Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poem for 2012: Silence of the Pond

Painting and Poem by Abe V Rotor

Silence of the Pond, AVR Circa 1989

Here true silence lies,
not eerie, not deafening,
for silence is communion
of self and surrounding.

Here true silence lies:
leaves quiver in the breeze,
ripples gently rise and fade,
buzz the honey bees.

Here true silence lies,
in the rhythm of the sky,
the rainbow a huge harp,
music all that sing or cry.

Here true silence lies:
the sound of the pond,
not in its depth or breadth;
the trees by their bond.

Here true silence lies,
beyond the audible,
in magic waves in the air,
and the perceptible.

Here true silence lies,
giving in is acceptance,
the root of humility,
courage in any instance.

Here true silence lies,
when the heart longs, yet sings;
thoughts not to reason but flies
from the confines of living.

Here true silence lies,
sweet memories an art
in the silence of a pond,
throbbing in the heart. ~

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Last Farewell - Jose Rizal’s Valedictory Poem

Execution by musketry of Dr Jose P Rizal, Philippine National Hero, on December 30, 1896, at Bagumbayan, now Rizal Park ( Luneta), Manila .

By Nick Joaquin
Translated from the Spanish

Notes on Rizal’s Farewell Poem

A few days before his execution, Rizal wrote this touching poem in Spanish. He wrote it with no trembling hands; no erasures. The hero wrote on a commercial blue-lined paper measuring 9.5 cm wide and 15.5 cm long. The poem is untitled, undated and unsigned. Rizal hid it inside an alcohol stove he was using. In the afternoon of December 29, 1896, Rizal gave this alcohol stove as a gift to his younger sister Trinidad and whispered: “There is something inside.”

After the hero’s execution, Josephine Bracken got hold of the poem and brought it with her to Hong Kong. She sold it to an American who brought it to the US. In 1908, the US War Department informed the Philippine Gov. Gen. James Smith who instructed the Philippine Government to buy it back. The poem has been translated into practically all major languages of the world, and in many dialects.

Land that I love: farewell: O land the sun loves:
Pearl of the sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life;
Were it more brilliant: had it more freshness, more bloom:
Still for you would I give it: would give it for your good!

In barricades embattled, fighting in delirium,
Others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom.
The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:
Gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom
Are equal if demanded by country and home.

I am to die when I see the heavens go vivid,
announcing the day at last behind the dead night.
If you need color – color to stain that dawn with,
Let spill my blood: scatter it in good hour:
And drench in its gold one beam of the newborn light.

My dream when a lad, when scarcely adolescent:
My dreams when a young man, now with vigor inflamed:
Were to behold you one day: Jewel of eastern waters:
Griefless the dusky eyes: lofty the upright brow:
Unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed!

Enchantment of my life: my ardent avid obsession:
To your health! Cries the soul, so soon to take the last leap:
To your health! O lovely: how lovely: to fall that you may rise!
To perish that you may live! To die beneath your skies!
And upon your enchanted ground the eternities to sleep!

Should you find some day somewhere on my gravemound, fluttering
Among tall grasses, a flower of simple fame:
Caress it with your lips and you kiss my soul:
I shall feel on my face across the cold tombstone:
Of your tenderness, the breath; of your breath, the flame.

Suffer the moon to keep watch, tranquil and suave, over me:
Suffer the dawn its flying lights to release:
Suffer the wind to lament in murmurous and grave manner:
And should a bird drift down and alight on my cross,
Suffer the bird to intone its canticle of peace.

Suffer the rains to dissolve in the fiery sunlight
And purified reascending heavenward bear my cause:
Suffer a friend to grieve I perished so soon:
And on fine evenings, when prays in my memory,
Pray also – O my land! – that in God I repose.

Pray for all who have fallen befriended by not fate:
For all who braved the bearing of torments all bearing past:
To our poor mothers piteously breathing in bitterness:
For widows and orphans: for those in tortured captivity
And yourself: pray to behold your redemption at last.

And when in dark night shrouded obscurely the graveyard lies
And only, only the dead keep vigil the night through:
Keep holy the place: keep holy the mystery.
Strains, perhaps, you will hear – of zither, or of psalter:
It is I – O land I love! – it is I, singing to you!

And when my grave is wholly unremembered
And unlocated (no cross upon it, no stone there plain):
Let the site be wracked by the plow and cracked by the spade
And let my ashes, before they vanish to nothing,
As dust be formed a part of your carpet again.

Nothing then will it matter to place me in oblivion!
Across your air, your space, your valleys shall pass my wraith!
A pure chord, strong and resonant, shall I be in your ears:
Fragrance, light and color: whispers, lyric and sigh:
Constantly repeating the essence of my faith!

Land that I idolized: prime sorrow among my sorrows:
Beloved Filipinas, hear me the farewell word:
I bequeath you everything – my family, my affections:
I go where no slaves are – nor butchers: nor oppressors:
Where faith cannot kill: where God’s the sovereign lord!

Farewell, my parents, my brothers – fragments of my soul:
Friends of old and playmates in childhood’s vanished house:
Offer thanks that I rest from the restless day!
Farewell, sweet foreigner – my darling, my delight!
Creatures I love, farewell! To die is to repose. ~

Acknowledgment: Rizal and Josephine, by Gene Cabrera, courtesy of Philip Cabrera.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Garden is a Microcosm of the Biosphere

Dr Abe V Rotor

On-the-spot painting competition at the University of Santo Tomas campus, the only greenery in the heart of Manila.  

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.”

- William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

This verse captures the essence of the title of this article. It condenses the universe into its elemental symbols from which we take a full view of the world we live in. It reduces the complexities and vastness of both non- living and the living world into a microcosm that is complete in itself- a plantilla of creation all contained in the hand and experienced within a lifetime.

Lucky is the person who realizes this singular gift. Through this microcosm he can traverse the breadth of time and space, live with the myriad of life forms, and most important, he is blessed by the Great Maker to be part of the wonders and mysteries of creation.

