Penman No. 74: Constancio Bernardo, the Forgotten Master

AT MACULANGAN PhotographyPenman for Monday, November 25, 2013

THE STORY goes that when the noted abstractionist Josef Albers met Constancio Bernardo at Yale, where the young Filipino had gone to study on a Fulbright grant, he hailed the Filipino “not as a student, but as a peer.” Albers went on to predict that Bernardo—who completed both a second bachelor’s and an MFA degree at Yale—would become a resounding success upon his return to the Philippines in the early 1950s, given his abounding talent.

Indeed, Bernardo had left for the US with high hopes and with his mentor Fernando Amorsolo’s blessings; Amorsolo had reportedly singled out Bernardo as the student most likely to surpass him, especially since Constancio was then working in the same traditional figurative style of which Amorsolo was the acknowledged master.

Sadly and surprisingly, Albers’ rosy prediction would fail to materialize. Bernardo did come home after his Fulbright, but instead of being welcomed warmly by Amorsolo et al, Bernardo—now an accomplished and committed abstractionist—was shunned. He would continue to serve UP, teaching in the School (and later College) of Fine Arts as a teacher and administrator, and his body of work would continue to, establishing him firmly—in the words of art critic Leonidas Benesa—as “second to none in this country” in the field of abstraction, “particularly of the geometric-planar, optical-painting variety.”

For all that, Bernardo would never achieve the celebrity and commercial success enjoyed by his peers like H. R. Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, who—despite whatever vicissitudes they may have encountered in their own careers and lives—went on to be named National Artists. As trailblazing and as influential as Bernardo’s work was, he would be cited (again by Benesa, in 1978) as “the most underrated of the exponents of modern art in the Philippines.”

When he died ten years ago, in 2003, Constancio Bernardo was, effectively, a forgotten master, a luminary of Philippine painting whose star burned fiercely but in a dark and distant corner of the galaxy. (As it happened, I was UP’s Vice President for Public Affairs at the time, and attended Bernardo’s wake in my official capacity. Despite my own abiding interest in the visual arts, it was my first albeit belated encounter with Bernardo and his work, leading eventually to an invitation from the family for me to sit on the board of the Constancio Ma. A. Bernardo Foundation, which I accepted.)

It’s high time, then, that Filipinos rediscover and appreciate this lost master in their midst, a need that will be addressed starting this Wednesday the 27th, when a comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Constancio Bernardo’s work opens at the Ayala Museum in Makati. Including about a hundred representative works, the retrospective also coincides with the centenary of Bernardo’s birth, and will be on view until February 28th next year.

According to the exhibition notes penned by the art critic Carina Evangelista, “the exhibition provides the first opportunity to view the full range of Bernardo’s ?uvre from a career span of more than sixty years and highlights his canvases of abstraction, lauded by a number of critics from the 1950s onward as among the most important examples of Philippine modernist painting but increasingly overlooked as the decades passed. While included in a number of group exhibitions and the subject of 22 solo exhibitions including retrospectives at U.P. Baguio in 1969, at the Museum of Philippine Art in 1978, and at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1990, Bernardo remains to be on the margins of the annals of Philippine art history. Dedicated to his lifelong art practice and his teaching career at the University of the Philippines, Bernardo staunchly resisted the limelight, eschewing the social scene of the art world and opting to work tirelessly in his studio.

“Within abstraction, his paintings ranged from geometric abstraction to Op art and abstract expressionism—each series structured with a formal mastery and infused with a depth of feeling singularly his. Obdurate in his self-effacing silence in his lifetime, his body of work preserved by the Museo Bernardo Foundation Inc., and CMa Bernardo Foundation for Fine Arts, proves to be the clearest evidence of enduring artistic expression.”

AT MACULANGAN Photography

To writer Francine Medina, “Constancio Ma. Bernardo has an indispensable place in Philippine art history. A prolific artist, he painted every day till his last breath, producing an impressive range of works from self-portraits that chronicled his quiet yet intense life; uncannily realistic still life paintings and nudes; to his highly praised fields of color in his ‘Perpetual Motion’ series. It was just that art was a necessary almost organic function that he needed to accomplish everyday.

“There was a palpable sense of completeness in the way he approached his works, a proof of his great involvement in each piece. He mixed his own paints, diligently worked in his studio, and made his handiwork complete by creating the frames for his art works.

