Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Paris of the East

Paris, from on high.

When one thinks of Paris, one hardly equates it with Manila. These two very different capital cities, located on opposite sides of the globe, might as well be worlds apart.

But between the glamor of the City of Lights, and the squalor of the City of Blights, lies a little-known secret: that to signal the transition from an Old-World Spanish town to a grand metropolis of the modern American Age, Manila was originally envisioned to be laid out like Paris.

Daniel Burnham, an American architect and urban planner who became one of the most influential American architects of the 20th century, designed Manila's American imprint. 

Taking Paris as his inspiration, Burnham's planned long radial avenues, converging in a network of circles that expanded Manila away from Intramuros, Binondo, and other population centers of the Spanish era. Radial avenues developed new urban vistas and circles required new focal points. At those points, the new administration built monumental buildings.

Burnham upgraded the estero system into a second network that provided water transportation and storm drainage. With boulevards like Paris and canals like Venice, Manila was a masterpiece of the early 20th century Beaux-Arts urban planning style called ''City Beautiful.''

Joseph Hayden, Vice-Governor of the Philippines from 1933-35, writes at the end of his term: ''Manila has become one of the most beautiful, healthiest, and safest cities in the Far East.''

Burnham's layout for Manila. From skyscrapercity.

Ah, Manila. Manila.

I'm a born and bred Manila boy who's always loved the old neo-classical buildings - the Manila Post Office, the National Museum, and City Hall - much more than the imposing Spanish fortresses and cathedrals. I've also had a soft spot for the Art Deco monuments such as the Metropolitan Theater and the late, lamented Jai-Alai building.

Manila Jai-Alai building. Photo by Carl Hayden. From

I love the sweeping curves and the solid lines of Art Deco architecture. It harkens back to an earlier time, a time when Manila was elegant, glamorous, and full of promise.

Manila Metropolitan Theater. From

You can still see some remaining Art Deco structures in the Malate area - usually in the form of apartment buildings. They defiantly stand, mute witnesses to untramelled urban sprawl. Silent sentinels unable to stem the invasion of grotesque Chinese bodegas, garish condominiums and gleaming malls.

At the foot of Jones Bridge, there is a cluster of neo-classical buildings that overlook the Pasig River. The most prominent of these is the El Hogar building, built in 1914:

El Hogar, side view.

One of El Hogar's wide stairwells. Note the intricate metalwork on the railings.

Across El Hogar is the former First National City Bank, built in 1915. A massive structure supported by impressive Ionic columns evoking the solidity and strength essential to any financial edifice. Today, it stands in ruins, abandoned save for a few squatters who inhabit its once-lofty halls.

First National Bank today.

And behind El Hogar still stands the old HSBC building, one of the few English-designed structures in this Spanish-American colony and described by architect Paulo Alcazaren as "probably the last remaining building of the British Empire on these shores."

Photo from traveleronfoot

Now I understand why, walking along the actual Parisian avenues many years ago, I was struck by an oddly-familiar feeling of being...home, somehow.

Beneath the faded facades and crumbling concrete, one can still discern the forgotten beauty of a lost city in these decrepit but proud, tarnished but grand, stoic but stately monuments. If one has eyes to see, they offer fleeting glimpses - like remnants of a dream - of another time, another place. Of a genteel, dignified, and gracious city now lost in the passage of time.

That lost city.

My city.

This "Paris of the East."

Note: I wrote this entry sometime last year but thought it be best to publish it at a more appropriate time. Today being Manila's 439th birthday seems fitting enough. To behold more of Manila's forgotten architectural wonders and see the city through fresh eyes, check out I Heart Manila The author's pictures and commentaries offer refreshing perspectives on this ancient metropolis I call home.

Also, "the Paris of the East" is a more popular moniker for Shanghai, not Manila. But let's not quibble.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stormy Weather

Into each life a little rain must fall.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day

After emerging triumphantly from weeks and weeks of unending toil and turmoil, I enjoyed two perfect days in a bubble of relief, contentment, and yes, happiness.

Bubbles, alas, were meant to burst.

In hindsight, perhaps that sphere of calm was merely the eye of this new hurricane.

In the morning I face yet another storm - one that started brewing last Friday and gained strength and momentum over the weekend.

I am old enough to understand and accept that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, and that fate is as fickle as the weather. Much as I would like to tailspin into a personal tropical depression, in crisis situations one does not have the luxury of wallowing in self-pity. There are hatches to be battened down, sails to be furled.

My halcyon days, it seems, are few, and they are numbered.

As this new tempest was gathering speed over yet another lost weekend, a colleague marveled and asked how I was able to cope with the howling winds, the lashing rains, the gigantic waves that threatened to capsize our little ship.

To that, I take a line from Ripley's clone in Alien : Resurrection, and simply say:

"I died."

I wonder how many storms were made for us.

I wonder how many storms we were made to weather.

I die a thousand deaths with each of these maelstroms.

I guess the trick is to keep on dying, until one is well and truly dead.

But I have promises to keep. 
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Friday, June 11, 2010


No, I'm not in love.

On the other hand, neither has anyone regaled me with astounding displays of stupidity - well, maybe we can make the star of McVie's latest post an exception.