So deep is the faith of the poet, William Blake, who wrote this verse more than two hundred years ago. Then, there were no computers, no television, no spacecraft and satellites. Could it be that in the absence of these modern tools that the mind could penetrate deeper, imagination soar higher, and faith stronger?

Garden of icons, Manaoag, Pangasinan  

Garden as a Microcosm

The garden could have been the place where Newton formulated the laws of gravity and magnetism when an apple fell on his head, where Darwin developed his theory of evolution through natural selection, where Henry Fabre discovered organization intelligence among insects over and above mere instinctive behavior. It was in a garden where Claude Monet painted his masterpieces, capturing the essence of the natural beauty of wild flowers, such as the Nymphaea and the lotus.

We may not expect inventions and discoveries, and master’s arts, to creep into the mind of whoever spends time in a garden, or any similar microcosm of nature for that matter. But we are most certain that he finds enlightenment through the knowledge and experience he gains, and with these he develops in himself the discipline to discover new things, and to acquire values that help him live at peace with nature and himself. It is in keeping close to nature that we better understand the ways of the world in which we live.

When I conducted a lecture- demonstration at the UST Botanical Garden before my students, I was in effect simulating the scenario. Here I showed them the different parts of the Garden, starting with the basics such as, “ What makes a Garden?” I explained the composition of a typical rainforest ecosystem. The garden is precisely a pocket representation of this ecosystem, and, by dissecting it, we were in effect looking at its profile.

Deciduous Nature of Trees in Tropical Rainforest
Deciduous umbrella tree or talisay (Terminalia catappa) displays the color of autumn. 

I gathered my students under a narra tree- Pterocarpus indicus. Trees belonging to the Dipterocrap group of family Legumonosae dominate the canopy of the tropical rainforest. Their leaves fall off completely at certain season so that the trees are bare for some time, thus allowing sunlight to penetrate and nourish the understory trees, ground plants, lianas and epiphytes. The floor becomes covered with litter that nourishes insect, earthworms, fungi and bacteria. These decompose the leaves into humus that ultimately becomes soil while supplying nutrients to different plants in the forest. Because of the high precipitation throughout the year, the forest becomes lush and dense. The multi- story nature of the tropical rainforest makes it the richest biome in both diversity of species and number of inhabitants.

Gymnosperms and Angiosperms
These are cone-bearing and lowering plants, respectively. Gymnosperms are exemplified by pine cypress, and arios. I allowed my student to touch and examine these plants. Then they turned to examine the angiosperms that predominate the campus. Phylogeny shows that flowering plants are more “ modern “, which means that through evolution, the gymnosperms are older, and later gave way to the evolving angiosperms. Except in colder countries and in the taiga biome, the natural vegetation is made up of flowering plants.

False flowers
Nature’s sweet lies have a purpose. The brightly colored leaves of poinsettia and bougainvillea attract insect pollinators and enhance fertilization and subsequent fruit and setting and seed formation, thus ensuring the perpetuation species how many plants are benefited by this special make-up?

The truth is that most flowering plant has designed attraction mechanisms. In general, flowers are made attractive, although the attraction that we know may not be the same as how insects perceive it. We know red as red, yellow as yellow, and so forth. But insect have different perception of colors. Nonetheless, the basic purpose is what counts - and is almost always achieved. Other means that guarantee pollination-fertilization are sometimes needed. For example insect are attracted by its obnoxious odor of Lantana camara, pollinating it in effect. This is also in the cases of pongapong (Amorphophallus campanolatus), kalumpang or bangar tree- and, of course, the Rafflesia, the world largest flower that emits putrefying odor. They have one thing in common: they attract flies to pollinate their flowers.

Flowering Bamboo- Prophet of Doom
The old folks used to tell us, “Beware when the bamboo flowers.”

What is the connection of a flowering bamboo to a force majeure, such as drought? Old folks use it as a barometer of El Niño. Climatologists use around the globe predict the coming of this phenomenon by observing plants, among them the flowerin of bamboos. The last time El Niño struck was in early 2000 to 2002. The cycle is ten years or closer. El Niño is accompanied by poor harvest, forest fires, death of livestock, spread of certain diseases that effect man, animals and plants.

Coed at the former EcoSanctuary of St Paul University, QC
Biologically, organisms subjected to stress tend to reach the reproductive stage earlier than usual. In fact, certain insects even skip molting just to be able to metamorphose into an adult and carry out reproduction while the environment allows. It is nature’s way of insuring the perpetuation of the species at the expense of the organism, so to speak.

So, when a bamboo flowers it ultimately dies. This is why the panda, which derives its food mainly on bamboo suffers. There are bamboo species flower after fifty years or so, then die.

There are other plants that signal the coming of drought. One is kapok. A fruit-laden kapok tree means poor against harvest ahead. Even the sturdy kamagong or mabolo is stressed by drought. While it stops producing new leaves, the crown remains intact. This could be the reason why this tree produces the hardest wood. In the case of the narra, and mango, they show no apparent stress signal. It is because they have sturdy, long taproots that penetrate deep into the ground and into the bedrock. Old folks, however, warn us that no plant is spared in the worst kind of drought.

Trees are Sound and Wind Barriers

Have you noticed how the sound of traffic dies down in the dense vegetation of trees? Loud voice is muffled, blarring sound reduced to tolerable decibels, and music is more soothing to the ear. The trees at UST and in the Sunken Garden of UP Diliman are definitely for this purpose, in addition to being buffers against strong wind.

Windbreaks help reduce wind pressure. I saw a 10- row windbreak of different species of trees along the highway to the Beijing airport. Another windbreak made of agoho (Casuarina equisitifolia) is found along the coastline of Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan which similarly serves to buffer winter wind. Woodland hedges along field boundaries in Europe serve the same purpose. The Indian tree is an effective sound breaker because of its thick, cone- shaped crown. It has also another advantage, that is, it grows tall and straight so that several trees can be planted close to each other.These man-made forests are a source of many valuable products and serve as a natural habitat of wildlife. It is no wonder why the Hanging Garden of Babylon was one of the Wonders of the ancient World.

