the new Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite. While the new place is extensive and spacious, capable of holding the sport’s growing number of racehorses, many miss the old venue once located in Makati City, close to the boundary of Manila.

The old Santa Ana Park was built in 1937 in the Art Deco style popular at the time. Among its contemporaries in architecture were the Manila Jockey Club’s San Lazaro Hippodrome in Sta. Cruz, Manila, and the Jai Alai building along Taft Avenue, both torn down some years ago to make way for modern edifices; and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office building, formerly the Quezon Institute, which the Department of Public Works and Highways has ordered demolished due to structural unsoundness.

In the case of horseracing, the buildings go, but the sport stays. It is flourishing at the new site in Naic chosen by the Philippine Racing Club.

The Architecture

The new track at Naic covers around 70 hectares, nearly three times as large as the 25-hectare facility at Makati. The old venue was cramped, unable to accommodate the horses enthusiastic players were breeding and buying, resulting in stables being built nearly on top of one another, affecting the horses’ health. Today there are clean stables arranged behind the far turn and home turn (the red roofs in picture above), with hotwalking areas inside each stable and easy access to the track for morning workouts and races.

The grandstand is of modest size compared to the old ones at Makati, but then the number of visitors here is not expected to be as high as at the old place, where track attendance was booming especially during big racing festivals and stakes race days.

The place is tall and white, looking very clean against the blue sky. Painting the edifice white connotes not only cleanliness but also purity; on a semiotic level, it could be seen as an attempt to ‘whitewash’ the sport, which suffers a degree of stigma in mainstream Philippine society because of its wagering aspect.

With lots of open seating, there’s a feeling of airiness and freedom. Leeway is given to patrons to walk all the way up to the plants edging the rail of the parade ground, which is just several feet away from the track itself. During mile races, the starting gate is right in front of the finish line, in full view from the parade ground allowing close scrutiny of the warm-up, loading, and jump-out.

The rest of the building is nondescript, with VIP rooms on the third floor, huge green-tinted glass windows overlooking the track, while the fourth floor houses racing officials – race stewards, judges, and racecallers. The spatial orientation of the building forces everyone to face towards the track and observe the activity there, reinforcing the concept that it is the sport that is the reason for the facility’s existence and the racing community’s continued sustenance over time and in different places.

The Artifacts

For visitors who know nothing about the sport, the track is a sensory overload. One can barely keep up with the barrage of information that, without a framework, is often difficult to interpret and may leave people overwhelmed, unless they have a friend in the know to explain things to them. Starting gate. Rails. Finish line. Racing programs. Jockeys. Betting matrix. And so on. The language – salitang karera - is also an artifact, one unique to this milieu.

Trophies deserve special mention here. As an artifact, for owners and trainers they symbolize more than a victory gained by one horse, one rider, in one race – they are also bragging rights and a reminder of the accomplishments of their stable. For the jockey, they commemorate personal triumphs along the timeline of his life. In other words, trophies orient achievements in spatial and temporal dimensions.

The Racegoers

People travel all the way to Naic for one reason, and that is to watch races and bet on them. Thus their activities at the venue are in line with this purpose. They may be seen studying racing programs (Dividendazo, Silip sa Tiyempo, Winning Time), texting sources such as horseowners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, and tipsters for racing tips, and scribbling their ruta (betting combinations) on scraps of paper. From time to time they glance up at the many monitors that line the interior walls of the building to view the betting matrix ( a grid of numbers that show estimated dividends for betting combinations).

When the patrons are ready, they line up in front of the betting windows to place their bets, then watch the race from the viewing area beside the track or on the monitors.

The exchange of money through betting is a significant activity in this sport; economics, therefore, is very much a key concept in this context, to a greater degree than in other sports that have no formal betting element. Racegoers communicate to each other, in words and actions, their excitement and anticipation upon placing their bets, suspense while watching the race, and elation upon winning or disappointment upon loss.

Since horseracing is not a mere game of chance that relies on the turn of the card or roll of the die, as in casino gambling, but a sport that requires knowledge about a myriad factors, being able to apply analytical methods to come up with winners leads to a feeling of vindication and even smugness when one is proven right and goes to the betting window to collect dividends. Losing a bet is equated not only with the loss of money, but also with being wrong, with error. Then the tendency is to try, try again.

