The Flâneur's Archives

Archives from The Flâneur's Arcade (2007-2017)

Category: Writing

Archived


Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (1877)
Gustave Caillebotte

Well, no sooner had Photobucket disallowed hotlinking to my blog images than Google discontinued their Picasa photo hosting service. They essentially retired it to make way for Google Photos, where I find I have less control over my material. It is unclear to me now where my material are actually stored, and I am also no longer able to obtain direct, permanent links to images.

This would still have been fine if Web Albums, the app I use to upload photos from my phone and link them to this blog, continued to function as usual, but after a phone unlocking procedure, where I had to reset the hardware, I could no longer log in to my account from Web Albums and access my photos. What’s worse, Google Photos only generates shortcut links that do not directly refer to the image file. This effectively disallows you from embedding the image directly on your blog or website. You can still share it via email, SMS, or social media, but you cannot embed the images.

It seems like these photo hosting services are trying to fence in your information within their domains or pay walls. It is a pity, as a lot of web authors like myself rely upon these resources to generate new content. What I love about the web is the preponderance and proliferation of amateur (non-specialist, non-professional) content, and the ability to mine existing web content to generate new content (within the bounds of fair use). It makes for a richer, deeper, more varied Internet. The continued push for consolidation and legitimization of web content will eventually lead to its ossification, much like what happened to the legacy media of newspapers and magazines.

It was my intent to maintain this site as a photoblog using Google’s photo hosting service, after Photobucket cut the hotlinks from my regular blog articles, but it seems like that will not be possible as well. In this light, I am turning this site into an archive of a decade’s worth of blogging since 2007, when I began–nearly 200 entries of sometimes pretentious, sometimes pompous, but always opinionated writing.

I will be restoring the image links (slowly) by transitioning to WordPress’ in-house photo service, so that the site will finally be completely self-contained. I am splitting my photoblogging, microblogging and new writing (or re-writing) into different WordPress sites:

Over time, I have settled into these three genres of photoblogging, microblogging, and proper writing, but doing all three in a single site has just become unwieldy, and also produced uneven results. So part of this major change also comes from my need to restructure.

I have enjoyed this “arcades project” for the last ten years, following my intellectual interests wherever it led me, striving to be a flâneur, both as amateur and dilettante: an amateur in the original French sense of “lover,” and a dilettante in the positive Italian sense of “one who delights.”

And the delights continue to beckon.

Pedantic Cuisine


Sinigang na Ulo ng Tuna sa Miso
(Image Source: Pinoy Tsibog)

Pedro’s son, Aitor, a pro soccer player, brought grilled turbot on a platter, the whole fish, and carefully portioned the fillet to each plate. We ate happily until Aitor came back. Normally, for most, this would have been the end of it, the buttery fillet, but Aitor held up a finger as if to say, To the contrary. Then he started carving again. “He’s going to show us the real gastronomy now,” said Andoni, pleased, while Aitor divided out the cheeks and gills, the throat and head, the tail and even some translucent bones, one of which Andoni held up and inspected with a childlike expression of awe on his face. “This is a master class in texture,” he said.

Each element of the turbot brought a new taste to the mouth, a new approach to consumption — more chewing or less; the unconscious shifting of each bite to the front or back of the mouth — some of the meat surprisingly more dense and flavorful, some melting even as it touched the tongue. Andoni was wide-eyed as he ate, and speechless.

Eventually, after we finished, he wanted to make a point about this cuisine and his own, speaking softly again: “At Mugaritz, we’re fascinated by the presentation of subtlety as the loudest voice, by the way intensity is guided by subtlety.” It was the same with the grilled turbot, he said. What we’d just eaten, the experience of it, could take you very far and deep, but you had to be willing to eat the cheek and the throat; you needed to respect the turbot’s translucent bones. It was dangerous, but you weren’t really tasting that fish — and its life force — until you were willing to eat it all.

(from “The Most Adventurous Restaurant in the World is on a Small Hilltop in Spain,” Michael Paterniti at GQ)

Oh wow, we ate the whole fish: head, bones, tail, and all! Look at us, stupid white men who only eat fillet, slobbering over fish parts only our pet cats would eat. And now we get to wax poetic about it in a GQ article and tell other stupid white men how utterly white bread their gastronomic palates are, and how sophisticated and cosmopolitan we are.