Hantik Ants - Biological Control Agents
Bromeliad garden on Mt Banahaw, Laguna

My students studied the nests of the giant green tree ants or hantik. The older nests were built on the upper branches of alagao, while a newly built nest was on a smaller tree Ficus pseudopalma. It is not easy to trace which nest an individual ant belongs to, but each colony has a specific chemical signal called pheromone. This prevents members from fighting, and allows the colonies to co-exist with defined territories assigned to each colony. Scientist calls this territory as niche.

Hantik ants are notorious killers of other insects. This could be the reason why I have not seen any need to spray chemicals. Hantik ants feed on grubs, caterpillars, aphids, scale insects, and many others. They carry off morsels to their nest to feed their larvae. They scare organisms several times bigger than themselves. In fact, one who happens to get close to their domain is likely to get a bite or two, which is warning enough. But they do not hesitate to attack once they are threatened or disturbed.

I demonstrated the ferocity of the hantik by crushing a member of that colony. Sooner than I expected other members came to the rescue and pheromone was immediately put to use in the coordination and division of work, and in the strategy of war.

Common Medicinal Plants

A botanical garden is not complete without a good collection of medicinal plants. Here I showed to my students examples of medicinal plants with their uses. UST Botanical Garden was once the pharmaceutical garden of the university founded by Fr. Rodriguez a century ago. It is one of the oldest phamaceotical gardens in the world.

Here are typical examples of medicinal plants found in backyard and home gardens.

1. Lagundi - fever and flu
2. Pandakaki- minor wound or cuts
3. Oregano - sore throat and cough
4. Ikmo - mouth wash
5. Mountain tea - health drink
6. Guava - body odor and skin diseases
7. Pandan - beverage and food additive
8. Alagao - fever and cold
9. Avocado - diarrhea
10. Banana - kidney ailment

Poisonous Plants
I showed my students poisonous plants growing in the garden. But why do we have poisonous plants around?

There are plants which produce poisonous substances that are valuable as pesticide. Examples are neem tree, derris and makabuhay. These have been proved to be effective in controlling certain pests and disease of plants.

Botanical pesticides are generally safer than chemical pesticides. Studies have shown that neem (Azideracta asiatica), a native of India, has long been used as insecticide. It is widely used on field crops and against domestic pest like cockroaches, mosquitoes and bedbugs in many countries including the Philippines.

Makabuhay (Tinospora rhumpiana) is effective against a wide range of rice pests and the application is very simple. Fresh stems and leaves are finely chopped and directly broadcast in lowland ricefields. The active principle is also very effective on golden kohol, a major pest of rice of the Philippines.

Derris is the source of commercial rotenone insecticide. The concentration of its poison is in its enlarged roots.

Two poisonous plants grow in the garden. In fact they grow wild and have been persistent for a number of years now. Castor bean contains a poisonous substance - ricinin - for which reason castor oil is no longer prescribed as laxative. The other plant is Jatorpha curcas or tubang bakod. A few years ago a group of students from a Quezon City High School ate the seeds which taste like peanut. They were taken to the hospital for treatment. 

The microcosm is far from complete. But it is the framework that is important, like building replica of a dinosaur from pieces of recovered fossil. Knowledge is like that. It starts with principles, but, before that, one must be inspired and motivated to learn. There is no true learning unless one labors for it to some degree. Even frustration that may threaten learning itself, could be, at the end, a motivating factor, a challenge and test of what one is really made of. The Great Maker just gave us the Plantilla from which we follow the way to learning and understanding.
Fruiting rambutan, a rare tree on the backyard, Diliman QC

NOTE: The UST Botanical Garden is under the supervision of Dr. Romulado M del Rosario. He and the

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Season is a Season of Homecoming: Home, Sweet Home

Abe Rotor and Melly Tenorio
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air)
DZRB 738 KHzAM Band
8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday

This article is dedicated to the Filipino balikbayan and all returnees from work and domicile all over the world. Christmas Season is a Season of Homecoming.

Home, Sweet Home, painting by AV Rotor

By Abe V Rotor

In the movie, The King and I, Anna the English teacher sang Home Sweet Home, an endearing song when thousands of Europeans left home in search of a new one at the other side of the globe. They became pioneers in the New World, which was to become the United States of America. Others found the Orient, and for Teacher Anna, it was a special arrangement for her to serve the King of Siam (Thailand) as tutor to his children.

To us Filipinos, the song stirs the heart as well. Thousands leave their native land, their homes and families in search for opportunities as Overseas Filipino Workers, and migrants, many of them never to return, except on brief sojourn in the country of their birth.

I found a complete musical piece arranged for the violin and piano in an old wooden chest (baol) containing personal belongings of my late mother. I was told by my father that it was her favorite piano piece. I can only guess why. Many homes were destroyed and families separated during the second world war. Ours was one of them.

Today, Home, Sweet Home, is our family's treasured musical composition. My daughter Anna would accompany me on the piano as I played the violin. There were occasions we played together in school programs, carrying the message that there is no place like home. My wife Cecille and our younger son Leo Carlo have their share on a weekend, playing related compositions like The Last Rose of Summer, Life Let's Cherish, The Harp that Once through Tara's Hall. They make a wholesome package of what a happy home is.

On one occasion this current year President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was guest of the UST Graduate School, honoring her father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal as former member of the faculty and alumnus of the university. As Anna and I were playing the musical piece during the cocktail, President Gloria momentarily left the group and came near us playing. I nodded to acknowledge her. So did Anna. She was smiling at us while intently listening, particularly to the theme part of the four-variation version of Henry Farmer. Indeed it was a great honor on our part.

Not to be home for Christmas for one reason or another must be a lonely, if not painful, experience. I take this opportunity to thank again our ardent listener, and may she realize what many of us simply take for granted - to be in ones Home, Sweet Home.

Home Sweet Home
By John Howard Payne
Music by Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855)
(Arranged for the violin and piano by Henry Farmer)

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.
Home, Home, sweet, sweet Home!

An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
O, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
The birds singingly gaily, that came to my call –
Give me them – and the peace of mind, dearer than all.
Home, Home sweet, sweet Home.
There’s no place like Home! There’s no place like Home!

