Saturday, August 30, 2008

THE OREGON TRAIL

August 23 (Saturday)
Des Moines was home. I like the city falling asleep at 7:30 pm and waking up early the next morning. I love LaVon Griffieon’s Century Farm and its apple trees and farms animals and barns. And it was certainly fun nuking ambrosia corn in Akash’s room at the Fort Des Moines Hotel, the still lingering sweet taste flashing back images of a barbecue and my first Fil-Ams who packed me a dinner of Americanized biko and huge broiled sausages that stretched to brunch, and the s’mores and chocolate melting with the sun.

These memories I stirred on a glass of tomato juice during the flight to Denver (I learned late that beverages were indeed served free on American domestic flights). After almost 2 hours, we arrived at an airport bursting with bricbrats of the incoming Democratic National Convention. I killed time window shopping Obama shirts and walking both ends of the airport 10 times in a vain attempt to have at least a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. We hooked up with the St. Louis Group. A plump lady made a final boarding call. And then Portland.


August 24 (Sunday)
The weather is supposed to be fair for our North Oregon Coast Tour and it was that up to the pee stop at the Camp 18 Restaurant where I brought a sweater for Bulan. Then it rained as we tried to bird watch along Ecola State Park’s Pacific coast and hike through the Douglas fir forest of the Oswald West State Park. It went on at Cannon Beach where I tried to ease its dreariness with a bowl of hot thick clam chowder and a boat of seafood salad and smoked mussels. I walked around, my camera bulging and protected inside my fortunately waterproof jacket, trying to kill time with an over sized cup of Diet Coke from lunch. I was almost a loser until the wine and free cheese at the Tillamook Blue Heron Cheese Factory later in the afternoon helped ebb the iciness of the day.


I had a hot shower and the cozy warm bed back at the hotel. I slept soundly, dreaming of the pages of a brown hardbound book of a long time ago in a distant place called Almaguer. It tells the story of Lewis and Clark and their Indian guide as they trek the Oregon Territory to the Pacific.

August 25, (Monday)
It was our first day of meetings and we were in-house for a morning briefing about the Marriot Residence Inn (where we were staying) being green, and a formal welcome from our local host --- the World Affairs Council of Oregon. The St. Louis and Minneapolis teams also shared their experiences and ours too in Des Moines.

After lunch, we were toured in Portland’s Pearl District via the streetcars of the city’s Trimet Total Transit System. It was about the city being green, encouraging clean mass transport, and transforming Brownfields. Then I raced like hell to catch the hotel’s free football game dinner, and then to Clay Street where I battled to shoot 3 churches in the fading daylight and impending rain.


August 26 (Tuesday)
And then no rain. Just the clear blue sky as we leisurely cruised the Historic Columbia River Highway. I thought it would be a great day for photography.

The downside was shooting under time pressure with only 20-30 minutes to assess each site, select the subjects, adjust camera settings, click, and buy mementos. Add to that the frequent requests for the mandatory souvenir photos by my colleagues. So I was off like mad on the first stop at Crown Point, dancing around Vista House and running up and down its balcony while snatching a couple of souvenir key chains, drinking the loveliness of the Columbia River Gorge, and clicking like there’s no tomorrow. The majestic Multnomah Falls was more difficult with its steep 10-minute hike from the viewing deck to the Benson Footbridge. But I had my photos with some time to spare to buy a shirt for the wife back home and a ranger’s vest for Balong.


Hood River was a working lunch with my first American Indians. The older chief spoke nonchalantly as if resigned to his fate. The younger one was solemn and electrifying in his narration of their battles and hopes that I thought was laced with frustration. He held us in rapt attention and carressed our souls with a melancholic Indian prayer. I was reminded of the Aeta in his tribal regalia during the first Development Innovation Marketplace showcase at the SM Mega-mall in Manila --- a reluctant part of the exhibit shaking from the coldness of a controlled environment.

The day’s finale was Timberline Lodge within a shout of the glacier-covered peak of Mt. Hood. And I --- the sometimes too time conscious and obedient I --- still have nightmares on missing the walk to a snow patch. What I would give to turn back time and be part of the late-for-boarding but deliriously happy photo of Africans and Asians rolling snowballs captured by Akash’s camera.

