Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Noises Off

Noises Off, as staged by Repertory Philippines under the direction of Miguel Faustmann, did a wonderful job entertaining me two Fridays ago when, as most of my Fridays go these days, I felt like taking refuge in the shadows of an auditorium. There's just something about the theater that draws me to it, and I could say without a doubt that I do love it because I can brave the evening rush, alone and commuting while the rain pours, just to see a good play.

Written in 1982 by English playwright Michael Frayn, Noises Off is a play within a play, a farce, a two-hour long blooper reel, shall we say, for what happens backstage during the fictional theatrical production of Nothing On. One might say it's more a documentary-style reality TV show than a blooper reel, though, because you not only get to see the actors out of character, pulling pranks on each other, forgetting their places or their lines, and laughing at themselves. There's drama involved, but drama that still manages to be hilarious fun.

The characters are all so dynamic. My favorites were Dotty Otley who plays Mrs. Clackett, portrayed by Frances Makil Ignacio (probably because she has the first line and she impressed me with the way she delivered her lines from start to finish) and Brooke Ashton who plays Vicki, portrayed by Carla Guevara-Laforteza (because her character was just funny all throughout, and I cannot forget her playing the part of Alice Beineke in Atlantis' production of The Addams Family last year).

Theater tickets aren't always as expensive as most people think, and to be honest, even if they were, they're usually worth their price, especially for productions as fantastic as Noises Off. The play only has four remaining shows, from April 25 to 27, at the OnStage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati. You may buy tickets via TicketWorld Manila. If you've never been to the theater before (outside of college, of course), Noises Off would be a good first play to watch.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Holy Week in Bacolod

If the number of places one has visited in his country were an indication of patriotism, I might be one of the most unpatriotic Filipino yuppies in this day and age. I have a credit card and local airlines frequently have seat sales that go as low as P1, so there's no reason for me not to be able to fly and explore our 7,107 islands. And even if I couldn't chance upon affordable airline seats, online or otherwise, there are always those places I could reach by land. As in many things, however, I'm a late bloomer. I've always dreamed of traveling the world, even moving to a temperate country, but the desire to get out there and actually explore, starting with the Philippines, never truly awakened in me until friends introduced me to mountaineering last year. My mountaineering gigs have been put on hold because of the Bontoc accident my closest mountaineer friend Cams got into in February, so while waiting for her broken bones to mend (they're healing well, I'm happy to report) or for the next hiking invite to come along, I'm filling my calendar with out-of-town trips, and Bacolod, impulsively (thanks to a friend), is what I started with.

My friend and I arrived at Bacolod-Silay International Airport at around 6:30 AM of Holy Thursday, took a shuttle to East View Hotel where we were staying, and managed to still fall into a comatose despite all intentions to explore the city early.

At lunchtime we went to sample real chicken inasal (literally "cooked over fire," in other words, barbequed) at Chicken Deli just along 8th Street. I ordered one pecho (thigh) and some spareribs. The latter was so-so; it should have actually been labeled on the menu as "liempo." The inasal was, of course, great, flavorful. We saw a couple of Mang Inasal joints later and noticed hardly anyone dining in them. Granted, it was a holiday, but I wondered who in Bacolod would eat inasal at a commercial inasal place when they could have the real deal at other places in town.

Chicken Deli's chicken inasal

Because we slept, we missed the only time The Ruins was open the morning of Holy Thursday. We consoled ourselves instead with coffee and cake at Miren Desserts Cafe along Lacson Street. Lots of cake, actually, delicious and reasonably priced at around P85. I especially loved their chocolate mud pie and red velvet cake.

Miren's cafe latte

Chocolate mud pie, opera cake (has liquor in it) and red velvet cheesecake

Praline cheesecake, blueberry cheesecake and chocolate chip cheesecake

There wasn't enough time to go hike at Mambukal Resort anymore so we just stayed in our hotel room, ate the leftover cake from Miren (of course we couldn't finish all six slices), and watched Zombieland on cable. This was when I was truly grateful for booking a fairly decent hotel, despite initially looking for a mere backpacker dorm room. Why pay a huge amount for accommodations when you'll be out and about exploring the city most of the time? Turns out you'll need to for a Holy Week vacation, because not all tourist places are open to the public.

An hour-long bus ride from the city, Mambukal Resort offers lots of activities such as butterfly watching, lagoon boating, swimming in their pools or getting a relaxing massage, but it was mainly a good venue that Good Friday for curing my itch to hike through their Seven Falls trail. It was the giddiest I had been in a while, even though I didn't like natural bodies of water in general. The young tour guide we hired told us the fifth and sixth falls were closed (he probably meant the trails leading to them) but that there was an eighth waterfall an hour's hike away from the seventh one (which technically renders the name of the place inappropriate). Good thing we opted not to go to the eighth one because we almost missed the last bus trip back to the city.

