Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Gift of Travel

by Rosario Charie Albar

According to Patricia Schultz, there are 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Well, I've tried to see as many as I can in 2005 and came home with many beautiful memories of the man made wonders of Egypt, the natural splendor of Yosemite National Park, the lazy days at the Wannsee Lake in Berlin, the gastronomic pilgrimage in Prague and best of all, the warmth and hospitality of old and new friends I met along the way.

Travel is a gift that keeps on giving. A fellow traveler once told me that she is always happy. She is happy during the trip discovering new places and meeting people. When she returns home, she is happy with travel memories and the photographs remind her again and again of the good times she had. This happiness is sustained when she starts planning for her next trip. And then it's time again to embark on another journey. And the cycle continues.

Last night I spoke with a close friend who loves to travel and whom I met on my way to Europe. We live about 30 minutes apart but this year we only saw each other once, at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Imagine, I barely see her here at home because we work and have difficult schedules. But we met by chance halfway across the world. We both realize that we were born with winged feet and we are happiest when we tread and explore unfamiliar territory.

My friend and I talked about our travel plans for 2006. Not surprisingly she's already made reservations at her favorite hotel in Paris after which she'll visit with friends in Brittany. And I shared with her my many travel plans which I hope to fulfill in 2006.

My biggest travel nightmare is deciding where to go next. Just think, there are at least 1000 Places to See plus a few more from my own personal list. The good news is, with these many places to visit, happy days are here to stay.

Wishing you peace, laughter and the gift of travel in 2006.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

The Asian Art Museum Presents 18th Century Kyoto Painters

by Rosario Charie Albar

What is intriguing about the Kyoto painting exhibition, Traditions Unbound: Groundbreaking Painters of Eighteenth-Century Kyoto currently at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, is that it brings together oeuvres by both pupil and teacher. This allows the viewer to observe the similarities in their works and to trace the student’s development as an artist as he makes a mark for himself.

There is a poetic thread that ties the works of Yosa Buson and his pupil, Ike Taiga. Buson, a poet, found his inspiration in haiku and Chinese poems. This is true of his scroll paintings, Landscapes of the Four Seasons. Taiga’s paintings are warm and lyrical like his Boys under a Willow Tree and Views of Mt. Fuji.

The door panels of Taro Field, 1752-1811 by Matsumura Gekkei (known as Goshun) are a take-off from the work of his teacher, Maruyama Okyo, entitled Chickens and Banana Trees. In both paintings, the austere background keeps the focus on the subject.

The artworks of Nagasawa Rosetsu, a pupil of Okyo, stand out among the painted screens, scrolls, and sliding door panels by eight artists who lived in or were active in Kyoto during the 18th century. In particular, his hanging scroll of Mount Penglai, 1754-1799, may not have the epic size of Okyo’s Cranes and Waves, 1788 but it speaks volumes. Rosetsu, considered one of three “eccentrics” in this group, presents a landscape with many symbolisms. In the foreground of the painting is a sandy beach where a group of turtles, representing longevity, are making their way to the island (which symbolizes immortality) where the peaks of Mt. Penglai rise to the sky. Three immortals ride on the backs of flying cranes that dot the heavens in the background. Rosetsu used white seashell pigments to give the sand a luminous and palpable quality.

What is remarkable about Flowers, Birds, Insects and Animals is that it was successfully completed by three artists working cohesively to produce one body of work. Rosetsu collaborated with a monk named Do Doi (who painted the bamboo trees) and Minegawa Kien who was responsible for the calligraphy. It is said that Rosetsu asked the monk for sake for every motif he painted.

The paintings of three other Kyoto artists, Soga Shohaku, Ito Jakuchu and Watanabe Shiko complete the collection. Shohaku and Jakuchu are the other “eccentrics” in the group. Shohaku’s Race at Uji River is charged with motion while Jakuchu’s One Hundred Puppies is a strange rendition of man’s best friend.

Traditions Unbound brings to the fore, paintings by artists who boldly departed from the established style of the period. Thanks to the support of 18th century Kyoto’s new merchant class, these artists were able to explore new styles and techniques and produce original and exceptional paintings.

The exhibition of 61 artworks is in two parts. The first group of artworks is on view from December 3, 2005 through January 8, 2006. The second group will be on view from January 11 through Feb. 26. The galleries will be closed January 10 for the installation of the second group of paintings.

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Location: 200 Larkin Street (between Fulton and McAllister Streets), San Francisco, California

Museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with extended evening hours every Thursday until 9:00 pm. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays (New Years Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas), and during certain large scale Civic Center Events (please call for details).

For more information: www.asianart.org

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ho, Ho, Ho

by Rosario Charie Albar

There are only a few shopping days left before Christmas. And as many of us brave the crowds, scramble for parking spaces at shopping malls across the country and bite the steep sticker price of gifts we'll give to friends and family, let us not forget the reason for the season. Let us reach out to those who are in need during this period of giving just as the Three Wise Men brought generous gifts to a child born in a humble stable on the first Christmas day.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you and me.