One of the lessons I discussed on the school-on-air program - Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid - is about home and family. It was one of the liveliest lessons. There were as many callers as there were definitions of a home. Here is a short list.

1. Home is a roof for everyone, residents and guests.
2. Home is a wall with large windows that let the sun and the breeze in.
3. Home is where fish in the aquarium sparkle in the morning’s sun.
4. Home is a baby smiling, of children playing.
5. Home is a faithful husband and wife.
6. Home is a “place for everything and everything in its place,” but not always.
7. Home is dad and mom waiting for us from school.
8. Home is a workshop for hobbies and inventions.
9. Home is where our dog lies on the doormat waiting for its master.
10. Home is a litter of puppies and kittens.
11. Home is a rooster crowing, nature’s alarm clock.
12. Home is a house lizard’s crispy announcement of a guest coming.
13. Home is a frog croaking in the rain.
14. Home is a safari of wildlife – from insects to migratory birds.
15. Home is a warm embrace of a cat.
16. Home is a cup of coffee, a sip of wine, a newspaper.
17. Home is a warm bath, a cold shower, a bath tub.
18. Home is National Geographic, Time Magazine, Daily Inquirer.
19. Home is ripe tomato, succulent radish, dangling stringbeans,
20. Home is a brooding mother hen in her nest.
21. Home is fresh eggs everyday.
22. Home is the sound of birds and crickets.
23. Home is the sweet smell of flowers, falling leaves, swaying branches in the wind.
24. Home is the sweet smell of the earth after the first rain in May.
25. Home is a singing cicada in the tree.
26. Home is a swarming of gamugamo in the evening.
27. Home is a sala too small for so many friends.
28. Home is a cabinet of books, a study table, a computer.
29. Home is Beethoven, Mozart, Abelardo, Santiago.
30. Home is Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, Sharon Cuneta.
31. Home is Amorsolo. Picasso, Van Gogh.
32. Home is potpourri of appetizing recipes, of the proverbial grandmother apple pie.
33. Home is pinakbet, lechon, karekare, suman, bibingka.
34. Home is a garden of roses, a grass lawn to lie on.
35. Home is an herbarium of plants, a gene bank.
36. Home is home for biodiversity, a living museum.
37. Home is doing repair that has no end.
38. Home is disposing old newspapers, bottles, metal scraps, used clothes.
39. Home is a midnight candle before an exam.
40. Home is a shoulder, a pillow, to cry on.
41. Home is Noche Buena.
42. Home is fireworks on New Year.
43. Home is general cleaning on weekends.
44. Home is a soft bed that soothes tired nerves and muscles.
45. Home is a fire place, a hearth, which takes the cold out of the body and spirit.
46. Home is a Prodigal Son returning, Good Samaritan.
47. Home is a round table where thanksgiving prayer is said.
48. Home is laughter and music, prose and poetry.
49. Home is forgiving, rejoicing, celebrating.
50. Home is angelus and rosary hour.

A grandmother takes care of her grandchildren while their
parents work in Manila or abroad. Iba, Zambales

To sum it all, Home is Home Sweet Home.

A note of simple expression of thanks and gratitude to all followers, participants and viewers of Living with Nature - School on Blog. Your contribution has greatly helped us expand in the number and variety of lessons and coverage. This is very encouraging as we are about to begin our fourth year with hundreds of pageviews daily from different parts of the world. We have now more than 2,000 posts, with a number of lessons regularly updated and edited for added information and easier access. The lessons are also linked with radio and outreach programs. We invite you to help in enhancing a greater multiplier effect. You may wish to contribute by any means, from disseminating the lessons in your area yourselves, or by donating to our current extension work and radio broadcast (school-on-air) through Philippine National Bank Dollar Account No. 372756300038, or 372756300020 (peso account). Living with Nature-School on Blog is purely a voluntary effort to bring functional literacy to millions who lack access to formal education, and to augment formal learning and experiential knowledge. - Dr Abercio V Rotor

(More lessons are found in
x x x

Friday, December 23, 2011


Dr Abe V Rotor

Painting in acrylic, AVR 2011

Bouquet - how extreme:
how happy, how sad,
how deceitful, how holy,
how tame, how mad!

Bouquet - how fresh,
picked for vase or lei;
how withered when gone
across the bay.

Bouquet - how fragrant
across the hall;
how lavish in summer,
how dearth in fall.

Bouquet - how missed
the bee, the butterfly
in the garden, the rainbow
an arch of sigh.~

15 Verses to Live by this Christmas Season

Abe V Rotor

15 Little Stars Glowing, photo by AVR 2007

1. God's Message

Be it at Acadie or Walden Pond,
On the battleground of Basilan,
Pyramid of the Sun or Mount Saint Paul
God's message is one and same to all.

2. Friendship

Friendship shared multiplies,
Like happiness and joy do,
Whereupon brotherhood lies,
All defying mathematical law.

3. Grace

If grace builds on nature,
Then grace should abound to all;
Yet only he who is pure
Takes the gift, and not the fool.

4. Giants and Dwarfs

In life we are at one time giants, at another dwarfs,
Giving essence to character more than fairy tale;
But even in fairy tale, we gain essence in character.

5. Evil

Evil is evil, so with its mirror,
Even in disguise of the finest;
Goodness build goodness,
Tapping love in store.

6. Independence

Independence, you may wonder,
Is least understood while standing;
'Til you're on your knees groping
And feel a hand on your shoulder.

7. Anger

Clenched fists soften under a blue sky,
Like high waves, after tempest, die.

8. Convenience

Convenience is like wings gliding on the wind's will;
It is also not taking off until the wind is still.

9. Dream

When reality dies it may become a dream,
And dream is rality again foreseen.

10. Echo

On some mountain top one's echo is clear and loud;
In the market place it dies with the crowd.

11. Gem

Unless cut and polished, a stone is stone,
Like a gene lying deep, unknown, alone.

12. Crisis

The greatest crisis ambitious men and women face
Is loss of privacy trying to win a nameless game.