At the track, there is camaraderie among the patrons, of belonging to a special group – kami (us) – na taga-karera or karerista, who are not understood by sila (them) – but then that is one of the draws of the sport, the sense of the arcane and mysterious, a flavor of the forbidden.

Click on a picture, then click again to see a full-size image.

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communication environment series part 2 – my manila: quiapo

This article is the second 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.

For his field trip requirement for our Communication Environment class in the second semester of 2010, College of St. Benilde’s Professor Rod Rivera revealed to us a nearly forgotten venue for films.

Quiapo’s Adult Theaters: Exposing the Underbelly of Philippine Cinema

From the premiere shopping area of prewar times to the 1950s, Quiapo has declined into a melange of depressed stores selling cheap merchandise. Here one browses for new and used goods on dusty shelves, rubbing elbows with working folk seeking bargains and the dressed-down middle class rooting out new-old stock items for collections and vintage gems like vinyl records and ukay clothes.

The surroundings are grim and depressing. Yet it is a vibrant and thriving hub of buying and selling, of coming and going.

Somewhere in this maelstrom of commerce  are the decayed remnants of a once-thriving entertainment center – the cinemas of Manila.

The  Architecture

The old movie theaters in this area have seen their glory days come and go. Many, judging from the style of architecture, date back to the 1950s and ’60s. To pull in the pesos and keep financially afloat, they screen R-rated movies that border on the X.

The facades,though dingy, are colorful, trying to attract with hand-lettered banners, printed promotional posters, and old-fashioned painted billboards. The latter are a surprise; I didn’t know they are still being made, as they are laborious to make and the art died out when the technology for computer-printed tarpaulins became more cost-effective.

One theater was tucked into a crumbling building. To reach it, one must walk a narrow passageway, subject to the scrutiny of people outside and inside the place. Thus, watching a film there involves making a conscious decision exposed to the public eye.

Along the entryway was a girlie bar, the photographs of its dancers displayed on a garishly-lit notice board.

“Like attracts like”, it’s been said, and that is true of this environment, where forms of carnal entertainment, from the physical to the celluloid versions are housed together in one building.

We ended up buying tickets to watch a film at Vista Cinema, a fairly decent place considering what the others looked like. The prices are not too far off those charged in malls, yet still less expensive by twenty or thirty pesos. By this tactic the owners hope to draw in people who might otherwise patronize the bigger chain cinemas.

The Theater-Goers

As befits the surroundings, the clientele are those looking for cheap thrills in the afternoon, or a quiet snooze in an dark, airconditioned cave. From what I could see in the flickering light, they were all men. It was quiet inside; no babies whining, no teenagers laughing. The silence was broken only by the drone of the film’s soundtrack, the hum of the airconditioner, and an occasional soft snore. It was a place for titillation, but also for relaxation – at least while we were there.

The Artifacts

The posters displayed outside the theater (see gallery pictures) bore the conventional double-entendre one-word titles reserved for what were called “bold” or “bomba” films – “Booking”, “Binyag”, “Pitas”. Most of them were indie-produced. Surprisingly, the film we saw was well-acted and well-written, the narrative rife with riveting twists and turns, for all that it was a formulaic tearjerker, with dark elements of poverty and homosexuality and death. Heterosexual lovemaking scenes were inserted almost at random, to satisfy the urges of its target audience. Were they edited out, the film could have been shown in any chain moviehouse.

Yet it is precisely the carnal content that keeps films like these confined to screenings in cold dark caverns like these in the heart of the city, ironically trapped by that which makes them profitable.

Click on a photo, and click again to see a full-size image.

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indian eats at new bombay

After an afternoon of art spent at the Yuchengco Museum at RCBC Plaza, my classmates, professor, and I crossed Buendia Avenue to The Columns condominium in search of food.

We looked at a pizza place, a deli, a Starbucks. Our professor, Dr Joey Lacson, said, “Let’s try the Indian place, neh?”

Which is how we wound up at New Bombay, eager to try their “authentic Indian cuisine”.

Nearly everything on the menu was unfamiliar – paneer? roti? masala? I ended up ordering the empanada-like vegetable samosas – pastry cases stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes – accompanied by green coriander chutney. To balance the tanginess, I had a tall glass of cool and tart mango lassi.

