Who's the sexiest of 'em all?

What turns us on often doesn't take a lot of imagination. It just sucks our eyes off its sockets and hits us, wham bam, at gut level just a breath away from our zippers.

Easy to see, therefore, why the choice of E! entertainment television as "the world's sexiest woman" is someone who can wear seduction on her belly button.

Karolina Kurkova, a Czech lingerie model, takes the lead with Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli in the second spot in the list that includes celebrities who take us at hello with the hell-bound bottomline of physical appeal: Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum, Penelope Cruz, Shakira, among others.

Which makes me wonder how E! bigwigs come up with the ranking. I mean, how they spot the difference among those women is beyond me. Looks like there's just a skin-tight line of the lingerie and the pout of their lips that set them apart. No brainer if it would be easier for
a sultan, supposing these ladies were in his harem, to have a heart attack than decide who's the most alluring of 'em all.

Well, the likes of Karolina may wrap us all and our winky-kinky thoughts around their fingers. But, in my book, there's no crossing out the cliche about that sex organ under a woman's hair. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if brain alliterates with beauty.

By that standard, no woman in the world stands taller in my eyes than Jhumpa Lahiri, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Interpreter of Maladies.

From India, which has also spawned such egghead goddesses as Lara Dutta and Aishwarya Rai, Lahiri has been my all-time crush since I got gob-smacked by the sultry poise of her prose, no less bewitching than her photo in the inside flap of Interpreter of Maladies.

Just look at her in this photo accompanying her profile for Men's Vogue magazine. See, she doesn't have to melt us with a come-hither gaze. All the Karolinas and the Angelinas of the world will kill for that Lahiri look so fiery with intelligence and mystery.

Too good to be true, Lahiri also glows with self-assured aura along with her down-to-earth humility so evident in this video of her being interviewed about her work. Beauty without vanity. Something only in the realms of the imaginary, you'd agree.


They're talking about my mother

If I had an epic imagination, an ode to motherhood would have been easier to render. The scope of nitty-gritty about what it takes to be tender. The utter sense of selflessness that love at its strongest is made of. Sweet, but hardly a piece of cake.

As my Mama Violeta turns 62 today, all I can do to honor her and everything that she has done for me is to become a worthy parent to her grandchildren. Apart from wishing her the best of health, safety, and peace of mind, let me echo the following words I hold true:

"Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that suppose to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing." (Toni Morrison, Beloved)

"Women's Liberation is just a lot of foolishness. It's the men who are discriminated against. They can't bear children. And no one's likely to do anything about that. " (Golda Meir)

"The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men-- from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms." (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

"God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers." (Jewish Proverb)

"My mother is a poem I'll never be able to write, though everything I write is a poem to my mother." (Sharon Doubiago)

"A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest."(Irish Proverb)

Happy Birthday, Ma. :) God bless my beer for you!

All things Bisaya and beautiful

What happens when Visayans, particulary those who call themselves Bisdak (Bisayang Dako, or big Visayan) come together? Count on the cup of merriment to brim over. We in the Visayas, after all, are no slouch when it comes to celebrating our culture. The most exuberant essence of a Filipino fiesta, without doubt, can be gleaned from the month-long buffets in Bohol, the mardi gras in Ilo-ilo's Atitihan and Cebu's Sinulog, among other festive romps in the nearby islands as well as in the Cebuano-speaking segment of Mindanao.

We are wow, or so Bisdak pride takes a hollering carousel ride. We hold no horses, after all, about our identity: descendants of the daredevil Lapu-Lapu, and caretakers of the oldest Christianity in Asia. Fierce and pious but fun-loving, that's the stew of the Bisdak spirit. Humility aside, there's more to mull over being Bisdak, as my regular column in the op-ed page of Sun.Star Cebu recently affirms.

Come the 22nd of November, the Kadugong Bisaya Foundation Inc., will prove how Filipino culture is enriched by the Visayan joie de vivre, our sense of kasadya. To believe is to see "Si Lapulapu, Si Rosas Pandan, a Bisaya Musical Extravaganza" at the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Visayan history, culture, music, dance, and theater will be the toast of a stellar array of Visayan singers, composers, actors and actresses, and choreographers along with world-class choirs, ballet groups, and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. Arang nindota ini. Lingaw gyod ni kaayo.

And for offshore Bisdaks like yours truly, ay pastilan, igo na lang taw'n maghandom.


Wishes for Aegan, my youngest son

Raphael Gandalf J. Obenieta turns three today.

Just in case he'll come across his father's blog someday, this post is a prayer just for him:

Anak, thank God for just being the way you are to me, your Wawa, your Kuya Golli, your grandparents, your uncles, your cousins, your ninongs and ninangs (ayaw mo'g kalimot, uy, mga kanahan!)