No, I've simply lost my voice. Literally.

Must be the four consecutive nights of amped-up stress and little sleep trying to get as many commercials on air as I humanly can before every student and pupil in this land get finally settled in their classrooms.

And no, let's not blame my smoking for this. My future heart attack already has dibs on that.

It's fucking annoying trying to chew suppliers out when one sounds like Chuchi. On the plus side, my breaking voice reminded me of the time I hit puberty and for about four agonizing months I sounded like some hyperactive three-year old was given free rein to fiddle around with the pitch settings in my voice box.

Wait, that doesn't sound like something on the plus side. But the joy of discovering my pubes sure was.

But I digress.

After two days of sounding like the mutant child of Rod Stewart, Kim Carnes, and Bonnie Tyler lovingly wrapped in sandpaper, I have officially lost all capacity for human speech. Good thing, though, that like any bona fide Filipino, I can still point with my nguso.

Oh, well. As a certain renowned establishment someplace in Pasay touts: "The thrill is silence."

I'm so ecstatic I could just spit tacks.


Then again, silence does speak volumes.

So until I get my voice back, looks like I'll be taking Tyra's advice and scowl with my eyes.

Sorry, lady, I got nuthin' for ya.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Up In The Air

Ze plen! Ze plen!

I don't think I've traveled as frequently and in such short intervals as I have for the past three months.

Flying away on a wing and a prayer.

Unlike George Clooney's character, though, I've a long way to go before I score ten million miles. But I do get to fly Business Class often enough, thus sparing me the excitement of sharing close quarters with the rest of the flying, farting, and fidgeting cattle.

Business is business.

I don't mind hotels, especially ones where we've checked in so often the doormen know us by name. Feels a little like home - which is a good thing, I guess, when one is away from home so often.

Another suitcase down another hall...

My bed is a cold and empty stranger and my frequent absences are a boon for my maid, whose duties have largely been reduced to looking after my kennel. Never mind that I'm famished; she only remembers to ask me for money when the dog food runs out.

It's a dog's life, innit?

Well. At least her devotion to my mutts (and yes, let's not forget the cat) is beyond question.

No music, no life.

In addition to my cars, now my iPod has joined the "Let's-get-on-the-fritz-and-drive-rudeboy-nutz" club. Goddamned contraptions must know I do not have the time to supervise repairs until at least September, from the looks of things. It's just as well about the cars, though; production affords me the courtesy of a service vehicle and driver, and I haven't been anywhere except shoots, editing, and client's office of late, anyway.

But the iPod bailing on me is a real bummer. Music soothes the savage beast, and I don't have the time nor the inclination to turn to drugs at this point. I suppose - with all my gadgets going haywire one after the other - I can consider it a blessing that I lost my Canon Ixus 960 IS last Mother's Day when I played the good son and bought three cakes for my mom. Someone out there in Alabang is now the happy owner of a slightly-used, titanium-casing 12.1 megapixel camera. My only consolation is that the lucky bugger has to do without the charger and the manual. It's also a good thing I didn't have any nudies in that camera - I think.

Bye-bye, baby, bye-bye.

One of my hard drives also thought it might be fun to goad me into a grand mal seizure by wiping out all my work data last week - all 1 terabyte of it. Good thing I have a techie slave who waits on me hand and foot, who gleefully charges me an arm and a leg for the privilege.

I can't wait for the surprises that incoming iPad has in store for my wonderful life.

On a personal level, traveling has made me miss the funeral of the last of my grandmothers, a scant two weeks ago. Truth be told, I'm such a thoughtful grandson I thought she had died years ago. It's a poetic companion piece to the time two months prior when, desperate for a suitable talent, I rang up my mom to ask gingerly whether Tio Julio was still alive and thus, available for a shoot. Her deadpan answer "Your last grandfather died a year ago, anak. It's his first death anniversary this month, as a matter of fact." spoke volumes about how much time I spend with my kinsmen.

Ded Na Pala Si Lolo.

Sue me for expecting everyone to live forever.

And I just planed in from a thankfully-normal-looking Bangkok a few hours ago, thus conveniently missing my parents' wedding anniversary. My mom, having spent many years in the corporate world, was understanding. My father's silence, on the other hand, means I'm going to have my bribe my way into his good graces yet again. He and my brother have made at least three Sunday sorties to my house on the pretext of tinkering with my stubborn cars, each time missing me because I was either abroad, on a shoot, or abroad yet again.

I wonder how big a dent this will make in my finances.

The bribe, I mean. Getting the cars fixed, well, that's just like getting raped, and I'm used to it.


It is now a full day after I started writing this entry. Just got home at 6 a.m. from a final casting workshop, an interlock, overseeing some laborious CG renderings, and a release tape dubbing. And I'm off again in a couple of hours for a rush recording, sitting down to beat a stubborn jingle into submission, and two online editings for two stress-filled projects that will undoubtedly carry over into the next day, after which I have two shoots back-to-back, which will bring us back to packing and fly, fly, flying again.

My head in the clouds, my feet on the ground.

The fun never stops at rudeboy's.