13. Kindness

Kindness, however small
Is never wasted at all.

14. Tradition

The past may leave remnants to the future ,
New to the young while dying bit bu bit.

15. My Life to Give

If a little in me dies if only someone must live,
Here then Lord, here is my whole life to give.

A Travelogue in Art: from Paleolithic to Modern Times

Abe V. Rotor

Stone Age Art: Busts carved on petrified wood.

“We know from records how art developed and influenced man and his society throughout history, but we can only surmise today at its role in guiding us to cope up with the complexities of postmodern life.” - AVR

Art began at the dawn of civilization. It started in cave dwellings of early man then found its way to some fertile plains where nomadic man started to settle down, evidently in Mesopotamia and other known cradles of civilization in Asia and Africa. Since then art and culture grew together.

Art developed with the discovery of early tools for the home and field. Symbols were drawn on rocks, animal skin and bark of trees as early records. Sounds developed into words, and melodies. Early weapons like the spear and shield were highly decorated, more so after a victorious battle. The string of a bow led early man to invent the lyre, and other early stringed instruments. The use of the bow-and-arrow led to sports other than for hunting and war, which consequently developed the art of worship and rituals, in celebrating victories, and giving respect to the dead.

Art is to man’s credit, but his model and source of inspiration is nature. The rainbow made him wonder, the stars made him wish, thunder and lightning humbled him, creatures of all kinds made him feel important, the coming and passing of seasons marked his activities and leisure. He learned from Nature the various forms of art, in fact many fields of learning.

The pyramid is a man-made mountain, the boat a dugout piece of log, a fort came from the idea of an isolated island, a bridge from a rock promontory, the wheel from a rolling stone, temple from a cave of glittering stalactites and stalagmites. He copied the intricate architecture of the termite mound for his buildings, the unique designs of nature to express function and beauty. He studied how birds fly, build their nest, and flock together. He wondered at the mystery of living things, describing and copying them, mimicked their looks, dances and songs. Nature indeed has been man’s greatest teacher.

Beyond discovery and invention, man added aesthetics – that high sense of beauty. It is this innate desire that is expressed in his art – an expression emanating from within influenced by experience and the environment. It is a kind of longing, a pouring out of emotion, a romantic gesture, a symbol of thought or idea, a puzzle of a game or test. Often art poses a question itself, as it offers fulfillment, or therapy. But art, differentiated from science, takes the road of imagination and creativity more than reason, the dialectics of logic, and formality of philosophy. Art takes man to the road of freedom, it liberates his mind to explore, to experience and express, in the world of imagination and fantasy, distorting reality and elevating emotion, and stimulating the psyche, ascendant to aesthetic level.

If art grew with civilization, it must have its early beginning with our Stone Age ancestors. Earlier than that, art – if it is called art – is associated with instinctive ways basically in response to the needs of survival like mimicry, nesting, and cooperation shared biologically with other creatures. In reckoning the beginning of art, it is in the Paleolithic and Neolithic times dating as far back as 25,000 BC. Paintings inside caves are clearly art and history combined. These cave paintings found in many parts of the world from Lascaux in France to Montalban, Rizal, are proofs of prehistoric culture, the most prominent being those of stone tools, funerary offerings, and articles of adoration and worship. The Stonehenge in Great Britain was built ingeniously as an observatory to plot the movement and position of stars and planets, to which early man asked favor while submitting his fate through worship and festivals. Similarly the tunnels of the Pyramids of Egypt have astronomical significance, so with the ziggurats of Central America.

Imagine Stone Age art in an early version of the Greek Venus, in decorated vases, tools and weapons, or in the form of specimens from hunted animals as memorabilia or talisman. Body paintings must have imitated animals, or simply signified position and rank in the tribe. Clothing evolved from function to art. Many ethnic cultures have been preserved to this day, and in fact the modern world built on them multi-million dollar industries in fashion and tourism.

The last prehistoric phase, the Metal Age, is characterized by a proliferation of metallic crafts, from weapons to body ornaments. Discovery of burial chambers yielded rich metallic decors of gold and silver, swords and spears in advanced metallurgy in this period, shields and armors revolutionized war. And because of the precious value and malleability of metals, various objects of art were made from them and became artifacts of today, many are displayed in museums.

Art in Ancient times reached its peak with the Wonders of the Ancient World, with Greece and later Rome at the peak of power. “The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome…” became a metaphoric adage, and true to their superior achievements, the Greco-Roman model was adopted by the Renaissance, one and one-half millennia later - in the fifteen century. Unfortunately of the seven man-made wonders of the ancient world, only the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt survives. The rest - Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes and Lighthouse of Alexandria, were destroyed by earthquake or fire. The inclusion of other man-made wonders include the Coliseum of Rome, Karnak Temple of Egypt, Petra of Jordan and in other parts of the world, the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal of India, Machu Picchu in Peru, Bali in Indonesia, Bagan Temples and Pagodas of Burma, Borobodor of Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Forbidden City of China. Last, but not the least, the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.

The Middle Ages often referred to as the Dark Ages was a long lull in arts, particularly in the western world, whereas on the side of world, art flourished in China and other parts of Asia, and in Central and South America (Aztec, Maya and Inca civilizations). The former Roman Empire disintegrated into warring fiefs or kingdoms, yet romantically yielded stories of fantasy and bed time stories handed down to us. (Children stories from the Grimm Brothers, and Hans Anderson; 1001 Arabian Nights)

It was in the 14th century that there was a stirring of man’s redemption from his woeful past - the Renaissance. The Renaissance brought new life and bridged the isolated corners of the world, so to speak. The Philippines became part of Renaissance Europe with its “discovery” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. For almost 400 years of Spanish rule we developed a culture greatly influenced by European civilization, except the remote ethnic communities.

Facsimile of original books, chapters deleted by Rizal included.

