The Flâneur's Archives

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

David Bowie (1947-2016)


Bowie as Aladdin Sane

Ziggy Stardust was not a drag act—he was a shamanistic daydream, half kabuki, half Weimar cabaret. With the Thin White Duke, Bowie did a rigorous, self-purging exercise in minimalism… As the Thin White Duke, Bowie shifted into Byron-in-exile mode; he was now a haughty, self-shielding arbiter of elegance in the Baudelaire manner… Ziggy Stardust had become too vampiric and had to be assassinated for Bowie to live.

(from Camille Paglia’s tribute at Salon)

Camille Paglia, whose book Sexual Personae was one of Bowie’s top 100 reads, gives tribute to her gender-bending rock-and-roll idol.


David Bowie And The Story Of Ziggy Stardust
(BBC Documentary)

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Hard Glamour


Maquillage as Mask

When I judge Lady Gaga, I judge what I feel is the miming of sexuality without the real sexual magic coming from beneath the surface… Marlene Dietrich [is] one of the great pioneers of modern sexuality, coming from her own roots as a live singer in cabaret[s] in Weimar Berlin, as an enormous explosive breakout performer as the femme fatale in the Blue Angel in 1930, then a very sophisticated woman playing with transvestism in Morocco, wearing a tuxedo, and then inventing the whole style of hard glamour that is used in all the major fashion magazines world wide, a certain look [in] fashion… the maquillage as a mask–Baudelaire actually prophesied that–but she’s the one who created that look. It was a look that gay men love. [What] gay men understood from the start was transvestism. They understood. They saw Marlene Dietrich as a drag star. In fact she was a participant in the great drag balls in Weimar Berlin at the height of Weimar decadence. I think yes, there always is this transvestism lingering, a masquerade, behind the most glamorous of female looks of the last century.

(from Camille Paglia, Fliporto interview, 2011)


Blonde Venus (1932)

Woman performs a kind of duty when she endeavors to appear magical and supernatural; she should dazzle men and charm them; she is an idol who should be covered with gold in order to be worshipped.

(Charles Baudlaire, Éloge du maquillage)


Helmut Newton, Woman into Man, Paris, 1979

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.

Do not be deceived by Maria Sowter


Posing with Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden Fishermen’s Association (TOSWFA)

Do not be deceived by the idealized image of an organic, spiritual experience watching for whale sharks in the large open sea and, once found, swimming with them. Perhaps you envision a meeting of souls occurring as you float eye to eye with one of these creatures known for their majesty. At Oslob, this will remain a fantasy.

Whilst the Oslob Whale Shark Watching centre attempts to construct a formal semblance of health & safety and care for the environment, you are more likely to be poked in the eye by another tourist’s flipper or rather as another account reported, see a whale shark poked in the eye by a boat propeller. The Centre feeds the whale sharks a big helping of krill throughout each and every morning to keep them practically captive. Literal boatloads of tourists are then paddled back and forth just off shore where the boats form a semi circle, further entrapping the baited sharks for a jostling audience.

(from “Why You Shouldn’t Swim With Baited Whale Sharks in the Philippines,” Maria Sowter at Huffington Post)

Oh puh-lease. Maria Sowter’s warnings about Oslob betray the deep anti-human sentiments I despise in her brand of callow, pseudo-intellectual environmentalism. What is her idea of a pure (“organic,” “spiritual”) experience with Nature? A solitary encounter with the whale-shark in the open sea, i.e., away from anything contaminated by humans, such as fellow tourists (like her), a tourism economy supported by tourists (like her), the civil infrastructure that makes it possible for tourists (like her) to travel thousands of miles to meet-and-greet with these sublime creatures. In other words, she wants to have Nature all to herself, and begrudge other people from the same experience (“fantasy”) she desires. I’d like to see her survive in the open sea all by herself, without the protection of her First World privileges. I’ll bet she’ll quickly perish from exposure or be devoured by the wild creatures she romanticizes.

I was in Oslob last April and I had a blast. The townsfolk were gregarious and the encounter with the whale-shark was well-regulated. The critters are fed krill in the morning to encourage them to congregate in numbers for the tourists, who in turn are given a brief orientation by the local government on safety and how to interact with them. No motor boats are used and the sharks are not (even practically) fenced in; the boatmen paddle you to the site, and the sharks wander wherever they please and go their own way around midday. The whole encounter lasts only about half an hour. So there are a lot of overstatements in Sowter’s account from her lack of understanding of the locals, or more likely from knee-jerk ideological bias.

This form of tourism has become a source of livelihood for the townsfolk of Oslob. Some of the menfolk have quit fishing and formed the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden Fishermen’s Association (TOSWFA), a group of guides that facilitates this regulated process of whale-shark-watching.