Merry Christmas, Maligayang Pasko, Maalipayon nga Pascua, Feliz Navidad, Meli Kalikimaka, Prettige Kerstdagen, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale, Frohe Weihnachten!

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Friday, December 02, 2005

A Friend at the Next Destination


by Rosario Charie Albar

During the many years I've traveled solo, I've rarely felt alone or lonely. As a Filipina traipsing around the globe, I can easily make friends with a ngiti, smile and a simple kumusta, how are you. The much touted word, diaspora, is the reason why no matter where my travels take me, there is often a friend at the next destination.

About two months ago I was in Prague at the Church of Our Lady Victorious. This is the home of the Infant Jesus of Prague which is in a temperature-controlled glass case. During mass I noticed two kababayans seated behind me. I turned around and extended my hand to them in the traditional “Peace be with you” greeting. I lingered a little bit after mass to examine a painting of the Madonna and Child on a side altar. I was surprised and pleased to see that the Madonna was dressed in a saya and nipa huts were at her feet.

Crossing the street in search of a restaurant, I saw the two Filipinos I had noticed earlier in church and approached them. I said Kumusta? and they smiled widely and asked me where I was from. When I responded that I came from the Bay Area, one of them told me that he had been a one time resident of the South Bay. And thus begun an unexpected friendship which gave me entry to many wonderful experiences in Prague. For one thing, my new friends informed me of the Filipino choir that assisted at the 11 a.m. Sunday mass at the same church. So I made it a point to be there on Sunday to listen to them sing. With only 32 Filipinos in Prague, most of them were in attendance and a visiting Filipino priest was officiating at mass. During his sermon, he talked about the Madonna and Child painting which he said was a gift to the church by a Filipino delegation who visited in December 2004. It has since rested on the left side altar as you come in through the main door.

While traveling in Egypt last spring, I met and made friends with three Filipinos who were in my tour group. What are the odds that out of 22 tour members, 4 of these would be Filipinos? So I had good company and lots of laughter at the dinner table, help bargaining at the souk, and dance instructors during disco nights as we cruised the Nile River. The Filipinos were a doctor and his gracious wife from Arizona and their vivacious friend from Los Angeles. It seemed like we had known each other all along. At least the other tour members thought so.

Last year while on a short visit in Milan I met some Filipinos in the metro. It was crowded but I finally found a seat next to two Pinays, one of whom immediately engaged me in earnest conversation. She then invited me to attend a prayer meeting that week and gave me some material to read. Unfortunately I was leaving for home the following day. I'm sure I missed a great opportunity to meet Filipinos living in Milan.

My cousin and I had just arrived in Rome one morning and were basking in the novelty of being in the eternal city. We were sitting outdoors at a restaurant in front of the Opera House. Pretty soon we noticed several Filipinos entering the building next door. We thought at first they were attending a party. But as more Filipinos came and went, greeting us in passing, we decided to investigate. It turned out there were two Filipino banks in that building and our hardworking kababayans were sending their remittances to the Philippines, on a Sunday, their day off from work.

In the U.S. I am lucky to have a network of friends and relatives from coast to coast. Once I attended a funeral in Atlanta which was a true celebration of life. After the funeral, cousins and friends got together for lunch and the conversation flowed. When we brought out the mamon and ensaymadas, there were exclamations of delight! Many commented on how much they missed our native desserts and this started another round of kuwentuhan that lasted well into the night.

On an Alaskan cruise I was fortunate to have been surrounded by young Filipino workers who went out of their way to make my vacation a truly memorable one. The Filipino chefs prepared sinigang and fried fish for me and three Filipina nurses from New York. At dinner the Filipino sommelier made sure my favorite drink was waiting for me, gratis. The Filipino crew was friendly and eager to tell me their stories and show pictures of their families, always with a wistful eye.

In London, I had double helpings of breakfast, thanks to the generosity of a Filipina waitress. In Brussels, the Filipino room cleaner gave me a bag of Belgian chocolates, enough for many sweet dreams. In Holland, I met some Filipinos at a café who invited me and a friend to their home. In Bangkok, my mother and I were serenaded by Filipino musicians working at one of the hotels.

Attending Sunday mass in a foreign city is one of the best ways to meet kababayans. In Singapore, Paris, and Oslo, I found I could attend mass specifically scheduled for the Filipino community. In Singapore, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Queen Street has a service for Filipinos on the 4th Sunday of the month at 11:30 a.m. In Paris, there is a late afternoon Sunday mass at Saint Germain l’Auxerrois at 2 Place du Louvre.

I love to travel and look forward to meeting new friends on the road. As a Filipina traveler, I have the advantage of growing up in a culture that easily extends a warm welcome to strangers. All I have to do to be on the receiving end is smile and say "Kumusta?".

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