Friday, November 13, 2015

Everything is this, now

Friday, November 13, 2015

When you haven’t been in the world long, it’s hard to comprehend what disasters are at the origin of a sense of disaster: maybe you don’t even feel the need to. Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don’t want to think about the rest. Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.

~Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, 2011

Friday, October 23, 2015

Freedom Over Ease

Friday, October 23, 2015

There is only a month to go before I leave for South America, yet I haven’t worked out the details of the trip. I haven’t even finalized the itinerary. There are so many reservations and bookings that I have to make and transportation routes that I have to study. How did I let it come to this?  Perhaps we should just wing it this time: be more spontaneous, adapt as we go, and not plan anything in advance.

Why do I insist on traveling independently when we could go for one of those guided tours that would organize everything for us? We could simply be chauffeured all around the continent instead of going through the trouble of finding and booking hotel rooms, buses, and flights, haggling with cab drivers, dealing with touts, and making our way through countries where English is not that widely spoken. The convenience organized tours guarantee is very tempting, I admit, but I’d always choose freedom over ease.  When we travel on our own, we can choose where to go, how to go, when to go, and when to leave. Why spend time going through the same sites and the same route most groups go to when we can skip all of those and spend our time in a small village that we like and do nothing? Traveling independently would give us more opportunities to get a feel for the local culture. And I’d surely get a chance to practice my Spanish too.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The House of Our Childhood

Friday, October 16, 2015

As the sun begins to set we feel the chill of the fog wafting through the windows whose rotten wooden frames, barely hanging together, we painstakingly tried to conceal behind handsewn curtains made of the cheapest fabric we could find.  It permeates each room of the house, touching the sloping, mildew-patterned walls, seeping into the battered couch sagging under the weight of accumulated years, grazing the shelf bursting with books whose presence in that house is our sole source of material pride. It drifts toward the precarious-looking but ever-sturdy ladder then downstairs with its uneven concrete floor, unpainted walls, paneless windows, and doorless doors.The cool air lingers and slowly blends with the palpable odor of molds--the smell of our childhood.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stillness

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

As I came down from the mountain, I recalled how, not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize. Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources—it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources.

~ Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, 2014

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Pause

Friday, June 26, 2015

Today a fellow blogger remarked that I’ve stopped blogging. Have I? I think not. It’s simply a pause in my incessant interior monologue.  The cynic in me thinks that nobody’s interested in what I write about or whether I write at all so why bother?  But my love for writing triumphs and here I am typing these words, trying to string words together once again.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Going Private

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I've decided to go private: to be heard without adding more noise to the world's roar.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The sea is everything

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Burot Beach, Calatagan, Batangas, Philippines
The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the globe . . . The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it. It is only movement and love; it is the living infinite.
~Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See, 2014

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sahara

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Sahara is a potent, evocative reality. It is one of the world’s great brands. No one name so completely epitomises an environment. Oceans can be Atlantic or Pacific or Indian, mountains can be Himalayas or Andes or Alps, but if you want to convey desert, you only have to say ‘Sahara’. (Michael Palin, Sahara, 2002)

The Sahara announced its presence as our vehicle crossed Tizi n’Tichka, the highest mountain pass in the High Atlas that links Marrakech and Ouarzazate. I looked out the window, watching the verdant hills turn into a brooding expanse of arid peaks and shriveled shrubs. This landscape, bleak and stripped of color, continued to appear, stretching as far as I could see, revealing the beauty of the Sahara.

pise (mudbrick) villages in Morocco
Driving for hours on end through this barren terrain, passing occasional rock outcrops and mud brick villages, created in my mind the most enduring and the most evocative image of Morocco. It is not Ouarzazate’s Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, or Marrakech's famed square Jemaa el Fna, or the 11th century Chouara tanneries in Fez, or the magnificent 300-meter deep Todra Gorge. It is the heat-shimmering emptiness of the Saharan landscape that haunts me to this day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Good like rest and quiet

Monday, March 23, 2015


It felt very good to have him walking beside her. Good like rest and quiet, like something you could live without but you needed anyway. That you had to learn how to miss, and then you’d never stop missing it.

~Marilynne Robinson, Lila, 2014

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Twenty-Seven and Counting

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I thought of checking the UNESCO World Heritage List to find out how many of its sites I have visited. I’ve been to 27: six in India, five in Peru, four in Morocco, three in the Philippines, two each in Colombia and Ecuador, and one each in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Nepal, and Malaysia.

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites I've been to
Cambodia
Colombia
  • Fort, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena
  • Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia: Quindio 
China
Ecuador
  • City of Quito
  • Qhapaq Nan, Andean Road System: Camino Real
India
  • Agra Fort
  • Taj Mahal
  • Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
  • Qutb Minar and Its Monuments, Delhi
  • Red Fort Complex
  • Hill Forts of Rajasthan: Amber Fort, Jaipur
Indonesia
  • Cutural Landscape of Bali Province
Malaysia
Morocco
Nepal
  • Kathmandu Valley: Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan, and Bakhtapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambu and Bauddhanat, and the Hindu temple of Pashupati 
Peru
Philippines

Friday, February 20, 2015

A bright fake smile

Friday, February 20, 2015


He gave her a bright fake smile; so much of life was a putting off of unhappiness for another time. Nothing was ever lost by delay. He had a dim idea that perhaps if one delayed long enough, things were taken out of one's hands altogether by death. 

~ Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, 1948

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The 11th Century Chouara Tannery of Fez

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

From that souk walled with floor-to-ceiling shelves of everything leather, I could see the Chouara tanneries of Fes el-Bali where raw hides are stretched, cured, preserved, dyed, and transformed into the bags and jackets that surrounded me. The tourists, abuzz with excitement at the unbelievably cheap prices of those goods, barely looked at the workers stomping around in a honeycomb of earthen pits, each filled with liquid of different colors. The pestering American-accented voice of the Moroccan man dogging us to make a purchase was more disturbing than the fetid stench that permeated the room from the tanneries below.  


The Chouara tanneries of the old medina of Fez dates back to the 11th century, and the tanning process has hardly changed since.  The skins of camels, cows, goats, and sheep are first soaked in water mixed with cow urine, pigeon droppings, quicklime, and salt. 


Once the skins are thoroughly steep in the mixture, they are laid out to dry.


After drying, the skins are immersed in the colored stone wells, where the skins are dyed in the natural colors of indigo, mint, poppy, henna, pomegranates, and turmeric.


It is hard to believe that such place exists until today and that it continues to function as it did thousands of years ago, yet it does. It makes me wonder whether preserving such place—where workers toil in substandard conditions--is worth it.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The promise of rest

Wednesday, February 4, 2015



…I shut my eyes and she was again the same as she used to be: she was the hiss of steam, the clink of a cup, she was a certain hour of the night and the promise of rest.

~ Graham Greene, The Quiet American, 1955

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Vapid Chatter

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You would think that it’s merely vapid chatter, a barrage of nonsense sent and received through social media. But is it, really? In that chat room where you can never expect sanity to enter the conversation, where personal boundaries are not respected and recollections are idealized by nostalgia, you can escape from the humdrum concerns of adulthood and return to those years when life was simple and fun was free.  In those daily exchanges that seem banal and inane you know that you have friends out there—the ones you’ve made two decades ago. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Humor won't save you

Monday, January 26, 2015

Humor won’t save you; it doesn’t really do anything at all. You can look at life ironically for years, maybe decades; there are people who seem to go through most of their lives seeing the funny side, but in the end, life always breaks your heart. Doesn’t matter how brave you are, or how reserved, or how much you’ve developed a sense of humor, you still end up with your heart broken. That’s when you stop laughing. In the end there’s just the cold, the silence and the loneliness. In the end there’s only death.

~ Michel Houllebecq, The Elementary Particles, 1998

Friday, January 23, 2015

Just the Place We Wanted

Friday, January 23, 2015

Christmas in the Philippines can get overly festive, almost bordering on the maniacal. To escape from the glitter and chaos of the city and the commodified cheer of the holidays, D and I flew to the island of Phuket in Thailand the previous month.

Kata Beach, where we whiled away the days, was just the place we wanted or, better yet, needed: touristy yet laid- back and devoid of the trappings of the yuletide season yet filled with the seductions of a tropical wonderland.

Kata Noi, Phuket, Thailand
Compared with our previous trips that entailed trekking poles, heavy boots, gore-tex jackets and a huge amount of stamina, this one only required no more than a bottle of sunblock, sunglasses, and a swimsuit. Lying on a beach mat while watching the waves crash against people’s legs, I realized how relaxing vacations of that type are. We didn’t have to wake up early; we didn’t have to go anywhere but the beach; we didn’t have to do anything.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

As if something so forbiddingly colossal must somehow be friendly

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I think back to the enthralled group silent in the face of the majestic beauty of Machhapuchhre last night and I wonder if we aren’t all in danger of falling into the romantic delusion that by staring at these great massifs of rock and ice we achieve some form of communication with them, as if something so forbiddingly colossal must somehow be friendly.

The mountains are far more likely to be enemies than friends. We take them on at our peril and, despite all nature’s warnings, long to go higher. And the higher we go the more the mountains tighten their grip, squeezing the life out of most people, gently in some cases, more severely in others. The locals who see the mountains as gods to be appeased are only translating pragmatic experience. Human beings are not meant to live at these heights and they should expect trouble if they do.

~ Michael Palin, Himalaya, 2004

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Souq, sahara, babouche, kasbah

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Souq, Sahara, babouche, kasbah. Writing those words and saying them silently in my head thrills me even now—three months after our Moroccan adventure.  It feels great to look back and relive those moments by putting them into words.  But, try as I might, how can I adequately describe the ever-changing colors of the undulating Sahara dunes, that sense of stepping back in time as we walked through the maze-like streets of the medina of Fez, that feeling of mingled exhaustion and exhilaration in our every step as we hiked through the High Atlas Mountains, those towering rock walls of the Todra Gorge that reminded me that I am no bigger than a fleck of dust in the vastness of this world we live in?
 
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