May your appetite abound with broccolis, carrots, spinach, utan-Bisaya, avocados and bananas. May your scars be skin-deep only. May you grow with the grace of a Gene Kelly and a Buster Keaton. May you sway your head along a Yoyoy Villame tune. May you memorize the 23rd psalm and some of Rumi's poetry.

May you, in the wrinkled face of cynicism, persevere with the child-like carelessness to slosh around the wellspring of imagination and wonder. May you hoard superhero comics and collections of quotations. May your invectives be as genuine as your gratitude.

May you be fierce and at ease with your individuality in the company of people who may hurt or take you for granted. May your happiness be shallow, and your laughter be deeper and fuller than the tide of your tears.

May you learn to stare failure in the eye, and succeed in winking at it. May you measure your worth in the wisdom of the Golden Rule. May your learn to do CPR and Heimlich maneuver. May you be a Red Cross donor and volunteer.

May your guardian angel be your only stalker. May there be sunscreen and condoms in your backpack even if you'll be going to Iceland or visiting a convent.
When the world continues to go mad, may you find a merry-go-round of reason and rhyme. May you have the folly to make an art, an adventure, an altar out of your lifetime.

May the future, even if your sight falters in the dark, also find you gathering your own grandchildren in the light of fairy tales.

Happy birthday, anak!
And thank you for giving me the chance to grow as a human being by simply striving to be father worthy of you and your brother.


His majesty, Miguel Syjuco

Makes my day, this latest news from Hong Kong where the winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize has just proven the world-class stature of Philippine literature.

For his debut novel Ilustrado, Miguel Syjuco rules in the second year of what might as well be the literary Olympics among Asians writing in English. Illustrious feat, indeed. Here's the rest of the report:

"A panel of three internationally acclaimed authors and experienced literary judges named Filipino author Miguel Syjuco winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Ilustrado, a fictional account of a young Filipino caught within a notorious scandal spanning over the Philippine history.

The panel of judges for the 2008 prize praised Ilustrado: "The shortlist for the Man Asian prize testifies to the great vitality of the novel in Asian societies undergoing hectic and unexpected transformations. In the end, we had to choose; and Ilustrado seems to us to possess formal ambition, linguistic inventiveness and sociopolitical insight in the most satisfying measure. Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humour."

The prize winner was announced at a celebratory dinner at The Peninsula Hong Kong. Miguel Syjuco was awarded USD 10,000. Ilustrado was selected from shortlist of five: Kavery Nambisan (The Story that Must Not be Told), Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (The Lost Flamingoes) of Bombay, Miguel Syjuco (Ilustrado), Yu Hua (Brothers), and Alfred A. Yuson (The Music Child)."

In an earlier interview with The Guardian after he found himself shortlisted for the prize, Syjuco explained it was "like someone coming into my dark room and throwing open the curtains."A vindication, indeed, that dispelled the doubts lurking inside and around him while he hunkered down along the process of seeing his first novel through the light of day. "This whole Man Asian Prize hullabaloo suggests maybe my literary experiments and ideas-- which many people have suggested I compromise but which I refused to-- are not misguided," he said. "Perhaps now I can share my work with the world. I also hope the Man Asian Prize will help spotlight the writing of my Filipino countrymen."

Take a peek at the plot of Syjuco's prize-winning novel: Miguel, the central character, is the acolyte of a prominent man of Philippine letters, Crispin Salvador. The author has been found dead in the Hudson River, and soon Miguel is investigating both his death and the disappearance of a manuscript about the corruption of rich Filipino families. He winds up tracking Salvador's life through his poetry, novels, memoirs, interviews and more, building a narrative that spans four generations of history.

Can't wait to read the entire novel, can you? In the meantime, here's a high five to the Filipino novel in English and skywritten congratulations to Miguel Syjuco. Bravo!


Hail, Himala!

And the winner is....

Hurray, Filipino film enthusiasts have a reason to rejoice with this breaking news from the Philippine Daily Inquirer-- CNN: ‘Himala’ best Asian film in history.

Here's the full report: "A spellbinding victory for Philippine cinema.

Visitors to the Cable News Network entertainment website voted Ishmael Bernal’s Himala, which starred Nora Aunor as a simple provincial girl turned faith healer, as the best movie of all time in the Asia-Pacific region, outclassing such greats as Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” and Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Others in the top 10 that vied for the honor, in which “Himala” was the only Filipino film, included Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs)” from Hong Kong, Chan-wook Park’s “Old Boy” from South Korea, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)” from Japan, Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” from India, Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” from Australia, Wong Kar Wai’s “Chung Hing Sam Lam (Chungking Express)” from China, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “Gabbeh” from Iran.