August 27 (Wednesday)
Fatigue is creeping in from the hustle and bustle of the last 3 weeks. It’s not yet there but damned too near for comfort. It was good that a pretty and sweet talking Asian-American did the presentation of the Portland Office of Sustainable Development. She’s great and she’s hot! The brief respite at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens and a side trip to Lloyds Center Mall also helped. I did have plans to buy a Nikkor telephoto lens for my camera but the $500+ price tag is just too expensive. There was a $150 Sigma version but it was out of stock and will be available on the day I will be flying back home. Tough luck.


I struggled through the afternoon sessions --- mentally asleep but physically awake at the World Forest Institute and nearly boycotting a tour of the Portland Center Stages New Armory Theater. At the hotel, I grabbed a plate of hotdogs, burgers, and tortillas on the way up to my suite but fell asleep midway into my dinner and Democratic VP nominee Sen. Joe Biden’s speech.

August 28 (Thursday)
Our last day. I shared my impressions (understanding the American way of life beyond the text books and foreign policy), gave my evaluation (learning everything in Washington DC, the slowness of the Big Easy, professional fulfillment in Des Moines, Portland being the best of them all), received my certificate (and shot each of my colleagues having theirs), and posed for a group photo. I said my good byes to Safi (Afghanistan), Sabrina (Argentina), Nili (Israel), Rhova (Kenya), Guadalupe (Mexico), Sasha (Montenegro), Sana (Morocco), Sokhna (Senegal), Steven (South Africa), Urwa (Syria), Ibi (Uganda) and Mutaz (Palestine) who will be leaving earlier and might not be seeing again. I washed my dirty clothes, threw unwanted excess baggage to make the weight limit, and performed the sacred art of packing. I treated myself to a big Mediterranean lunch and did a reluctant farewell walk down South Waterfront Walk to the Old Town and Pearl District, which brought me to a last minute surprise of a neighborhood of churches along the SW Park area. It was perhaps a parting gift for my wonderful American adventure.


August 29 (Friday)
I met Neera (Nepal), Akash (India), Jonathan (Liberia), and Israr (Pakistan) at the hotel lobby for our trip to the airport. We hugged farewells to Rodrigo (Colombia) and Uche (Nigeria). They will be leaving on later flights.

My last good bye was to Greg, a third of our English Language Officers with Ellen and Bob. He spent some time in the Philippines and the most casual and friendly of the three. He said he would be looking over my photos and blog page.

The sun did not set through out the long haul to Narita.

August 30 (Saturday)
Back home finally. I told my wife to fetch me at the airport and spend the night at the Diamond Hotel where I was billeted by the US Embassy. The kids and karruba can wait. We have almost a month to catch up.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CHILDREN OF THE CORN

“THAT SHOULD DO,” said Piso as he shoved a bundle of old newspapers inside the tattered army backpack. Inside is a freshly honed jungle bolo and a match box wrapped in a well-used plastic bag. They will scoop bubons along the dacquel nga carayan’s bank for their water and pick the firewood along the way.


They made their way single file across the pisong through a bridge of piled dried water lilies --- Piso with the army backpack slung on his shoulders led the way, followed by Pakupak’s Son, Ninoy, then Abet --- and across the freshly plowed bangkag heavy with the musky smell of fertile earth. Pakupak’s Son made mental notes of the banana groves they passed; there might be mushrooms to harvest there on the way back as well as some balang nga parya.


A pool of stagnant rainwater shadowed by a tree with broad leaves announced the approach to the cornfields. On the left is the fenced-in kasitrusan of a former vice-governor that is protected from river erosion by a spur dike where a line of bangkok santol trees are beginning to bear fruit. That land of the kasitrusan was once Amang Lakay’s bangkag before the Vice-governor came to own it and built the spur dike. This Abet would learn later.


They harvested the young small white-grained corns from the stunted corn stems, only 3 pieces for each of them. That’s the rule. Anybody from Almaguer can take from the bangkags along the river without permission but only enough for pangramanan. Taking more than that would be considered stealing. But they were young and growing and hungry so Piso went into the middle of the cornfield to harvest 2 more for each of them while Ninoy searched the sandy loam fields for tanubongs. Pakupak’s Son started peeling the outer husks of the corn as Abet walked to the riverbank to dig the bubons.