“His quest for the ultimate painting was such that when he felt a work was not at par with his self-subscribed standards, he would paint over it or, as his closest peers would attest, throw it away, never to be seen or worked on again.”

It’s too bad that I never got to know the man when he was alive. I’ve made friends of many artists, and while they generally and understandably aren’t as voluble or as articulate as my writer-friends, many have led very interesting lives that deserve to be known and written about, quite apart from their creations. My wife Beng was a Fine Arts student at UP when Bernardo taught there, but being a Visual Communication major, she never got to study with him, unlike her contemporary, the former Fine Arts dean and modernist Nestor Vinluan, whose paintings clearly show Bernardo’s influence. She remembers him, however, as a quiet and kindly man, with a rather formal demeanor, someone who spoke only when he had to and who chose his words well.

In this restrospective exhibit, Constancio Bernardo’s works will speak for themselves, and hopefully lift him and his legacy out of the obscurity they don’t deserve.

(Let me acknowledge and thank Constancio’s son, the retired anthropologist Angelo Bernardo, for providing additional source material on the painter.)

Penman No. 73: A New Home in Erehwon

IMG_2568Penman for Monday, November 18, 2013

I HAD a good chat with Metro Manila Concert Orchestra founding music director Josefino “Chino” Toledo recently at the inauguration of the MMCO’s new rehearsal space at the Erehwon Center for the Arts in Quezon City. Also a gifted composer and conductor, Chino is a fellow professor of mine at the University of the Philippines, and a batchmate under UP’s Arts Productivity System. We’ve run into each other during UPAPS ceremonies, but never really got to talk until the Erehwon event.

But let me digress a bit and say something about Erehwon itself first. Founded a couple of years ago by businessman Rafael Rivera Benitez, Erehwon is actually a big white building nestled in a corner of Old Balara in Quezon City (you can find the map and more details on www.erehwonartworld.com) that Raffy converted and devoted to serving as Metro Manila’s newest arts mecca—a studio cum gallery cum performance space cum residency and meeting venue.

Raffy himself is an old friend and compadre of mine, someone I spent one of life’s most privileged experiences with—prison time and space in Fort Bonifacio under martial law, when both of us were in our late teens. He made his mark in the baking and printing businesses, but late in life (he very recently turned 60), Raffy decided to pursue another passion—patronage of the arts, giving rise to Erehwon. (People our age will remember the late, lamented Erehwon Bookshop in Ermita—which was right next to my old NEDA office on Padre Faura, providing me with a perennial excuse for an extended lunch break. That Erehwon, however, has nothing to do with the new one.)

And now, thanks to Raffy Benitez and Erehwon, the Metro Manila Concert Orchestra will have a new home through a venue grant offered by Erehwon to the MMCO, which until lately was lodged with Miriam College, where Chino Toledo also held certain responsibilities. Its arrangement with Miriam having ended, the MMCO needed a white knight to come to its rescue, and that turned out to be Erehwon, which has also been seeking partners to work with in arts promotion.

Erehwon couldn’t have found a better partner than the MMCO, which was established in June 2000 and has since become one of the country’s leading semiprofessional orchestras. I asked Chino what set the MMCO apart from the others, and he told me that they were especially receptive to new and young Filipino composers and musicians. I noticed, during the inauguration, that the orchestra’s musicians were predominantly young, most of them clearly in their 20s and 30s. That’s exactly the kind of push our young musical talents need, particularly as orchestral music, like theater, involves the effort of a community working as one, and an individual really succeeds only insofar as he or she can find membership and nurturance within that community.

The MMCO now counts about 50 musicians in its ranks, coming from various schools in the metropolis. (“The number of people in an orchestra will vary depending on the piece,” Chino told me, “but at full complement, an orchestra like the New York Philharmonic could have as many as a hundred members.”) They hold an average of one concert a month, and practice at least twice a week. The conductor, Chino explained, functions as the team coach, and the concert master acts as the captain ball, leading the execution of the coach’s plan.

Funding is always a problem, Chino added; as a semi-professional orchestra, the MMCO does its best to pay its members what they deserve, but as with most other artistic endeavors, it’s love of music that really drives the group and Chino himself forward, and sustains the commitment of a faithful corps of supporters that include Executive Director Chinggay Lagdameo and MMCO Foundation President Corazon Alma de Leon.

Here’s hoping that the MMCO’s move to Erehwon will result in a new season of growth and prosperity for the orchestra and for Philippine music as a whole.