The paintings of Juan Luna, Felix Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo strongly reveal European styles. Many of our dances are distinctly Spanish. Even Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang, an pic) was abridged with Spanish and Christian flavor. Towns founded during the Spanish period were basically of Roman design. It is because Spain was ruled by the Romans for centuries. Even our Zarzuela and Moro-moro are Western in origin, the latter depicting the victory of Christians over the Moors in the Arab world. But the greatest expression of European Renaissance in the Philippines in church architecture. A typical example of baroque architecture is San Agustin Church in Intramuros, while San Sebastian Church is expressly of Gothic. The latter greatly influenced the Iglesia ni Cristo’s neo-gothic edifices.

Even before the era of colonization ended at the close of the 19th century, there was a movement sweeping Europe – Impressionism. This movement radically changed art. Classicism and Romanticism which were the dominant schools of art mainly with the elite bowed to the popular movement. Now people can reach a level of art related to their everyday life, their simple needs and aspirations. Even Realism took a step downward. Subjects are not viewed the way they are with details and accuracy; they are merely “impressions.” They are memories, dreams, views from the distance, and remnants of events and residues of thought. But this was but a transition to other movements at the close of the 19th century.

It was Vincent Van Gogh who opened a new meaning in art - expressionism - the freedom to bring out through art emotions and feelings, and not merely thoughts or ideas. It took years after its founder’s death that expressionism was accepted as a major movement, particularly with the birth of new nations out of the bondage of colonial rule. The trilogy of the French Revolution – Liberty, Fraternity and Equality became a universal cry, and America was the first to adapt the trilogy as pillars of its constitution. It greatly moved local leaders. Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Juan Luna painted Spolarium a mural comparing the suffering Filipinos with the gladiators of Rome. The 1889 Philippine Independence aroused nationalism, although it was short lived with America placing the Philippines under its sovereign as a Commonwealth. Here is a mélange of art with American art further diluting an already losing Filipino identity.

Since the pioneers of America were mostly Europeans, American art was distinctly European. So with the art they introduced in the Philippines. Buildings during the Commonwealth were post-colonial – which is fundamentally Greco-Roman. The prominent examples are the Central Post Office, the old Congress and Senate, Agriculture, Finance, Supreme Court, Philippine General Hospital. All over the country neo-colonial architecture and design are still evident seventy years after our independence from America.
Science and technology has opened new frontiers for the arts. It has unveiled many mysteries to become interesting subjects for the art. The discovery of the sunken Titanic gave us movies, songs, poetry, and the re-floated ship has been converted into a museum. The deepest part of the ocean is being revealed as a mysterious landscape, and the universe is being scanned for new worlds.

As industrialization stimulated economy, towns and cities grew, people travelled or migrated, and population rapidly increased. Art found a new expression - abstract art. Pablo Picasso, is perhaps the most prominent leader in this movement. His mural Guernica in the Basque territory had cleverly hidden messages that helped Spain resist the threat of Germany. Picasso’s art spanned three generations and evolved into several art movements, challenging tradition and convention, and influencing global art more than any artist did.

Scientific and technological breakthrough changed the world, so with art. Splitting of the Atom brought Armageddon and persistent fear to mankind. The invention of the microchip shrunk the world with modern communication - radio and television, and the Internet, resulting in an explosion of knowledge, while trespassing into personal life and privacy. The breaking of the Code of Life gave rise to genetic engineering which can clone life, and change natural evolution. These conditions have set a new movement in the art tied with post-modernism. If man is virtually living ahead of his time, what could be his art?


Travelogue in Art in Postmodern Times

Abe V Rotor

Sowbug model, Museum of Natural History, UPLB, Laguna

rt indeed has proliferated into theories, and each theory cannot be judged as right or wrong. So with its direction, and its multi-facet expressions. Here are developments in the art in our postmodern time.

1. Art and Modern Super Structures – The ancient wonders of the world are now dwarfed by mega structures like the Eiffel Tower (France), Brooklyn Bridge (USA), Panama Canal, Chunnel (tunnel linking France and Great Britain across the English Channel), and Petronas Twin Tower (Malaysia), Aswan Dam (Egypt), to name a few.

2. Photographic Art – The camera and its accessories are now easily accessible. These include programs for photo editing and publication. The versatility of photography is in its advance technology, linking it with advertisement, digital art, communication and media. Photography is a “short cut to art” which makes its classification controversial. With the computer, a photograph can be converted into various forms and interpretations. But such result emanates mainly from the versatility of the machine rather than the operator. Photography has taken over the former function of art in portraiture and documentation.

3. Art and Media – Media art reaches the far ends of the globe, from print to satellite communications. With cellphones, and multi-media equipment make people participate in the arts as performers and audience. Media is everywhere every day. Music can be produced any time. TV programs through cable brings in a flood of information and entertainment. Media has revolutionized schooling through Distance Learning (Open University) and communications (e-mail, e-libing, e-commerce, e-learning, and the like)

4. Function-and-Beauty – The role of art in industry and trade is that it enhances the desirability of a product or service. It is akin to advertisement, but it is actually function and beauty combined that sells. For example, a car’s sleek design is functionally aerodynamics, tools and equipment are ergonomically designed. More and more houses, roads, bridges, parks, and the like exhibit the element of function-and-beauty.

5. Thrash Art – Art from recycled materials is practical, and it sends an ecological message, that touches people’s sensitivity and conscience amidst worsening pollution. Thrash art may be a sculptural piece made of metal scraps (art), or it could be an all-purpose bag from recycled fruit juice packages (craft). The former is an example of high level art (aesthetic, and to any extent, a philosophy), while the other product is considered as low-level art (craft, which is more of its function than mere aesthetics.)

6. Avant-garde and Graffiti art on walls, trains, buses, fences, sidewalks, and other places is often associated with vandalism, and reflects deterioration of values. To many people it would be shocking to consider it as art. It reflects radicalism, although the claim is that art – whatever art takes - is free expression and of thought in whatever style or symbols. Based on conventional criteria, avant-garde and graffiti art is simply not art at all. And yet, it flourishes, which could only mean that art evolves even outside the realms of art itself, apparently a characteristic of postmodern trends.