Soon, the air is filled with the sweet aroma of roasting corn and tanubongs. They sat around the fire munching on the burnt corn and wild camote, and a huge ripe papaya that Ninoy found while searching for the tanubongs. Piso took a swig of water from a bamboo canister then started retelling Apong Ino’s tale of the cornfields in Amerika that stretches to eternity…







IT’S BEEN SCARY crossing the river but Insan Lando’s muscular arms managed the boat well. They reached the kalapaw just before the gathering rain trickled in. Abet knew that his efforts in charming the two barrio beauties failed miserably. He grimaced as he recalled their misuots that became more pronounced with every minute until he finally pulled Insan Lando out. That’s how they came to the cornfield, to somehow escape from that embarrassment. They would not be returning to Kiling until dark.


“This is impossible, there can’t be corn this big!” muttered Insan Lando as they started roasting the corns. He is reading from the remnants of a glossy magazine whose pages were used to start the fire earlier. Abet moved close to him to take a look. He saw a big American in an overall with his aproned wife and pigtailed daughter holding on to yellow corns as big as sabunganays. Part of the title said that it was from a state fair in Iowa





Tuesday, August 19, 2008

THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the rising sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one...

That first stanza from an American South folk song made famous by The Animals was a Samahang Dilim favorite. It blended well with their lethal potion of beer-gin and some rolled grass. That was their ritual in Almaguer. Slow and easy.

We flew in to New Orleans after a week in Washington DC and the change is like a blast of hot air after a long winter. There seems to be more clutter, and the city looked poorer. But exotic street names like Poydras and Tchoupitoulas emanate life and excitement that promised to be way over Washington DC's bland alphabetic and numeric versions.

Louisiana is one of the poorest American states and it shows in New Orleans: the images and smell of poverty are more pronounced in the spirits wrapped in brown paper bags and police rousing a man sprawled in the middle of Canal Street. Like Washington DC's homeless, they are mostly African-Americans. The social structure is defined in the lost and abandoned houses of post-Katrina 9th Ward along the Missisippi River versus the graceful mansions of Esplanade Avenue and St. Charles Street that were spared from the floods because they were on higher ground and built of stronger materials.




I came searching for The House Called the Rising Sun and combed the streets of the French Quarter, rode the streetcar through St. Charles Street and back, crossed the Missisippi to Algiers, and left a dime at Marie Laveau's tomb. That's what I did not tell a Nepalese colleague when she asked me why I prefer walking alone.



Loiusiana is also i_travel_east --- novo vizcayano and flickrista par excellence --- who I was expecting to do a shoot out. But no dice. He's going to LA like Wilfredo Pascual is going to Nepal and Southeast Asia, and missing shooting churches in San Francisco with eman59. I did sipped a tall full Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's in their honor, and had a fleeting shot of a church in Baton Rouge for i_travel_east.


It's been easy in the Big Easy. We didn't mind being late for some appointnents. Bourbon Street's atmosphere of naughtiness is most welcome. The slow and easy phase is almost like Almaguer. But I failed to find the The House Called the Rising Sun. Perhaps because New Orleans is really one big house --- the ball and chain of most people there. By choice for some and because there's no other choice for others.





I left New Orleans reluctantly but relieved. That ain't easy but it is easy. On the way to the airport, I hummed a tune that evolved from our endless rendition of "The House of the Rising Sun" when we were walking the streets of Bambang a long time ago. My tribute for a wonderful week...

My father is James Taylor
My mother is Liz Taylor
And because I am a Filipino
My name is Jesus Sastre.

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):

(1) The French Quarter's Royal Street emptying into the "American Quarter" where it becomes St. Charles Street. It is one of New Orleans' oldest streets.

(2) An abandoned house in the 9th Ward --- the largest among the 17 New Orleans wards and the most severely hit by hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is poor compared to the elegance and grandeur of Esplanade Avenue and St. Charles Street. And it is home to the common people most of which are African-Americans. The 9th ward was innundated when storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain broke through the protection levees. Houses were swept and have never been rebuilt. Others were abandoned like shown here with red marks indicating it has been inspected by the National Guard.