According to the CNN website, critics, industry insiders, Asian film stars, and CNN viewers chose the movies that landed in the shortlist of ten films. The online poll that ran in October determined the winner.

The Filipino classic, which was written by Ricky Lee and originally released in 1982 for the Metro Manila Film Festival, was announced the top vote-getter in the popular vote and named the winner of the CNN-APSA Viewers Choice Award for Best Asia-Pacific Film of All Time on Tuesday at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Hundreds of film industry luminaries from around the world attended the event."

Take another look at the trailer of one of Philippine cinema's pride:


Worthy of his words

W hat do prize-winning writers Toni Morrison, Michael Chabon, Jane Smiley, Rick Moody, etc. have in common? An ode to Obama, that’s what they might as well have written.

Writers welcome a literary U.S. president-elect, affirms an Associated Press article.
“A peer, a thinker, a man of words--his own words,” thus they agree about the author of two best-selling books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

About the forthcoming White House ruler, the AP story also reveals that Obama used to write poetry in his college days and even caught the attention of critic Harold Bloom who thought Obama had the spark of a Langston Hughes.

“I was astonished by his ability to write, to think, to reflect, to learn and turn a good phrase. I was very impressed,” lauds Morrison, Nobel laureate for literature and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, about Obama’s Dreams from My Father. “This was not a normal political biography.”

Chabon and Smiley, also Pulitzer awardees both, agree. Chabon confesses he admires Obama because of “his writing, the quality of his prose.” Such is the source of his charisma, attests Smiley who appraises an Obama speech as “more convincing in a politician than the usual thing of speaking the words of a raft of hack speechwriters.”

So much has been said about how the Obama candidacy took the upper hand by tapping the tools of modern communication for whiz-bang organization and cohesion of campaign strategy. But without the instinctive undercurrent of character, something that Obama oozes enough for such abstractions as hope and redemption to hold water, his message would have left his listeners high but dry. The sheer force of sincerity beyond the electric gift of gab. That’s what drive his messages home, finally. That’s what surges through his unprecedented and almost improbable rise to power.

Small wonder he looms over the podium with an aplomb above the usual political lip service, as when he dares to be self-deprecating during a dinner talk, tongue-in-cheek candor matched only with a burp-worthy wit: "I'm so overexposed, I'm making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."

At last here comes a talking head who can literally steer clear from the bumbling and rambling woes, the foot-in-the-mouth affliction, of a George Bush.

Regarding possibilities despite the daunting tasks ahead, it’s easy to see why an Obama speech is enough for writer Rick Moody to be teary-eyed.

“I think the larger issue is cultural,” he explains. “There's a trickle down from the top in the way art exists inside and outside of the culture as a whole. Here in the USA, you could feel in the Bush years how little regard there was for it. People who disliked art, literature, dance, fine arts, they had a lot of cover for this antipathy.”With a president who seem to carry the torch for writers, that rag-and-boneshop-of-the-heart tribe, Moody thinks, “There's reason to believe that we are in for a much better period.”
You bet, so far so good.

Attuned to the swathe of sweetness and light in the wake of Obama's election, here's a new stomp-the-feet-at-the-rooftop song and video just launched by Will.I.Am (the genius reponsible for the stirring "Yes, We Can" MTV, which proved popular among YouTube viewers, and cued in Oprah Winfrey to believe the rap song is partly responsible for this watershed moment in world history.) Sway, all together now, and sing: It's a new day!


When America rocks

Whoa! The rest is history, yes, as we witness this meteoric phenomenon: the presidency of Barack Obama.

Never mind that I'm merely a kibitzer with no partisan flag to wave over what might as well be a stardusted chapter of an American fairy tale.
Yes, I'm not a voter. That, however, did not stop me from getting myself stuck on the telecast since the start of the counting of the ballots up to Obama's rousing but sobering victory speech.

“Even as we celebrate tonight we know that the challenges tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime: two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century,” Obama told a sea of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park. "This victory alone is not the change we seek—it is only the chance to make that change."

Ah, to bank on the belief that the American electorate would rise to the occasion. Though I don't have their privilege of getting my voice heard and counted, let me seize this opportunity to give them their due of a standing ovation. Whoa, I say again. For proving true, at least, what an essay on transcendence by an Associated Press writer affirms.

En route to the inaugural, optimism does a moonwalk along with my mood to the tune of James Brown and the pop-eyed creature in this following video:

Today, while the world watches

It's heady to come from a country where elections are an exercise for voters to bend backwards through their threshold of tolerance. And so being in the midst of the 2008 US election has stirred in me a strange cocktail of outrage and fondness regarding the way we Filipinos make a circus and a chainsaw massacre out of our right of suffrage.