My friends had paneer (cottage cheese and spices and sauce), along with breaded vegetable cutlets (like samosas but without the crust), chicken masala, and two kinds of unleavened bread - roti (thin) and chappati (thick).

Paneer – chunks of homemade cottage cheese with tomatoes.

These tear-drop shaped vegetable cutlets will make you smile with joy. Served with coriander chutney and something that tasted like barbecue sauce.

Chicken masala – tender and juicy.

Indian food is highly spiced. Its flavors set your tastebuds aflame and craving for more. The textures are lush and gorgeous, inviting you to convey the food to your mouth with your hands, making eating a sensual, intimate experience.

Rod called this the “pizza pipino”.

Roti – thick and chewy.

Despite the spices, since everything we ordered was vegetarian, the food was light while still being filling. No heavy oils are used in cooking, making for a clean and refreshing gustatory experience.

Chapatti – flat and flavorful.

Vegetable cutlets, pizza pipino (not its real name), and spinach paneer, fantastic with roti and chapatti.

New Bombay has branches at The Columns, Ayala corner Buendia Avenues; Glorietta 3, Ayala Center, Makati; and 5/F The Podium, ADB Avenue, Ortigaas Center, Mandaluyong.

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the garden gate

Last July my sisters, daughters, and I visited Baguio City, staying at my aunt’s vacation home in a quiet part of town. She has a magnificent garden. I fell in love with it.

You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.

~ Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons (1964)

The temple bell stops

But I still hear the sound

coming out of the flowers.

~ Basho

(Click on each picture, then click again to see full size.)

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blue and yellow pelis

Once upon a time, in a country far far away from where it was made, a blue Pelikan M205 Traditional Series demonstrator came to roost on a Yeah! notebook.

The blue Peli’s fine steel nib has a bit of flex that makes it a joy to write with, yielding good line variation because of its springiness.

It was joined later by a limited edition Pelikan M205 in Gelb (yellow) from Germany.

Its nib is even bouncier than its blue fellow’s.

The clips of both pens are pelican beaks with eyes, the better to see what they are writing.

The ink window mesmerizes; one can gaze at that ink bubble and derive amusement from watching the ink flow here and there as you tilt the barrel.

An ink window is handy for seeing how much ink you have left. You’ll never run dry in the middle of a sentence anymore.

The Yeah! notebook is inexpensive but well-made.

Its paper is smooth and takes fountain pen ink well with little show-through and no feathering.

Interesting pens, notebooks, and inks for doodling make me happy. What are the little things that bring you happiness?

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the rain falls mainly on the train

This is what it looks like on the train on a rainy day.

Fat drops of water pelt the windshield glass;

through the blur, people are color in motion.

The train doors whoosh open and shut

as the people of color hop on and off,

on their way to home, work, or secret destinations.

Some will find money or lust or murder  when they arrive;

others will be lucky and find love.

Those who only have lonely gray thoughts peer out the window

and wonder when the rain will stop to let sunshine in.

Below the train are streets filled with cars traversing

the city roads that wind, slick with moisture,

stretching time and the trip to wherever.

Yet the journey each one makes in their mind

is longer, more torturous in its windings,

more cunning in its twists and turns.

Far more devious are the journeys of the heart

and the color people cram the train cars hanging on to life

even as their hearts break and beg for another day, another hour

with the beloved.

Still the rain comes down relentless

washing away the doubt the sin the pain

until all that remains is the blur of love lost and gained

and beating hearts looking for the way home.

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the happy feet tales: school steps

School time rolled around again, and it was time for the lazy writer to get out of her comfy swivel chair-that-is-used-only-for writing, and go to school to enroll. The happy feet were thrilled at the chance to go for a walk, more so when the lazy writer slipped them into the wooden Happy Feet sandals that went clip-clop whenever they took a step.

The school was a university in a huge campus filled with green trees and plants. The lazy writer loved trees, and the happy feet loved walking along the paved paths. First they walked past the building at the top of the main drive. In front of the building was a famous statue called the Oblation.

The Oblation was the statue of a young man who stood with his arms outstretched and his face lifted to the sky. The happy feet felt sorry for him. Not only was he naked, exposed to wind, rain, and sun,  his feet were rooted to his pedestal and he could not walk anywhere. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the steadfast-at-his-post Oblation.