(3) Elegant 19th century mansions with handcrafted wrought iron balconies line Esplanade Avenue which is the Millionaires' Row of the city's Creole population. The term Creole was first used to describe the descendants from the fusion of French and Spanish legacies but in recent times has become a description of African mestizos or mulattos.

(4) Elegant mansions line up the uptown of New Orleans' St. Charles Street --- the Anglophone section of the city. The street is a major thorougfare of the city's historic streetcar line and the route of its famous Mardi Gras.

(5) Rue Bourbon was named in honor of the French Royal family that was in power when the French Quarter was established at around 1718. Today, Upper Bourbon Street is the "naughty" part of the city with its numerous strip clubs.
(6) The city's famous and historic streetcars started operating in the early years of the 1800s. Since then, its regular operations was stopped only once during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans' longest streetcar line is that for the St. Charles Avenue/Street where the plying cars have been declared as historic landmarks. (7) The Natchez used haul cargo and people upstream and downstream the Missisippi River. Today, tourists fill its deck to relive its glorious days.

(8) The Hurricane cocktail was invented by Pat O'Brien in the 1940s and has evolved into a famous New Orleans experience since then.

(9) A church as seen from the Louisiana Department of Public Health office in Baton Rouge. My tribute tofellow Novo Vizcayano, flickrista par excellence, and gay-yem i_travel-east who said it is the Cathedral of St. Joseph.

(10-11) The Cathedral of St. Louis is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States. The first church was built in 1718 and later replaced by a brick structure in 1725 that was destroyed during the great fire of 1788. The present building was started to be constructed in 1789, completed in 1794, and elevated as a cathedral in 1793.

(12) The parish of The Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus was established by the Jesuits in 1886. The church is located along St. Charles Street between the universities of Loyola and Tulane.

(13) One of the numerous churches along St. Charles Street. I took this photo while riding the streetcar.
(14) Residents of St. Charles Street protested the building of a Mcdonald's in their neighborhood because it will be like a sore thumb sticking out in the midst of their elegant and graceful colonial houses. So the design was altered to make the restaurant look like a church and blend into its environment. Hence, the establishment of the "parish of St. Mac's".

Thursday, August 14, 2008

'MERIKA

Sunflower fields and cute little houses. Bembol Roco still got hair then. He died in the middle of a street and no one seemed to care despite Nora Aunor's pleas for help. This was from a movie I watched a long time ago in Bambang's Reybal Theater. It will be my lasting impression of Amerika: almost paradise where people don't mind.

Everybody in Almaguer wanted to go to Amerika. They too want to build a big house on top of a hill just like Apong Ino. I definitely wanted to and finally meet in person Dick, Jane, Sally and their dog Spot; see the places I've read in "The History of the United States of America"; and eat myself to death with grapes and apples.

But Amerika ain't easy. And I'm realistic enough to know that there's no way especially after 9/11. Besides, life has been good and I have my fair share of travels abroad. So why go?

Some 3 years ago, I received a visit from who I have been told is the Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Manila. He came to asked how it's going during Gen. Jovito "The Butcher" Palparan's reign of terror in Central Luzon. Some days later, I was asked to submit a resume for reference purposes. Never heard from them after that. Last April this year, I was part of a 5-country contingent who went to see another Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and explained to him how US trade policies are hurting other people and violating their human rights. Never heard from him too after that.

So I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the US ambassador to the Philippines herself inviting me to almost a month of visit to Amerika. Why me? I mean, I was not really into the American Dream. But, as my boss told me, being invited to Amerika don't happen everyday. And so off I went for the briefings and visa work, walking the distance to the US Embassy from the nearby Diamond Hotel, amusing myself with the almost paranoid security procedures.

It was almost a 24-hour haul from Manila to Nagoya then Detroit and finally Washington DC. The first image to grab me was the imposing Washington Monument as the taxi crossed the Potomac River on the way to the hotel from the Reagan National Airport. After unpacking, I walked around and amazed myself with the contradiction of elegant Georgian houses and the homeless congregating at the Dupont Circle. I was looking for a place to eat but first day jitters held me back from trying the restaurants. A pizza would do for the moment.


