Sunday, June 27, 2010

We lost, baby

Since it started way past my daughter’s usual bedtime, she couldn’t keep her eyes open and she fell asleep about ten minutes into the game. That’s why she missed Slovakia’s first goal against Italy in last Thursday’s do-or-die match. The Italians played like amateurs the rest of the first half – no rhythm, no organization, it’s as if there were only 11 individual players and no team playing against the Slovakian Team. At halftime, after posting my disappointment and frustrations on both my Twitter and Facebook accounts, I carried my sleeping daughter to her room so as not to get disturbed by the occasional bursts of verbal cheers and jeers from me and her mother. My latest online status update at that point: “I don’t think I can stand another 45 minutes of torture.” They’ve been to the World Cup finals 16 out of 18 times, have won the Cup 4 times, the last time just four years earlier, watching them fumble in the first 45 minutes was just heartbreaking. The score stood at one to nil, things can still get better in the second half.

And then Slovakia scored a second goal in the second half. I gave up on Italy at that point. But then, by some miracle, they slowly found their game and finally scored a goal – 2 to 1, the score now stood. It’s wasn’t over, after all. And then that brief flash of brilliance turned out to be a fluke for soon after, Slovakia upped their lead once again with a goal. With just around 10 minutes left in the game, the defending champions were behind by 2 goals. It was already clear in the minutes that followed that the Italians would be leaving South Africa sooner than the whole world expected. And despite scoring a second goal, the Slovaks simply had the win and the right to move on to the round of 16 within reach – all they needed to do in the dying minutes was make those minutes die as fast as possible.

And then the referee blew the final whistle. One of Italy’s younger players dropped to the ground and cried his heart out, and a veteran walked over pull him back to his feet. He put his arm around the young player as they walked out of the stadium – the young man would probably have another chance to be part of a champion team four years from now, while the veteran knew that this was his last World Cup. Italy was only of the so-called big teams who everyone thought had realistic chances of making it to the top in this World Cup to be booted out in the eliminations. France was also sent home early, no thanks to their players who thought that their personal issues and attitudes were bigger than their country’s aspiration.

The next day, the whole of Italy mourned their team’s loss. "It was the darkest and most terrible day in the history of Italian football," according to the editorial of Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta.

Here, most Filipinos were intoxicated by the Game & win by the L.A. Lakers over the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association finals, which, to rest of the world, seemed more like an unwelcome TV commercial in a month-long main feature. Most Filipinos, when asked why they’re not into football, would say that the sport is boring since most games don’t go beyond having 2 to 3 goals made, some even end in a tie at zero. Unlike basketball, they say, where you are treated to a goal – a dunk, a triple, a fade-away, an impossible lay-up - every 24 seconds. But that’s the beauty of football, it is so easy to play but not too easy to score. Each goal requires so much to make – strategy, skill, stamina, speed, cunning, anticipation, improvisation – that not one involved takes it for granted. Not the players, not the coach, not even the people in the stands. And when a goal is finally made, unlike in basketball where you’re bombarded with anywhere between 40-60 goals in a game but hardly remember any one particular shot after, a soccer goal can stay in your head forever. It can push you into extreme sadness or elation, depression or excitement, depending on who kicked that ball in between those posts, every time the image of it pops into your head, hours, days, weeks, months or even years after it happened.

As my wife said our goodnights to the children, our daughter woke up as her mother tucked her in tighter under the blanket in her bed. “Who won?” she asked. “We lost, baby,” her mother said. Almost the whole family chose Italy as their top team in this World Cup (Our eldest chose England instead). She started crying that we decided that for that night, she could sleep with us in our bed.

I wonder how it would be like when the time comes when our own country would finally make it to the World Cup, and we’re actually rooting for our very own team? But that would take a while yet. See, we’re too busy waiting for Darwin’s law of natural selection to be repealed so that Filipinos would be genetically competitive in basketball, that we fail to realize that there is this one sport where we can actually really excel. Because in football, height doesn’t really matter, much less skin color. Its number one requirement is heart. And we’ve got plenty of that.

Monday, June 21, 2010


“If everybody knows everything, then nothing means anything. Everything’s a cliché. That’s why a stopped making art,” the “Artist” laments in Eric Bogosian’s performance-art piece, “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll.”

In this digital age where everybody has access to perhaps all the knowledge the human race has accumulated, digitally stored as a series of ones and zeroes on hard drives and scattered out there all over the world wide web, everybody seems to know everything, or at least a lot of us act like we do.

In the realm of art, what does this mean?

The digital revolution has greatly affected one form of expression in particular – photography. Once the exclusive domain of those who have got the so-called “eye” and have access to the proper equipment, is now an open arena with everyone who has access to anything that can freeze life on frames at four megapixels or higher become self-proclaimed “photographers.” Well, it does literally mean someone who photographs, and since digital single lens reflex cameras have become cheaper, and since for peanuts any China-made phone now comes with a high-resolution camera, more and more people have become photographers. On the one hand, there’s a lot of good in this. Since there are a lot more people peering behind viewfinders and clicking away, more of life’s moments are captured, saved, printed or at least uploaded online for anyone to experience. No need to worry about the cost of film, developing the film, and printing the photographs. Flash, or SD or CF cards that can store thousands and thousands of high-resolution images have become cheaper.

In the early days of digital photography, it seemed like the new medium will take a while to replace film, it remained as toys to be played with by hobbyists and not serious pieces of equipment for professional practitioners. A couple of years later, as digital storage became more and more efficient with larger data being accommodated in much smaller gadgets, the digital format slowly caught up. But large format film made its last stand for a while since 6,7, or even 8-megapixel digital cameras still couldn’t match the quality of images taken with a large format film camera. And then in the blink of an eye, digital photography breached the 10-megapixel mark and has now all but totally doomed the film format to near-extinction.