SPEAKING OF cultural initiatives, last week marked the staging of the fourth Philippine International Literary Festival (formerly known as the Manila International Literary Festival), spearheaded by the National Book Development Board in cooperation with four universities in Manila—the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, the University of Sto. Tomas, and De La Salle University—and the Ayala Museum. The urban setting was deliberate, because this year’s festival theme was “Text and the City,” focused on how centrally the city figures in Philippine and regional literature.

I joined a panel at UST with colleagues Jing Hidalgo and Charlson Ong in a discussion of how the city informs our writing. In broad terms, I noted that the city, not surprisingly, has figured in a major way in Philippine fiction, particularly in English, because most of the fiction published in the Philippines has been written by city-based middle-class writers. It has often been presented as the site of violence, poverty, and corruption, in contrast to the romantic conception of the countryside as a place of peace, plenitude, and spiritual regeneration. In more politically aware writings, however, that line has become blurred, as the feudal roots of urban wealth and power become more clearly exposed.

Our focus on the familiar city, however, comes at a great price—the near-absence of new writing that deals with the Philippine countryside in anything but a romantic mode. (By “romantic” here I mean I mean not only the highly idealized representations of rural maidens by the likes of Fernando Amorsolo, but also my politicized generation’s expectation of ascending into the mountains—joining the armed struggle—as a kind of revolutionary apotheosis.) As it happened, I was in Baler, Aurora that weekend, and rushed back to Manila at dawn to make it in time for the UST event. On the six-hour ride, over mountain roads with a view of the great ocean, I remarked how conspicuously absent the sea and the mountains were in our contemporary literature, despite the fact that we pride ourselves in being a vast archipelago. Our stories today take place in Starbucks Katipunan, or in some cozy corner of Bonifacio High Street that may as well be another country.

IMG_2722

In UP, I was happy to introduce an old friend, the Singaporean fictionist Suchen Christine Lim, a guest and featured speaker of the festival along with other international writers including the Hong Kong-based fictionist Xu Xi and cultural critic Peter Swirski. Suchen is a delightfully gifted writer whose title story in the collection The Lies That Build a Marriage (available at National Book Store) blew me away; her prose is crisp and to the point, but her command of character displays the depth and sophistication of her perception.

I noted how the Philippines and Singapore have had a long and special literary relationship, probably nurtured by the fact that we share the same colonial language, English. Among writers, Frankie Sionil Jose was a contemporary and good friend of Edwin Thumboo; Krip Yuson, Charlson Ong and I have had fruitful contact with Kirpal Singh, Robert Yeo, and Chris Mooney-Singh; our younger writers like poet Joel Toledo (who’s doing a PhD in Singapore) have their counterparts in Alvin Pang and Joshua Ip. Some years ago, Filipino and Singaporean poets got together to produce a joint anthology titled Love Gathers All. You’ll note that all of these pairings are between men, so it’s refreshing and important to remember that women writers have also figured prominently in Singaporean literature, aside from Suchen Lim—the fictionist Catherine Lim and the playwright Stella Kon among them.

Next year, Singapore will host the Asia-Pacific Writers and Translators conference, followed by us in 2015. It’s events like these that will help put the Philippines where it deserves to be, squarely on the global literary and cultural map.

Penman No. 72: Martial Law in Three Filipino Novels

KillingPenman for Monday, November 11, 2013?

LATE LAST month, I flew down to Davao for a group organized by the chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Dr. Maris Diokno, for a roundtable discussion on narratives of martial law. The Martial Law Historical Advisory Committee, created by Administrative Order No. 30, had been tasked to collect, evaluate, and preserve documentary and other materials pertaining to the Philippine martial law experience, and this roundtable was an early but vital stage of that process, a thinking-through of basic assumptions and expectations from participants in and scholars of that period.

I was invited not only because of my activist background and imprisonment under martial law, but because I’ve written a novel and some stories about it, and will write yet more—a nonfiction oral history of the First Quarter Storm, for which I’ve been given a grant by the NHCP. I’ll say more about this project in a forthcoming column, but in the meanwhile, let me share excerpts from a brief think piece that I contributed to the Davao roundtable (which, incidentally, was both insightful and moving, attended by the likes of martial law veterans Joy Jopson Kintanar and Judge Meinrado Paredes, as well as younger scholars and writers Leloy Claudio and Roby Alampay). Here’s what I wrote:

In his review in Philippine Studies of Azucena Grajo Uranza’s Bamboo in the Wind—one of the first and few novels to have dealt with our martial-law experience—Fr. Joseph Galdon quoted another writer, Linda Ty-Casper, who wrote that:

Literature is one way [by which] history, which too often reduces life to dates and events, can animate life so that man is returned to the center of human existence. It is man, after all, not nations, who feels the hunger caused by economic recessions and market fluctuations, who suffers separations and dislocations from social upheavals, who catches the bullets and bombs of war. It is in man’s flesh and bones that the events of history are etched. Individuals die, while their country goes on. It is in literature that generations of images representing man are preserved. It is in literature that we can recover again and again the promise of our resurrection. It is the house of our flesh in which we can refresh, restore and reincarnate ourselves.

I’m beginning with this quotation because I’d like to suggest that, in some ways, the best way to remind Filipinos and to make sense of what happened to them under martial law is through fiction rather than factual narrative, because fiction requires and creates a wholeness of human experience. Young Filipinos, especially, need to see martial law as a story—a continuing story with consequences reaching into their generation and even the next.

Considering that the Marcos era lasted more than 20 years—from his first election in 1965 to his forced departure in 1986—it’s a bit surprising that not too many Filipino novels have been written about Marcos and martial law. (I should immediately qualify this statement by saying that, actually, not too many Filipino novels have been written, period. As a literary form, the novel—whether in English or Filipino—has never been our strong suit, unlike the Indians and the Chinese.) You would expect that martial law, in particular, would have left a thick scar or welt on our literary consciousness and imagination, in the same way that many survivors of martial-law prison were plagued by intense, recurring nightmares long after their incarceration. In fact, however, we have barely dealt with it in our literature, and if our children today know little if anything at all about martial law, it is because we have not written enough about it, and have left the little that we have written out of the curriculum.

Online can be found two very interesting and fairly comprehensive listings and discussions of the literature we have produced on our martial law and martial law-related experience. The first is a lecture delivered by the writer Edgardo Maranan in London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in 1999 and published by the site Our Own Voice in 2007, titled “Against the Dying of the Light: The Filipino Writer and Martial Law.” The second is a reading list compiled by a blogger and bibliophile who calls himself “rise.” Both lists contain and discuss works of fiction, poetry and nonfiction produced during and after martial law, material that now generally falls under the rubric of “protest literature.”

Understandably perhaps, it takes time, will, and bit of distance to process—with the benefit of hindsight and a freer imagination—a traumatic experience like martial law. In my case, it took nearly 20 years after my imprisonment to try and make sense of it in a novel. I’m not even sure, at the end of things, if I succeeded. But it’s important in any case to make the effort—for our creative writers to inscribe their own history of our political and social experience—because the writerly imagination is a powerfully intuitive tool for sense-making. Creative writing is integrative, rather than analytical; it puts things together, rather than taking them apart, as scholarship and criticism tend to do.

Today, I’ll focus on how three novels—I’m immodestly including mine—have represented our martial law experience in its various aspects. At least one of these three novels—two in English and one in Filipino—would be how our students today encounter, if at all, martial law and its causes and effects. The novels I am referring to are Dekada ’70 by Lualhati Bautista, first published in 1988; Bamboo in the Wind by Azucena Grajo Uranza (1990); and Killing Time in a Warm Place by myself (1992).

What the three novels share most strongly is a narrative of how martial law came about and what its immediate effects were. Of the three, Dekada ’70 offers the broadest sweep of things, covering the whole decade as it follows the individual paths that the members of the Bartolome family take. It is also the most unabashedly didactic, presenting long and detailed expositions of the political situation obtaining at that time, an approach that literary aesthetes might find too direct but which, when you think of it, is probably the only explanation young readers will have of an episode that to them might as well be ancient history.

All three novels are basically grounded in the specific experience of the middle class, taking note of its bright-eyed idealism and yet also its vulnerability to vacillation and co-optation. In this respect, Bamboo in the Wind attempts to cover the broadest ground, reaching across the social spectrum to present the plight of peasants under feudal tenancy as well as to display the clannishness of the elite. It ends just after the declaration of martial law, on the portentous note that “It was going to be a long night,” as indeed martial law would be, for the next decade.