Washington DC is a cosmopolitan city. Everywhere is a babble of different languages. Colonial buildings gracefully intersperse with modern semi-skyscrapers and symbols of history. I walked a lot: to the National Zoo, the Mall, Penn Quarter, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, and around the Foggy Bottom area. I sometimes take the Metro if it's too far or I'm too tired. I have mastered the art of riding the subway 2 years ago in Japan. I got to see BB King perform too. And of course, I did my visita iglesia.




It is, however, a business trip with power meetings. And I had a high walking the corridors of government of the most powerful nation on earth: the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture and its 10 kilometers of hallway, the National Park Services, and the protocol sensitive State Department. "So this is where the policies that hurt us were made" I told myself as we met with the US Trade Representative negotiator and World Bank technocrats. I was trying not to in deference to my host but I can't resist putting my message across. I hope they were listening.


There were many highlights but tops would be the impromptu tour of the US House of Representatives' side of the Capitol. And it was personally conducted for us by the Chief Administrative Officer and a former Miss Rhode Island who now works for the Democratic Speaker of the House. The aura of power is thick in the Speaker's lounge, and suffucating at the session hall where I got to try one of the leather-covered congressmen's seat. We did a couple of non-profit organizations too. The poor kid from Almaguer has certainly arrived.

But frankly, what I needed to learn in this study visit I did in an hour of discussion from a Lebanese-American resource person who expounded on the American individuality and explained in simple but clear terms the American federal system of government, what the the states do, and the local governments. The rest would be a stroll for tangible examples of the American way of life.

There are 19 of us from 19 countries. Security is really tight and our running joke is that every visit to a federal government office is like checking-in at the airport. I was told that Washington DC is in fact among the top ten most violent city in the US in terms of the number of homicides committed every year. But you can't tell. I did not. I liked it a lot. Although I thought it's too sterile and organized for me.




PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):
(1) Tibetan exiles protest at the Dupont Circle during the Olympic Games opening in Beijing.
(2) Playing the music for some coins in a sidewalk.
(3) Jamming up a jazz concert at the National Zoo
(4) Tourists in a new mode of "walking" the streets of Washington DC.
(5) A pedestrian seen from The Caucus Room resturant owned by a Democrat and a Republican lobbyist (the building across the street is the FBI national headquarters).
(6) A tour guide on trike picking up a costumer.
(7) A young man reads one of the various items left at the Vietnam War Memorial that was designed by Maya Ying Lin and dedicated in 1982. However, it was only in 1993 when the engraving of the first 58,159 names of American KIA and MIA was completed. The Vietnam War is said to be the only war lost by the Americans.
(8) Concepcion "Connie" Picciotto has been picketting the White House for world peace since 1981, enduring harrasment from the police and National Park Service, and winning court battles to go on. The Little Giant as she has been called shares the struggle with 2 other world peace advocates --- William Thomas and Norman Mayer. On 8 December 1982, Norman Mayer was shot dead as police ended his 10-hour siege of the Washington Monument.
(9) Designated as the National House of Prayer, the Episcopal Washington National Cathedral was established in 1893 through a charter from the US Congress. Construction started in 1907 and completed only in 1990. It is the second largest cathedral in the US, the fourth tallest structure in Washington DC, and the sixth largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Masses for 3 state funerals were held in the cathedral namely that for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford while another one --- Woodrow Wilson --- is interred there.
(10) The idea of a national was first conveived in 1909. Eleven years later, the cornerstone was laid for what would be known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception or "America's Catholic Church", the largest Catholic church in North America, and the 10th largest in the whole world.
(11) The parish was established in 1794 and the present St. Patrick's church erected between 1872 and 1884 making it the oldest church in Washington DC. The church is actually the 3rd to be built: the first wooden church in 1794, and the second of bricks in 1809.
(12) St. John's church is called as The Church of the Presidents because it has been attended at least once by every US president since it was built in 1816. Its Pew 54 has been designated as the President's Pew for this purpose. The church was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and its nearly 1,000 pounds bell casted by Paul Revere's son.