The happy feet next walked past a stand of banners in front of the lazy writer’s college.

It was  a sunny day. The happy feet were warm and toasty in the sunshine.

The happy feet had a long, long way to go to the next college, but they didn’t mind taking one step after another on the paving stones that were the colors of the lazy writer’s school. Clip-clop, went the happy feet along the maroon-and-green path.

The next college was a long way off, so very long! that the happy feet soon felt tired. The lazy writer sat on a bench on the path and rested a bit. The grass in the garden was very green and very cool. The happy feet’s toes wriggled and jiggled in the cool green grass.

At the next college, the happy feet stood in line with other feet so the lazy writer could sign up for a writing class.

All that walking and standing in line made the lazy writer thirsty. So she went outside where people sold drinks from huge plastic coolers filled with cold cold ice. The lazy writer bought a bottle of cold cold water and drank it down. The coolness went way down to the happy feet’s toes! After the drink, off they went again, this time to pay the school fees. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the ice-cooled-drinks-containers.

It was a long long way off to the university’s bank. When the happy feet felt tired again, the lazy writer sat and rested. This time they felt the cool cool stone and moss on steps that led down to a grassy dell. Come and play, the trees and grass said to the happy feet. But the lazy writer had many things to do. Maybe next time, said the happy feet. Up they got, and clip-clop they went, past the cool green gardens.

It had been a long warm day and the happy feet were tired of walking around campus. Oh, so tired! The lazy writer decided to take a tricycle to work and let the happy feet rest a bit. The happy feet loved the ride. Vroom, went the motorbike. The happy feet felt the vibrations that tickled and teased.

The lazy writer was glad to get things done. She was all set for the next semester and looked forward to learning new things. The happy feet had fun walking around school. And the toes wiggled and jiggled and wriggled for joy.

~ The End ~

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the center of the world

A couple of weeks ago our class on creative non-fiction writing discussed essays on New York City. Our professor, Dr Cristina Hidalgo, told us that many writers spoke of NYC as “the center of the world”. “I’d say UP Diliman is the center of the world!” she said with a laugh.

Which got me to thinking – she was right. Wherever you are is the center of the world for you.

When class was over, I decided to walk around campus a bit.

Beside the Faculty Center is the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum. Right next to its entrance is this fantastic nommery – The Museum Cafe by Cafe Iana (which is at the College of Music). Their butter-rich silvanas melt in the mouth, I promise you.

I acquired my pre-loved Kindle 2 only a couple days before. I explore how it works while enjoying pasta and a cup of brewed coffee. A huge yellow umbrella deflects the sun’s mild rays as I survey an oasis of emerald. It is cool, so cool on my eyes, that even the restless stirrings of my soul are stilled for the moment.

My cup of coffee is adorned with chocolate syrup feathers on steamed milk foam. The brown sugar glitters like crushed gems. I hesitate to drink and destroy the art. But I have seen it, it will always be in my mind’s eye, and the photograph I take lets me share the beauty I see with others.

After the meal, I walk a route familiar from undergraduate days, from the Vargas Museum past the Faculty Center and Palma Hall to the Main Library.

No one from UP calls Palma Hall that. It’s still ‘AS”, short for “College of Arts and Sciences”, which it housed before CAS was split up into the College of Science, College of Arts and Letters, and College of Social Science and Philosophy.

I look up and see a lacy tracery of leaves against the sky. There is always something new to see wherever you are – the trick is to change your angle of vision. Tilt your neck upwards, sideways, this way and that. Risk a stiff neck for a never-seen vista, a novel image. Be open to wonder. Squint. Use your imagination. Look at something upside-down. Experiment, marvel, accept.

Beside the Main Library is a new cafe – Bulwagan Cafe. I must visit it next time and see what caffeinated goodness they have to offer.

On the  front steps of the library are students. I hear there are some inside too, sometimes.

Across the library is a verdant bamboo grove. Beyond it is more grassy expanse, more earth and plants and wee creatures.

As dusk falls, the lamps across campus flick on one by one. I cast a glance back, and spy a lone orange globe glowing amber against the deep green of trees.

Past the library are more trees, lamps, and people for whom this campus is the center of the world, as it is mine this lazy hazy dreamy twilight time.

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