My semi-autobiographical first novel Killing Time in a Warm Place is focused on the person and the growth of its narrator, Noel Bulaong, who has provincial roots but grows up in Manila, studies in UP, becomes an activist, is imprisoned under martial law, and then, upon his release, joins the government service as a propagandist no less; faithless, loveless, and friendless, he leaves for the United States to study and live there, coming home only for the death of his father, where the novel begins. Of the three novels, it is the most personal, although Dekada ’70 can also be read as Amanda’s story, the making of a feminist in the crucible of political and personal turmoil.

To my mind, the most important contribution these three novels make to the discourse on martial law is not even and not only their depiction of the horrors and excesses of martial law—the obligatory scenes, you might say, the arrests, the tortures, the rapes, the thievery, the brute exercise of State power over the people. It is their exploration of the element of collusion and complicity—of how we, in a sense, allowed ourselves to be ruled by a regime that promised peace and progress for the price of a little national discipline.

In Dekada ’70, Julian Bartolome Sr. gives the regime every benefit of the doubt, convincing himself of the government’s good intentions, despite Julian Jr.’s deepening involvement in the Left. In Killing Time, Noel Bulaong does a 180-degree turn and joins the dark side—an acrobatic maneuver that many former activists, including me myself, performed, caught in a bipolar world. Having left the Left, it seemed that one had little choice but to cast one’s lot with the Right, and it’s no surprise that many ex-activists became the sharpest thinkers and most active doers of Marcos, Cory Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo. Bamboo in the Wind delves into how martial law benefited the elite, especially those factions that sided with the regime, and how it sought to corrupt intellectuals with progressive inclinations. In other ways, these novels speak of guilt and redemption, of how we are defined by family and class, of abject betrayal and astounding heroism.

These novels are far from perfect, and we can argue all day about what they failed to say and how they may have misrepresented this and that. But writing and promoting works of fiction like them may yet be the best way we can remind our people, especially this “selfie” generation, of the fact of martial law in the Philippines, and of its continuing legacy.

Penman No. 71: Writers on Retreat

Penman for Monday, November 4, 2013

BY WHICH I don’t mean writers pulling back or running scared (for which, to be persnickety about it, the prepositional phrase should be “in retreat”), but rather writers doing something they need to do every now and then, if they are to produce more noteworthy novels, poems, and plays—recharge, rewind, recover, then write and rewrite, preferably in some form of isolation or seclusion.

As I reported last week, I went with a small group of writers and friends down to Palawan on the first Adverbum Retreat for Writers organized by the Chicago-based Almira Astudillo-Gilles. We stayed at Ambrosia, The Amazing Villa (which, as it turned out, is just past Puerto Princesa in Sitio Bubusawin in Barangay Apurawan, in the municipality of Aborlan), run by Herwig Gielen and his wife Theresa. The idea was to give writers some R&R while they worked on their current projects, and in this case it was in a place remote enough that we were out of text, email, and Internet contact for a week (except for literally a few moments, twice, when we drove out to another barangay and sailed out to a point about 30 minutes offshore to catch a weak cellular signal and a few messages).

Writers’ retreats—some private and personal, some institutional—have had a long and colorful history. The Huffington Post’s UK edition has a list of 19 of the more unique ones, including a rotating hut that George Bernard Shaw built in the bottom of his garden near Hertfordshire; Dylan Thomas had a boat house in Wales, Virginia Woolf a hut in Sussex, J. K. Rowling her Edinburgh café, and George Orwell a house on a remote Scottish island. And Henry David Thoreau, of course, had Walden Pond.

Rowling’s caffeinated sequestration aside, modern retreats have evolved into much more sociable residencies, where not just one but several writers inhabit a home together for some time, each with his or her own space to work on an individual project. This setup acknowledges the fact that, in most cases, writers need not only to write but also to talk, preferably with fellow writers who understand what the whole fuss over words and ideas is all about, if only for an hour or two each day before each one slinks back into his or her own burrow.

While they may engage groups of writers, a writers’ retreat or residency isn’t like a workshop, where the focus is on helping younger and newer writers with matters of craft and other professional concerns. A residency is a gathering of peers, and while socialization is encouraged, privacy is respected, and no detailed reports or submission of outputs is expected, on the understanding that mature artists will proceed and produce at their own pace, without need of overbearing guidance or monitoring.

I’ve been privileged to attend a few of these residencies—which, until we had Adverbum in Palawan, were all overseas. One of the most popular ones (at least among writers) was the Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers in Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland, about 45 minutes by bus out of Edinburgh. More than a dozen Filipino writers have now gone to Hawthornden over the past 20 years, including the likes of Krip Yuson, Ricky de Ungria, Danton Remoto, Marj Evasco, Rofel Brion, and Eric Gamalinda, and, among the younger ones, Sarge Lacuesta, Mia Gonzalez, and Chingbee Cruz.