The first waterfall in Mambukal's Seven Falls trail

As it was the last bus trip from Mambukal to Bacolod, there were a lot of passengers onboard. Five minutes of being cramped inside and we told the conductor we'll just ride "top load" (on the roof rack), something I've long wanted to do. It was the best bus ride I've had in my life so far.

We had dinner at Italia Restaurant, which our cabbie didn't know about and kept referring to as "Italian Restaurant" when he radioed his cab company. It was my kind of dining establishment, quaint and cozy, filled with art in the form of paintings on walls and also sculptures in a small gallery they have called Charlie's Art Gallery. Their current exhibit is called Diskarte ni Nunelucio Alvarado, which runs until May 12, 2014.

Nunelucio Alvarado's works hung all over the place

All the pieces were beautiful, but my favorites were paintings of Hermes Alegre (beautiful portraits of women, perfectly capturing Filipina beauty from the skin tone to the contour of their faces) and welded brass sculptures of Michael Cacnio (still speechless about their beauty, especially the Balloons piece). Visit their website at, or better yet, drop by the art gallery at 1 Ranol Bldg., 23rd San Agustin Street, a street otherwise known as "Artekalye."

A painting by Hermes Alegre

Welded brass sculptures by Michael Cacnio, my favorite of which is the rightmost one

Italia's food is moderately priced and they don't skimp on serving size. I ordered saltimbocca alla romana, which is tenderloin beef roulade with ham and cheese served with rice pilaf. It was sinfully delicious, good for sharing, but as my friend was fasting from meat I had to finish it by myself.

Italia's saltimbocca alla romana

Italia's wine collection

After checking out of East View Hotel yesterday, we went out for lunch, but this supposedly amazing Latin American resto called Fogo was closed for Black Saturday, so we went to Bob's instead. I'm not ageist but their staff seemed as old as Bob's itself, which meant slow service. The food didn't compensate for this. I ordered fillet mignon, well done, but it just wasn't tender enough and it was just a tad better-tasting than any regular steak served on a sizzling plate and slathered on with gravy.

Bob's fillet mignon

We had desserts at Calea Pastries and Coffee in The District (a mall), Northpoint, which was finally open. As beautiful as the cake store's interiors were, the service was bad. We couldn't make any waitress pay attention to us the first ten minutes we were there, and the blank menu display and unlabeled cakes didn't serve their purpose of helping us decide on our orders while waiting.

Calea's detailed menu boards

Their cakes more than made up for all that though. We had their chocolate moist, blueberry cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake. All were to die for, but I especially loved the cheesecakes.

Calea's chocolate moist, chocolate cheesecake and blueberry cheesecake

Our last stop before returning to Manila on Black Saturday was The Ruins in Talisay, a breathtaking mansion built by sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson in the early 1900s on a large plot of land surrounded by a sugar plantation. Entering the area was like being transported back in time, with only the dozens of tourists with their cameras slung over their necks serving as a reminder of the present.

There was a tour led by a really loud tour guide. When we first heard him speaking in front of a crowd just at the entrance, we thought he was holding Black Saturday mass. We took the opportunity to roam about while he was drawing a lot of the crowd's attention.

The restaurant at The Ruins was closed that day so we didn't get a chance to try their food. We didn't buy souvenirs at their souvenir shop, but instead opted for Bongbong's piaya (flatbreads filled with muscovado caramel or yam) as pasalubong, which we bought at The District but are also sold elsewhere, including the airport.

The Ruins figurines

"Lugar lang!" is how you say "Para!" in Ilonggo. It means, "Sa tabi lang." Most Negrenses understand Tagalog, but more often than not they'll assume you speak their dialect and if you'll be taking a lot of cab or jeepney rides, best to be understood by your driver easily when you already want to alight. As in any other tourist destination, don't give in to cabbies and their non-metered trip deals. Know the lay of the land and take public transport. And maybe go to Bacolod when it's not Holy Week so more places will be open for visits.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book touching at Scholastic, again

It seems Scholastic has restocked. The books I previously mentioned I could not find at their warehouse sale, such as Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy and Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, are now available at 50% off their original prices. In complete box sets, even.

And apparently, there's a section of the warehouse I left unchecked the last time I went there, and it had R. L. Stine's Goosebumps, Pittacus Lore's Lorien Legacies series (I Am Number Four, etc.) and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series at half-price.

Since I believe I'm too old to be reading Goosebumps anymore and I already have all the Percy Jackson books, I got whatever remaining Harry Potter titles they had—The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows. School of Fear was just P49 and I had already read the first few pages of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time at a National Bookstore years before, so I got both of those too. I spent only P964 for all five books. Cheap, considering three of those are hardcovers.

The lady at the counter said they might restock before their sale ends, so I might return to see if they have the three Harry Potter hardcovers I lack. Check out the book fair, if you still haven't, at #70 C. Raymundo Ave., Brgy. Rosario, Pasig City, between 9 AM and 6 PM, Mondays through Saturdays until April 5 April 30.