This is what happens to children raised only on mac-and-cheese. Eating fish heads become a profound, transformative experience, an initiation into an adult gastronomic world. Their palate of texture suddenly expands from mushy pasta and gooey cheese to crunchy cartilage and slimy eye balls. What’s more, they need to travel thousands of miles (e.g., to Basque Spain) to intensify the exoticism of the experience.

It is laughable to someone who grew up eating fish heads for dinner to describe such practices as “adventurous.” Sinigang is a Filipino soup dish made from fish heads and belly–the most flavorful parts of the fish, where you have the oils, the fat, and the cartilage that thickens the broth. It is simply seasoned with fish sauce and a whole piece of jalapeño pepper. This fishy umami is balanced by souring principles, typically tamarind extracts and miso paste. Additional dimension in texture is supplied by the vegetables: mushy eggplants, chewey daikon, and crunchy mustard greens. Such a dish respects the freshness of the fish, especially if you live in a lazy, seaside town. Savory, but bright, not overworked–these are the same qualities I gravitate to in Italian cuisine.

But the heart of Filipino cuisine is texture: the play of bone and cartilage on the tongue, the sucking of tender eyeballs from their sockets, or the nibbling of sweet meat from the nooks and crannies of the cranium. This, I think, is why it finds a more limited audience among the mac-and-cheese crowd, who prefer the more recognizably exotic but palatable flavors of our Indochinese neighbors.

iPhone Photography


Subway Rush
Tokyo (2015)

This rash of photoblogging was inspired by a Wired Magazine piece on Daniel Arnold, who, according to Gawker, is Instagram’s best photographer. He prowls the streets of New York, armed only with his iPhone 5–cracked screen and all–to document the city he loves.

I was thrilled with the idea of stretching the creative possibilities of the smart phone, not just for taking pictures, but for in situ processing of the images as well.

Like Arnold, I do have a proper digital SLR, but it is something I only tend to take with me on special holiday trips. It is heavy, clumsy, and finicky–not fit for the gonzo demands of street photography. The smart phone is always on hand to capture an interesting subject wherever it reveals itself–on the subway, in the shopping mall, or out in the parking lot.

Yesterday, just as I was about to get in my car to go home, I saw this white crane hanging out on the grass. As I approached to take its picture, it got spooked and flew away–but not before I was able to capture the moment when it started flapping its wings, and a small plane just came into the field of view, serendipitously, to land on the airstrip across the street where I worked. It was a thrilling moment.

So far, I have not needed to use any third party apps to process my pictures. Arnold uses VSCO and Whitagram, which I have downloaded, but have mostly stuck with the native iPhone camera app functionalities. I’ve tended to favor the black-and-white format anyway (inspired by my love for André Kertész), and kept the tweaking minimal–mostly those lighting parameters such as exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows.

Though I try to avoid over-processing to preserve the natural integrity of the subject, these images are intended to be fully in the realm of artifice, and are meant to be expressive or dramatic statements. They have been re-composed by cropping or rotation, not just to highlight the subject, but often, to create the subject itself.

Along with photography, I have also been playing around with blogging with just my iPhone through the WordPress app. It’s portability allows me to post more regularly (even while waiting for my plane to take off), and its restrictions forces me to be pithy.

The app also lets me put out my pictures in a more timely manner (I have yet to review the hundreds of digital photos from a trip to Cambodia a couple of years ago), though still not at the dizzying lightning speed of Instagram. I am an old dog after all. But I also think the blog format still somewhat confers that white space around a picture as in a gallery that invites contemplation.

Media guru Marshall MacLuhan said about Thomas Edison’s light bulb of the 19th century, that by its mere presence, it creates its own environment. I think the same can now be said about the smart phone–or this virtual machine that still retains the vestigial term “phone”–since 2007, when Steve Jobs, Apple’s own industrialist visionary, announced to everyone’s astounded gasp the very first iPhone.

Disparities

My friend, and contemporary in the Dumaguete Writer’s Workshop, Jean Claire Dy, just told me the sad news that Edith L. Tiempo has passed on. Claire is currently based in Davao, but we have kept in touch, especially while she was doing her masters in media studies in New York.


This now iconic photograph
was taken by Ian Casocot
from the 39th workshop in 2000

Being a fellow in the grandmother of all workshops is one of those watersheds of my life. Though I have not written any poetry in awhile, it has given me the confidence and persistence to write, even in other forms.