7. The Wonders of Nature are gaining artists’ interest and tourists’ attraction. Naturalism links man-made and natural structure, science and art, humanities and ecology. The Galapagos Islands (South America), Mt Everest (Nepal), Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Victoria Falls (Africa), Niagara Falls (USA), - and our own Hundred Islands (Pangasinan), Underground River (Palawan) Mt Mayon (Albay), are examples of countless natural spots that draw man’s awe and wonder. With ecological destruction everywhere, man’s attitude toward nature has evolved a new dimension - responsibility and accountability to guard nature as heritage for the younger generations.

8. Classical and Contemporary Art – Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote topped the world’s best novels, with Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere ranked closely behind. The works of Shakespeare and Browning once topped the list of classical poetry, and in music, the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky. In painting, the names Rembrandt, Goya, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo are regarded institutions. The timelessness of classics are being overshadowed by neo-classical and contemporary works, although classics remain as undying models even with the march of time and progress, and new movements creating diverse pieces of art that go with postmodern life.

9. Art and Extremism. Going back to basics draws art to fundamental themes and techniques. But fundamentalism may turn to isolationism. Art is never subservient to either. On the other hand, radicalism could ignite controversy, such as the recent art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines lampooning Christ and desecrating holy objects. The exhibit drew ire from both religious and clergy. Art cannot be detached from morals, more so with ethics. It cannot be amoral or neutral to values.

10. Instant Art – Those who have watched Avatar or Starwars may wonder at the versatility of these movies. The truth is, many of the scenes were studio-generated and faked. Another aspect of instant art is pirating (piracy of intellectual property), and packaging such as “canned” nature (Gubat sa Siudad, Fantasyland). There is a proliferation of amusements, and mass production of art works legal or illegal. It is a trend in our postmodern life to go for instant things like photo shoot, tarpaulin billboards, e-publishing, DVD movies, and MP3 music. Similarly there is trend in food (fast food), on the dance floor (maskipop), on the karaoke (Minus One). But there is no need to change the definition of art. It is like separating the grains from the chaff, so to speak, and know what is art and is not. The essence and purpose of art will never change.

No time in history has art found its widest application than it is today. Its enormous variety serve people of all ages, singly or collectively, in various occasions and events, touching their lives, tapping their talents, arousing their feelings, stimulating them to think and imagine . And to create the most wonderful things that constitute their own masterpieces. This is the challenge of art today and if these can relate to the betterment of humanity, then we say, art is humanities. ~ (AVR 11-1-11)

Environmental awareness exhibit, Ho Chi Minh University of Technology in Vietnam

NOTE: The author was tasked in putting up the Grain Industry Museum the National Food Authority in (1980-83), and the St Paul Museum of St Paul University QC in (1995-2009) and served as curator through the periods mentioned. (Both museums are no longer open to the public.) Dr Rotor drew his ideas and art about museums from his travels visiting museums like The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, The Mexican Museum in Mexico City, The Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, The Vietnam Museum in HoChiMinh City, The Chicago Museum of Natural History, De Paul University Museum in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Taiwan’s Tunnel Museum in Taipei, The Forbidden City in Beijing, The Grand Palace in Bangkok, The National Museum in Tokyo, Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, The Louvre in Paris, St Peter and The Vatican in Rome, among others.

Life is a River

Mural and Poem by Abe V Rotor

Nature Mural by AVR 2005

Life is a river flowing,

its source the sky and dream;

clouds rising, falling as rain,

and running downstream.

Life is a river flowing,

from mountain to sea;

the bounty of the living,

kingdom and the free.

Life is a river flowing,

nature's free energy,

prime mover of the living

world of synergy.

Life is a river flowing

incessantly through

fields and plains and ravine,

all year through.

Life is a river flowing,

flowing with laughter,

whispering, hissing, roaring,

more so in summer.

Life is a river flowing

to a sweet union -

the spirit and nature rising

to every occasion.~

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas is at the corner

Abe V Rotor

Blue lights, color symbol of Ateneo de Manila University

Classical and colorful University of Santo Tomas, Manila

Ibon Adarna lantern, UST

Firework, perfect symetry

Snowman in the tropic

Christmas Offering 2011: Into Your Light

Poem by Dr Sel S Cabigan, Painting by Dr Abe V Rotor

Light in the Woods, AVR 1995

Today - in postmodern times - we may not be so keen in tracing the birth of Christ, re-enacting it with deep faith and reverence. The explosion of knowledge sweeping the world today has thinned out our focus on this great event, and to a large extent beclouded the historical, more so the spiritual, perspective of the Bible. To many of us, we are just too preoccupied with material things, of power and social status, we celebrate Christmas as a season of merriment and celebration peripheral to the real occasion - the coming of the Messiah.

"Into your light," was written some years ago by my friend and co-professor of a private school, which he recited during a faculty seminar. The poem became an eyeopener to many of us in the group. On my part, I painted an imaginary scenery. It is a simple painting though. But to Sel and I, the painting and the poem became the symbol of our teaching career, and memorabilia when we finally bid goodbye to teaching.

This is our simple offering this Christmas season to all our former students and co-teachers, to the millions of listeners of DZRB and viewers of this Blog. A Merry Christmas to all!

Into Your Light

And I, who affected delving into human brain,
Looking for ways that mimic how the human mind might think;
Confronted by a maze of multitudes of labyrinth
Stood in awe at what I saw: beyond imagining.

So I took hold of one little wand,
Lighter to make of learning tasks;
Hoping that this will lead to where
Your truth will piece my clouded sight.

Lead me to where I should lead them,
The little ones to my care you'll send;
That they may solve this awesome maze
And burst out bright into Your Light. ~

We offer this article as a prayer to the many victims of calamities, specially in the recent tragedy in Mindanao and Visayas. It is also a simple expression of our faith and gratitude to those who have touched the lives of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. ~

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Simple Guide in Picking and Buying Fruits

Abe V. Rotor

The best part of papaya (Carica papaya) is the lower half; it is more fleshy, sweeter and deeper in color. In the case of pineapple (Ananas comosus), it is the opposite – the part next to the stem is superior. In bananas (Musa spp), the upper fruits in the bunch are bigger, sweeter and the first to ripen. For sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) varieties for chewing – get the internodes close to the base; they are sweeter than those toward the top.