Back in the days of film photography, photographers, seasoned and neophytes alike, composed each frame more meticulously, much more carefully, for in a regular roll of 35mm film, you only have 36 frames. And until you have that roll developed and printed, you don’t know if you had that picture right, and so you carefully measure the light and adjust aperture and shutter speed more cautiously. Now? Your CF card can hold thousands of high-resolution images, so you click away – and immediately, it’s there on that tiny frame behind your camera called the LCD screen, so you know if you took a good picture or not, and you instantly make the necessary adjustments until you get it right. It’s so easy it starts being taken for granted.

And now, everybody’s a photographer. And in the world of professional photography, one downside to this is, as the law of supply and demand dictates, when supply outnumber demand, the value of goods go down. It is almost impossible these days to make a living being a professional photographer. There’s just too many of them out there competing for a slice of that limited pie. Clients these days don’t go searching for the best photographer, faced with a smorgasbord of clickers, they now search for the lowest bidder. The competition gets tougher, and just like when all those shawarma joints started sprouting all over the country, each one lowered its price to attract more customers and eventually, they drove each other out of business. That’s almost what is happening now – photographers can hardly make a living out of their craft, there’s just too many of them out there, good ones, bad ones, real ones and wannabes and the sad thing is, people can hardly tell the difference.

And the other downside: just like most mass-produced thingamajigs, quality suffers. And there you have it: more and more photographers and photographs but less and less worthwhile photographers and photographs. There’s so many of them they start being taken for granted. And that’s the worst of it all – being taken for granted.

As a quote from that Disney flick, The Incredibles, goes: “and when everybody’s special? Guess what, nobody really is.”

And when everybody’s an artist? Guess what, nobody really is.

“And that’s why I stopped making art,” as one of the characters in Eric Bogosian’s play said.

Monday, June 7, 2010

As luck would have it

As we were loading the bags back in the car at the end of the day, my wife, RL, thought out loud: maybe when the car suddenly wouldn't start the previous morning, it was a sign.

So since the car won't start last Sunday, we asked a friend if we could rent her dad's cab for Gabriela's birthday party at a beach house in Binloc, Dagupan. On her way to our place with the cab, the neighborhood mechanic did his magic and managed to get the car to start. But since there were a lot of us - total of 11 kids, 14 or so adults, instead of the others having to commute down, we decided to just bring the cab too anyway.

Everyone got to work right away as soon as we got there - I stopped by the roadside market in Damortis to get something that can be cooked fast for lunch (I went for chicken adobo); kids immediately took off their clothes and put on sunblock, etc. We’ve been here too many times it’s almost like a second home.

Later that afternoon, after a quick dip in the water (which was deliciously warm), I went to the Dagupan market to get something to add to my daughter’s birthday pasta dinner - inihaw na karpa at bangus, ensaladang talong, kamatis, arosep at bagoong. In the meantime, my son Leon and his gang of friends fiddled with his Ipod and the little girls watched a movie on gab's laptop while waiting for the food to be ready. I took pictures in between fanning the inihaw and reheating the sauce.

While of course there were some drinks, there was really no heavy drinking later that night. But there was much storytelling, that after the kids already claimed their spaces on both the living and dining room floors for the night by 10pm, us grown-ups stayed up ‘til way past midnight. I went to bed at around 1am next to my wife who went to sleep an hour earlier. The rest stayed up until about 3am.

I could hardly understand everything our friend Rose was saying (it was barely 6am), but I did pick up the words "wallets", "found", "outside." I understood that we were robbed. I got up and the first thing I checked out was the area where I placed the laptop the night before. It was gone. RL's bag which was next to it that had both our wallets and our phones - gone. The next minute everyone was awaken by the commotion and we all looked around some more to see what else was missing. I got out and walked towards the beach hoping against hope to still see a couple of guys running away from the house with our stuff. I saw our friend, Tolits, instead, sprawled on the beach. My heart stopped, the first thing that came to my head was that he probably woke up to discover the house being robbed and the robbers stabbed him and dragged him away from the house. I hesitated for a while before calling out his name. He got up and I started to breathe again. He was gonna sleep in the tent for the night but when it got too hot, decided to just sleep right under the stars. He immediately went to the tent to get his phone, it was gone too.

The kids woke up because of the commotion, and RL broke the news to Gabriela. Silently, she cried.
The laptop was a Christmas gift from Grandma, so was Leon's Ipod. Never mind the phones, but I distinctly remember the day RL and I traveled down to Manila to finally buy a DSLR after a long time of putting away a little money every now and then to be able to do so, plus some additional money from a friend who thought it was worth lending us some additional cash for a decent camera. It wasn't really a high-end, pro-quality DLSR, but we did what we could with it. At least we didn't have to rent or borrow anymore everytime we needed a camera. With it, we've documented conventions, weddings, and lots and lots of performances... and even more picnics and roadtrips and rainy days in Baguio. That's gone too. Plus some cash that may be not much, but is worth millions when you don't have that much.

They must have sprayed us with some gas, they said, that's why nobody woke up. Whatever. But the worst thing those thieves did was not to walk away with all of the above. Those are easy to let go. What I can't forgive them for is breaking Gabriela's heart the morning after her birthday.

We stayed in the warm waters of Binloc the rest of the day, and just before sundown, God treated us to a magnificent show... while the last of the day's rays shone, the site of dark clouds and falling rain far in the distance was magnificent. And on the other side, a beautiful sun-kissed sky. I took a few pictures with Gabriela's pink Kodak point-and-shoot. Good they didn't take that one.

On our way home we passed by a terrible accident. People died. I tried to distract the children to look the other way so as not to see the bodies being laid down on the sidewalk.

We're so lucky, afterall. We're so, so lucky.