Indeed, as my latest column in the op-ed page of Sun.Star reveals, America's election season has primed me into missing the mess of the political festival-cum-pestilence back home.

Out here, it's good riddance for the mosaic of candidates' posters and streamers more than enough to convince you that blessed are the blind. None here, too, are TV ads jolly with campaign jingles to jazz up any clown's routine. A galaxy apart, indeed, from what I've been accustomed to see in Philippine elections: a litter of sample ballots swamping the streets and a crowd jostling, sweating, and squinting for their names at the voters' list tacked outside the classrooms.

Early today when I sent my son to school, it was sort of disorienting--pleasantly so--not to see a throng of voters to the polling precincts. In the main hall of the school where the voting booths were set up, I could have sneaked in for a catnap. Which nearly fooled me into thinking that Americans (at least the Kansans) were not hot about this election. Wrong, they and the rest of America did cast their votes in unprecedented numbers. The calm and the orderly manner rendered this election all the more affirmative for an airtight process of polling with technological leverage.

So much for the ease of voting and counting the ballots through computerization--a process that remains an alien concept for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) whose prehistoric conduct has spawned watchdogs as rabid as woebegone protesters.

Later tonight, the outcome of the Obama-McCain duel--widely seen as historic and seminal--will be known. The choice America takes will be crucial, no doubt, at a time when Washington's agenda on the economy, the environment, foreign policy, terrorism, etc. have flung shadows looming all over the planet.

For those watching America as a beacon of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among others, may the hope for a sea-change cast ripples elsewhere about the necessity for and the possibility of change for the better. Go hum, whistle: The best is yet to come.


Jazz and Pinoy pizzazz

Talk about breathtaking talent, and Mon David is an example for the immodest use of exclamation points when describing his performances.

Blown away. That's how I was the first time I witnessed him perform live with another Pinoy jazz royalty Richard Merck in Cebu several years ago. It was just a small bar, but that night paved my fandom for his fantastic vocal chops. When I went to pee at the bar's rest room, imagine his discomfort as I chanced upon him there and immediately grabbed for his handshake even if he had yet to wash his hand after he took a leak. :)

Man, I could have peed in my pants in euphoria over his feat in 2006 when he brought honor to the Philippines and made history--beating 106 vocalists from 27 countries to win the grand prize at the 1st London International Jazz Competition (LIJC).

Knowing how manic I am for his music, my wife made whoopee for me when she unwrapped his album, Life & Times for my birthday two years ago.

Amen, or so I echo Jim Paredes's hossanah for this album: "Life and Times is an album that says a lot about this man whose gift of music is wonderfully extravagant. If talent for music was like water that could be taken from a well, then it’s quite a deep and endless one that this album partakes of. The music is sweet, pure, refreshing, nourishing
, and more than satisfies many musical tastes and wants. Mon abundantly serves his listeners a cocktail of many musical genres—ballads, sambas, traditional folk songs with a playful modern twist, and inspirational ones. And he does all this as composer, singer and instrumentalist, producer/visionary.

While the album is a triumph, alas, it is also an endangered one. It is triumphant since in today’s landscape of musical blandness brought about by extreme commercialism, the integrity, freshness and vibrancy of Life and Times easily towers above the musical flatlands of this new millennium. Endangered because no such albums are created now—albums with heart, albums which refuse to be shackled by the tyrants which most music artists these days kneel and bow to, such as sales reports, radio trends, and other ‘business ‘ considerations. To put it as simply as I can, it’s an album made by one who breathes, lives and loves music in all aspects and wishes to express it in the way it moves him."

For someone like me who wears regional pride and Cebuano heritage on my sleeve, it's also inspiring to know that Mon David takes it as his crusade to champion and preserve his rich, albeit endangered Kapampangan language through his art.

That said, and since Christmas is near, here's another cue for my wife or whoever wants to play Santa for old fogey me. Mon's My One and Only Love album would be a blast of a gift, yes.

Here's a video of Mon David peforming at the 3rd Annual Fil-Am Jazz Festival to remind us that jazz runs in our blood:

A footnote to tap my toes along: Another musical conquest has just proven that the Pinoy flair for a class act in the world of jazz is no fluke. Raised in Chicago, Jon Irabagon recently became the first Filipino to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, dubbed as the most prestigious of its kind. Irabagon won a $20,000 scholarship and a record contract with Concord Music Group, one of the leading jazz labels in the US.

Bitaw, bay, di gyod paiwit ang Pinoy!