So I’ve found things to read, since the last time I checked in. There was much floundering the day or so after the last Pullman and Dear Sugar—this floundering includes a dull-beyond-imagining romance from the usually dependable Mary Balogh—but, slowly but surely, I’m getting back to the reading rhythm. Very slowly, sure.
Right. So. It was a rather fine day today, not least because I was [physically] free from the salt mines: It’s the 115th anniversary of the proclamation of Philippine independence—and us folks do like to get jiggy with our liberty from the comforts of our homes. I, for one, have tossed my name into The Hat of Dubious Commemorations: Right after midnight, I began reading an anthology boasting a selection from one hundred and twenty-five years of The Mistress as a [Philippine] literary tradition. (The occasional synchronicities in my life tickle me pink sometimes.) And: So far, so good.
There are many, many things to be excited for in Querida—the book gets the ball rolling with the Rizal passages on Doña Consolacion; one of my favorite short story writers, Lakambini A. Sitoy, has a piece on Josephine Bracken (who’s got to be among my favorite women-in-Philippine-history, if only because we empirically know so little about her, but she’s been rehashed every which way, god); and there are numerous unread-by-me stories by other writers I’ve loved reading. (And it’s all about mistresses!) But I’ll get to the promise of the actual pieces much later: I’ve been rather busy wallowing in the too-amazing-for-words introduction to the anthology, penned by (I suppose) its editors Caroline S. Hau, Katrina Tuvera, and Isabelita O. Reyes. I’m already feeling a little bummed that the introduction—chock-full of information I don’t know what to do with, erudite, sly, relentlessly fascinating—won’t be going on forever. A sample—the incomparable second paragraph:
A querida is defined by what she does, and with whom. Her name in Spanish means “beloved,” and tells us something about the passion she kindles, the affection she commands. Some names show her in action: live-in, for example, and patiki, which alludes to “a sexual act where the female mimics the bird (like kingfisher) that feeds on fish.” Other labels such as kalunya (from the root word alunya, “illicit caress”) and kaapid (from apid, “illicit sexual intercourse”) are less about her as a person and more about the bounds—legal, moral, and social—that she transgresses. “Kabit” dates back to the 1970s and originally refers to buses or jeepneys that plied the streets illegally alongside legitimate franchises. Having an affair is commonly described in folksy, dated language such as paglalaro ng apoy (playing with fire), pamamangka sa dalawang ilog (rowing in two rivers), pagsusunog ng uling (burning charcoal), pangangaliwa (literally, turning or moving left), pangkukulasisi (keeping a parakeet in a cage), and pangtsitsiks (tsiks may either derive from the Spanish chica, “girl,” or the American slang “chick”), a sure sign that the act and the stock characters in the family drama have been with us for as long as we can remember.
The introduction begins with the myriad words the Philippine body of languages have for the other woman; and right after that second paragraph, it goes into a brief study of the movie No Other Woman—which, apparently, has hokey lines from suffering wife to socially superior mistress, like: “Alam mo kasi, ang marriage, para yang exclusive village. Kailangan mong bantayan, para hindi makapasok ang mga squatter.” [Which roughly translates to: “You know, marriage is like an exclusive village. It has to be guarded, so vagrants don’t wander in.” But that just leeches it of the bite, haha.]
There may be such a thing as too much enthusiasm. But, come on: Wouldn’t you be excited knowing that there’s a very specific word for an illicit caress? Or that kabit derived from “colorum” buses and jeepneys? Or have your bias against the sorry but unintentionally amazeballs-sorry-ass state of Philippine screenwriting confirmed? Or, you know: A goddamned literary anthology dedicated to mistresses?
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On a more wholesome note to my bibliophilic update: I finished reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate last night. It was very, very affective—for goodness’ sake, it’s about an art-loving gorilla and a baby elephant—and I made really embarrassing noises (in public) whenever my black heart was overwhelmed by the adorableness.
Which goes rather well with my underlying angst in these kinds of books: There’s always a big ball of loathing-on-behalf-of-the-species in my gut whenever I read or hear about something that’s hints at the stupid things people do to animals. Which includes, at the very least, putting them in cages for our amusement. There’s much horror hinted at in Ivan, never detailed—but not glossing over them either. It’s actually more troubling, more devastating, in Ivan’s simplistic language. It’s matter-of-fact.
Ironically: When I bought Ivan, on a whim, it was because I’ve been sorely needing to have my faith in humanity restored. And where else, after all, to go to for that, but the wonderful world of fiction [about artsy-fartsy gorillas and baby elephants]?
Then again, as Stella (the wise ol’ elephant of the story, because there will always be wise ol’ elephants in stories like this) observed: “Humans can surprise you sometimes.” And I’m glad the ones in this book did. Most of them, anyway.
(It just became very gloomy here all of a sudden. Let me try that again: The One and Only Ivan was amazingly adorable, and hnng baby elephants and gentle, chill gorillas!)