I went to Hawthornden in 1994, thanks to a British Council grant (you have to apply directly to Hawthornden for a fellowship, which covers board and lodging in the 15th-century castle, but it used to be, in pre-recessionary days, that the British Council provided funds for the round-trip fare). The castle has several rooms for residents, each named after a famous writer (I stayed, I think, in “Boswell”), and you get your name inscribed on that room’s door once you submit the published proof of your work after your residency. The fellowship lasts for about four weeks, and you share the castle over that period with three or four other writers from around the world. There may be more staff than fellows at any given time, and the only time you meet the others is at 6 pm, when you “foregather” for sherry before dinner. Breakfast is at your own time and pace, and lunch (usually a generous sandwich and lentil soup) is served on a tray at your door, as if you were in some exclusive prison. (There is, in fact, a dungeon-like prison beneath the tower, but thankfully no writers have had to stay there; another of Hawthornden’s features is its proximity to Rosslyn Chapel, recently made famous by The Da Vinci Code, which had yet to be written when we were visiting it.)

Rather more opulent were two other residencies I later attended in Italy: the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in northern Italy, near Como and Milan, in 2002, and Civitella Ranieri in 2011. Bellagio was a medieval palace turned into a villa and a haven for artists and scholars by the Rockefeller Foundation, and today it offers residencies to a broad range of academics, artists, and professionals. When I went there to work on Soledad’s Sister, my fellow fellows comprised an American architect, a Russian pianist, a British Bible scholar, a South African novelist, and a South African arms expert, among others. The batches in Bellagio were much bigger, at about ten to a dozen per month-long batch. Like Hawthornden, what it took was an application consisting largely of a proposal for a work-in-progress, and samples of one’s past work. (I should add that I failed on my first application, but made it on my second try, so nothing is ever guaranteed with these things.) Many Filipinos have also gone to Bellagio—among them F. Sionil Jose, and many in the Hawthornden group, the usual suspects—including non-artists such as lawyer Raul Pangalangan; next year, fictionist Menchu Sarmiento will be going there to work on a new book of stories.

Civitella Ranieri is another medieval castle in Umbria, just outside Perugia, but here admission is by invitation only, and it’s limited to artists (writers, painters, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, and so on). Among other Filipinos, poet Mark Cayanan and novelist Miguel Syjuco were Civitella fellows this year, preceded by artist Lan Tuazon (2012), writer Gina Apostol (2009), and musicians Chino Toledo (2004) and Ramon Santos (1999).

How productive can one get in these places? I suppose it depends on your own work habits and, in a sense, on the setup of the place and the fellowship itself. I hate to admit this as a digital junkie, but I produced the most work—four new stories and a short novel in a month—when I was offline in Hawthornden, having gone there in pre-digital times; I did write “Penmanship” on a 286-SX laptop and a floppy disk, but otherwise had no cellphone or wifi to distract me. Bellagio was good for a few chapters, but the villa’s intensely social schedule (and the overpowering beauty of the scenery) proved surprisingly less than ideal for sustained work. Civitella Ranieri resulted in 30,000 words of new fiction and final revisions on a book of poetry. And Palawan? I did final revisions on a biography, and edited several chapters for a friend’s book of travel essays.

Could I have gotten all this new work done at home, in the boonies of Diliman? Maybe. But distance strangely provides more clarity and urgency to things we take for granted in too-familiar surroundings, and a lake or an ocean to view outside one’s window can only help the imagination and refresh both body and spirit.

LET ME take this opportunity to acknowledge and to thank another of our Palawan sponsors, aside from Cebu Pacific—the Hotel Centro in downtown Puerto Princesa, where we stayed for the final night of our getaway. I’ve been to Puerto often, and can say that this new 111-room hotel is one of the city’s finest, located close to its most important locations. The rooms are clean and well-furnished, with free wifi (a godsend after a week’s digital dieting), and a very attentive staff who can also arrange special package tours around the city and Honda Bay and to the Underground River for you. The Sicily Bar on the fifth floor is set up for meetings and conferences. We had a sumptuous poolside dinner under a tent, a perfect point of re-entry to urban living after a week of sylvan solitude. Check them out at www.hotelcentro.ph for more details and reservations.