Having the sharks become reliant on people for food is not particularly conducive to a healthy ecosystem, nor is the exploitative attitude and lack of understanding for ethical interactions with wildlife that it fosters.

I think whale sharks best know what’s good for them (and what’s good to eat) and that’s why they come back for more. I have not seen evidence either way why reliance on people for food would be bad for the ecosystem. But I can see what tourism has done for the Oslob economy. It’s a win-win situation for fish and man. The idea that “it is unnatural therefore it is bad” is rooted in the puritanical hysteria of an anti-human environmentalism.

Maria Sowter should pack her bags and take her condescending First World attitude with her, and out of the Oslob townfolk’s and the whale sharks’ business.

The Studio as Auteur

While on most movies the power resides with the director and top stars, at Marvel those players have little influence. “They view the director as executing their vision,” says an exec involved with the company. Another says [producer Kevin Feige] monitors filming so closely that rather than wait for dailies, he’s often on set and “sees the takes as the directors see the takes.”

Another distinctive Marvel trait is the assumption that a film can be shaped in postproduction… “If you’re a director and 75 percent of the script is good, you have to rely on them to finish and complete the movie,” says this observer. An exec with experience on Marvel movies concurs: “The approach is more like animation than live action — ‘We can tweak it.'”

(from How Marvel Became the Envy (and Scourge) of Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter)

There is no doubt we are in a Golden Age of comic book cinema. The comic book is by nature a medium for the serialized story–and it is not surprising that Marvel’s process resembles more the way TV shows are produced, where the real auteurs are the showrunners, not the directors. In Marvel’s case, they even include storyline continuities and character crossovers with their TV shows, as in the case of The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which enriches the complexity of their plot lines and the texture of their imaginary world. Marvel Studios as auteur has in fact created a new genre.

It only remains to be seen whether the dinosaurs at the Academy can keep up with the changing times. The superhero movie is the only cinematic form left that compels me to get off my butt on a weekend and fork out money at the box office. An Oscar for a comic book film is long overdue. They cannot keep rewarding culturally irrelevant films such as Birdman, while ignoring films like Ant Man that actually command an audience.

Our House

A Photo Essay
Parañaque City (2011)

In 2011, I came home to the Philippines for four months, while in between jobs, and had the chance to photograph our house that had burned down in 2004. It was the house where my siblings and I grew up in; the first house my parents bought when they moved out of my grandparent’s in Pasig City. It was then a new housing development for young families looking for a promising start in life, and aptly named Better Living Subdivision.

It was a quiet, tightly knit professional-class community. My sister and I, only a year and a half apart, hung out with the neighborhood kids, playing hide-and-seek in the still numerous vacant lots, until they were longer vacant. By the time I was in high school, and began hanging out with schoolmates instead, I hardly noticed there was one house after another on our street, and gates that used to be freely open were shut close.

My grandmother, escaping the bustle of the city, bought the property adjacent to us, where we could share a gate. My mother eventually bought the lot behind us, when my sister got married, and built her and her husband a two story house on it. It was while my sister’s house was being built that our old house burned down.


My Window

It started on the south side of the house, in the dirty kitchen, but quickly spread to the north end, where my room was. Once the fire reached the wood of the roof–the structure that connected all the rooms–the house was as good as gone. I was at work when it happened, so that even if my room was the one last hit by the flames, all my stuff was lost. No one in the mad dash thought to save–of all things–books.


Living Room

When I came home seven years after the the house burned down, seven years after I had left for America, the house stood just as it was the day after the fire. After all the rubble was cleared, the walls had still smoldered with heat. It was noon. I was standing with my camera in the living room, shaded by those same charred walls from a November sun that shone bright after a week of torrential rain. I was trying to figure out where things were: where my room was, where the piano we never played once stood, where my father’s office was that provided us a livelihood. It was disorienting. The fire had changed what was once familiar to the strange. It was the same space, but also utterly different.


Door


AC Unit


Mops; Cabinet Doors


Power Outlets


Skylight


Clothes Line


Clothes Line #2


Scrap Metal and Glass


Jars and Bottles


Toilet


Door Frame; Jalousies


AC Unit #2


Master Bedroom; Office


Hallway; Stack Chair


Charred


Seven years bad luck?

I think we are still reeling from the fire. It did not just raze our home, it also marked the dwindling of our family fortunes that took us time to recover from. We are still unable to raise something new from its ashes, let alone clear the ghostly space. But in the end, the fire only destroyed property. My parents moved in with my sister, in her house that they built, and slowly established a new means of living. It is now the home her own daughter knows.

Our house burned down just as I was leaving for America, that I came over almost literally with just the clothes on my back, and thus the move became for me a more profound break with my country and with my past. When I took these pictures, it was the first time I had really gone home since I left, and by then half my heart had already gone for good. I have lived in many places, but this house is where in my deepest memory I go home to. And now, it only abides in memory.

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.