THE 39th edition of the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City ended over the weekend, after three weeks of an experience that is always said to change a young writer’s life.

Why so? Poet Ramil Digal Gulle, himself a fellow some years back, asked about this recently. He still couldn’t put a finger on it. Why indeed, despite the proliferation of other writing workshops all over the country, is the Dumaguete version still regarded, by past as well as aspiring fellows, as being a cut above the rest? Is it by virtue of age, having started it all way back in 1962?

That helps. Plus of course the fact that it was the venerable Tiempos Ed and Edith who initiated and have since conducted it. Now that Dad Ed is gone, Mom Edith has taken over solo, as a National Artist for Literature at that. And she’s as sharp and beguiling as ever. As essential are the venue and schedule. The Dumaguete workshop lasts for all of three slow-paced weeks, whereas others take only an intensive week or two at most.

Three weeks in the quaintly placid City of Gentle People, spent at the height of summer when one is in his early-to-mid-twenties, are sure to turn into a storehouse of memories. That the ritual exercise is held at a university town with a young population makes the writing fellows feel right at home.

(from Philippine Headline News, Alfred Yuson, 29 May 2000)

At the end of that workshop, as I was returning to my life in academia, I asked her to write a dedication on my copy of her Tracks of Babylon. She looked at me mischievously, and scrawled:

Your strength lies in your ability to resolve, not just juxtapose, disparities.

I was returning to a life of science, not poetry, which is perhaps the biggest disparity in my life.

The Nature of Things

Like The Cyberflâneur, this blog has been revamped (more radically) as Mellis & Absinthia, honey and wormwood, as the repository of extracts from my adventures in reading. The new title comes from Lucretius’ De rerum natura, or The Nature of Things, and refers to his use of poetry (honey) to sugarcoat the exposition of hidden truths (wormwood).

Nam vel uti pueris absinthia taetra medentes
cum dare conantur, prius oras pocula circum
contingunt mellis dulci flavoque liquore…

For just as healers, when they try to give
young children foul-tasting wormwood, first spread
sweet golden liquid honey round the cup…

(4.11, translated by Ian Johnston)

It is interesting that Lucretius uses the bitter wormwood as metaphor for his “obscure” subject matter. The extract of wormwood, absinthe, was widely used in the 19th century by bohemian artists (Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Manet) and poets (Baudelaire, Varlaine, Rimbaud) for its psychotropic effects. The drink was prepared as a tavern ritual: one part of the extract in a fluted glass (Pontarlier) is diluted by dripping three parts water through a sugar cube on a flat, grille spoon. Oscar Wilde described the sensation as “heavy, tulip heads, brushing against [his] shins” (The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History, by Phil Baker, p. 31).

Tout cela ne vaut pas le poison qui découle
De tes yeux, de tes yeux verts,
Lacs où mon âme tremble et se voit à l’envers…
Mes songes viennent en foule
Pour se désaltérer à ces gouffres amers.

Neither are worth the drug so strong
That you distil from your green eyes,
Lakes where I see my soul capsize
Head downwards: and where, in one throng,
I slake my dreams, and quench my sighs.

(from Poison, Charles Baudelaire, trans. Roy Campbell)

(In contrast to these dour European decadents, hallucinogens were used more expansively–to open the mind to the cosmos–in the psychedelic rock-and-roll scene of 1960’s America.)

Sweet and bitter, or bittersweet. The encounter with words can sometimes be reassuring, at other times disconcerting. It can be, as for Roland Barthes, a source of exquisite pleasure (plaisir), or the site of utter loss (jouissance), which he also described in terms of the studium and punctum in photography.

Pleasure is linked to a consistence of the self, of the subject, which is assured in the values of comfort, relaxation, ease… On the contrary, bliss is the system of reading, or utterance, through which the subject, instead of establishing itself, is lost, experiencing that expenditure which is, properly speaking, bliss… [The] great majority of texts we know and love consist roughly of texts of pleasure, while texts of bliss are extremely rare–there’s no assurance that they are also texts of pleasure. These are texts that may displease you, provoke you, but which, at least temporarily, in the flash of an instant, change and transmute you, effecting that expenditure of the self in loss.

(The Grain of the Voice, p. 206)

This disorienting loss of subjectivity is, finally, not unlike that bewildering force of erotic love in Sapphic lyric:

Once again love (Eros) drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.

Mellis & Absinthia distills the bittersweet sap of reading.