· Lansones (Lansium domesticum) – Extra large fruits have big seeds, and are not in any way sweeter than the rest in the bunch. Choose the medium size, quite elongated, and bright yellow in color. Presence of black ants has nothing to do with sweetness.

· Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) – Choose the size for pickling or about. As the fruit matures it loses its firm cartilaginous consistency and the seeds have already matured. Harvest okra, cowpea, patola, batao and string beans when still succulent, otherwise they become fibrous.

· Squash (Cucurbita maxima) – Mature fruit is tough to the fingernail and does not exude sap. Mature and seasoned squash has glutinous (malagkit) consistency. It is best in making duydoy (pasty recipe with sauteed pork and and ampalaya leaves.

. Upo (Lagenaria leucantha) - Newly harvested and young upo is succulent, and it yields easily to the fingernail test. Seeds are removed if the fruit is already mature.

. Patola - It is best when the fruit break readity. In this way you can also check if the seeds have already formed. Ribbed patola is our native variety (Luffa acutangula), while the round (Luffa cylindrica) was introduced.

· Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) – Break the tip of the stem and look for the yellowish to orange coloration at the center. Red means the fruit is over mature.

· Watermelon (Citrulus vulgaris) – Stripes are distinct and widespread. The cut stem should be green. Tap the fruit with the forefinger. If the sound is deep and dull, the fruit is ripe. Better still, ask the seller to make a triangular cut through the fruit. Newly harvested fruits have green peduncle (stem attached to the fruit). This applies to all fruits.

· Caimito (Chrysophylum cainito) - Fruits becomes shiny when it is about to ripen. This is also true in avocado (Persea Americana) and tiessa (Locuma nervosa). You can't force immature fruits to ripen; they'll just shrivel or rot.

· Chico (Achras sapota) – Lightly scrape the skin of the fruit with your fingernail. If underneath is green it is not yet ready for harvesting. This is also a guide in buying unripe chico.

· Sugar apple or atis (Anona squamosa) – Fruit well expanded, canals are distinct, color turns pale green.

· Coconut (mature) (Cocos nucifera) - Shake. A splashy sound indicates a healthy mature nut. Avoid nuts with developing buds. The bigger the bud, the bigger is the enlarged cotyledon and the thinner the meat becomes. The quality and size of the meat deteriorate as the nut germinates.

. Coconut (buko) - Cut the husk and examine the shell. If the shell is hard the nut is no longer suitable for buko salad. Too soft shell means the nut is still mara-uhog; it has no meat yet. Experts can determine the stage of the buko by just tapping the nut.

. Guava (Psidium guajava) - Get those which don't easily yield to pressure. Be guided by its sweet smell when riped. Guapple exudes little of this characteristic odor. Watch out for minute prick holes; the are signs of insect attack, likely the fruit fly (Dacus dorsalis). Get a sample, to check the damage or if there are maggots. Fruit flies also attack macopa, ampalaya, cucumber, mango, and the like. Freckles usually accompany fungus attack although it may be superficial.

. Nangka (Artocarpus integra) - The real test is the characteristic nangka smell, and the fruit yields readily to pressure. When tapped, the sound is dull and deep. Prior to this, at full maturity, the fruit turns from green to yellow, and expands to a point of cracking, the "nails" becoming broad and farther pushed apart. These signs are poorly manifested in inferior fruits.

. Granadilla (Punica granatum) - When ripe the fruit is bright yellow to orange, and it develops wide cracks (that's how it got its other name, granada), exposing pinkish fleshy seeds.

. Juvenile fruits of sampaloc or tamarind (Tamarindus indica), green mango (Mangifera indica), kamias (Averrhoa balimbi) are eaten raw with bagoong (bagoong alamang).

. Sinkamas (Pachyrizus erosus) - Get the newly harvested and young ones. It is easy to detect, by the green stem and freshness of the newly dug yam.

. Pineapple or piña (Ananas comosus) - Get the newly harvested ones, and ripened them at home. Look for any sign of damage; damaged fruits deteriorate fast. Eyes must be well set apart, uniform and bright. There are fancy shapes that may serve curiosity and aesthetic taste.

. Oranges, naranhita, dalandan, suha (Citrus spp) . Taste test is the best. Generally, oranges with indented bottom are sweet, although this is not always the case.

Buying fruits is an art. And the list of do's and don't is open ended. There's always something to learn about getting the fruits of your choice, and the best there is available. The best teacher is first hand experience. ~

Life and the Traffic Light

Life and the Traffic Light
Dr Abe V Rotor

Time is likened to the traffic light;
It signals you to go or to stop;
It comes in cycles like in a flight;
Not a wink, and rest is but a gap -
Warning nil when your time is up.

Poetry: Fishing on a Sunken Pier

Abe V Rotor

Remnant of the end of pier is visible in the distance. It indicates
massiveness of the infrastructure which was
built by the Americans
before World War II. The pier
was never put to used even after
the war - a case of a"white elephant.
Hunting for shells and other marine specimens on the hallowed
out plank of the pier.

At low tide, the waves break where the water was once deep for ocean-going ships.
A bamboo raft lies idly and insignificant along a concrete
A bamboo raft lies idly and insignificant along a concrete wall which
toppled off from its steel reinforcement.
Rusting skeleton of the walls of the pier appears like a pair of massive rows of teeth .

Rusting steel reinforcement dwarfs promenaders, appearing like menacing
teeth of a giant creature. (
Puerto Sunken Pier, photos by Marlo R Rotor,
Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur.)

Fishing on a Sunken Pier

Here lies the grandeur of peace in the night;

The Pyramids and the Great Wall,

Once like the Tower of Babel's might,

Now the remains after their fall.

What power ruins do have, sages?

Like the Parthenon of Greece?

Stand they all, proud through the ages,

In Lamarkian idleness.

I cast my line to weave a story

In silence, the wind my twin;

The world will never know true glory,

In fishing on a ruin. ~