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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Tell us why you want to visit Prague and we’ll give you a copy of this book.

May 29, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places


Layag is available at National Bookstores, Php250.

Layag: European Classics in Filipino contains fourteen short stories by writers from eleven European countries. Included are works by the Italian Luigi Pirandello, Polish Henryk Sienkiewicz, Austrian Stefan Zweig, French Guy de Maupassant, Czech Karel Capek, and German Erich Kästner. This anthology is published by Anvil in cooperation with EUNIC, a European network comprised of cultural institutes and embassies.

The project is the brainchild of Jaroslav Olša, Jr., the Czech Ambassador to the Philippines. A former translator, editor and publisher himself, Olša sees literature as a very effective tool of cultural promotion. “There are many tools for public diplomacy, such as films, music and the arts. But I believe literature is something that has a really long-lasting impact,” he said. His plan is to establish and maintain two-way literary traffic between the Czech Republic/Europe and the Philippines. Recently Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was published in Filipino and Bikolano, and Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. was staged by Tanghalang Ateneo. Upcoming projects include an anthology of stories by contemporary Filipino writers, translated into Czech.

Would you like a copy of Layag? Tell us why you want to go to Prague. Post your answer in Comments by Friday, 2 June 2017. Five winners will each receive a copy of Layag in the mail.

How the Manila galleon trade gave rise to both the Chinese yuan and the US dollar

May 26, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Money


The Silver Way is available at National Bookstores (check the Glorietta branch), Php335.

“The Silver Way” refers to the Manila galleon trade, in which spices, silk and other goods were carried on ships from China to Mexico, via Manila. It was the first transoceanic shipping line, and it replaced the Silk Road in which goods were carried overland from China to Europe. This was possible because Andres de Urdaneta (as in Urdaneta Field, Urdaneta Village) figured out the return route from Asia to the Americas through the Pacific. (When Spain and Portugal divided the world between them, our islands were in the Portuguese half so a deal had to be struck.)

The Chinese didn’t really need anything from the Americas—then as now, they produced pretty much everything—so the galleons that went from Mexico to China would carry tons of silver in payment. The trade was so profitable that every year, only one galleon would leave from Mexico and one from China, and the investors would still become incredibly rich. It was the main reason the Spanish stuck around the Philippines so long, so I have wondered why we know so little about it. (Yes, there’s plenty of the information in Blair and Robertson, the 50+ volumes. My friend has read almost everything about the galleon trade, which makes him an expert, but if he does anything with the knowledge it would imperil his lead in the lifetime underachievement awards.)

This 100-page book from Penguin Specials is a crash course on those early days of globalization. It explains how the galleon trade led to the first global currency, and why the Chinese yuan and the US dollar are cousins if not siblings. If you want to understand the current world economy, you could start here.

Personal Alert Levels and the book and video therapies

May 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

My anxiety levels (5 being the highest) and the books, movies, and TV series I use to deal with the dread/prevent myself from going completely bonkers.

1: Tranquil

Detective novels
Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot

2: Ordinary, everyday tension

Seinfeld
Kate Atkinson novels
Early Cameron Crowe movies (Say Anything, Almost Famous)

3: Worrying over nothing in particular but unable to stop

The Avengers
Preston Sturges screwball comedies (The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels)
P.G. Wodehouse books

4: Screaming inside

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Once and Future King

5: Screaming outside

Wouldn’t be able to hear the movie or myself.

What are your anxiety alert levels?

Now watching: Buffy Season 1

Reading alone was regarded as a dangerous pastime

May 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books


Woman Reading by Felix Vallotton, from Biblioklept, which has many pictures of people reading.

Reading in bed was controversial partly because it was unprecedented: In the past, reading had been a communal and oral practice. Silent reading was so rare that in the Confessions, Augustine remarks with astonishment when he sees St. Ambrose glean meaning from a text simply by moving his eyes across the page, even while “his voice was silent and his tongue was still.”

Until the 17th and 18th centuries, bringing a book to bed was a rare privilege reserved for those who knew how to read, had access to books, and had the means to be alone. The invention of the printing press transformed silent reading into a common practice—and a practice bound up with emerging conceptions of privacy. Solitary reading was so common by the 17th century, books were often stored in the bedroom instead of the parlor or the study.

“People feared that solitary reading…fostered a private, fantasy life that would threaten the collective.”

Read The Dangers of Reading in Bed in The Atlantic.

The things I love about the myth of King Arthur are not in the movie

May 22, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

The best part of Medieval English Lit class, where one could become catatonic from reading Piers Plowman, was studying the many versions of the story of King Arthur. I have loved T.H. White’s The Once and Future King since I saw Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, and I enjoyed reading the sources of the tales, including Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, the Mabinogion, and later, Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

These source materials do not figure in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur, not that we expected them to. The movie is blithely unaware that it takes place in the Middle Ages. There is no point in reviewing this King Arthur, which is the laddie movie reunion of Charlie Hunnam and Aiden “Littlefinger” Gillen of Queer As Folk. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is more faithful to the sources (seriously). So is John Boorman’s Excalibur, though the acting makes it campy (Merlin, please). So are Robert Bresson’s meditative Lancelot du Lac and its very colorful tights, and in its way, Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. We will not mention any TV series.


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Tell us your own yaya stories.

May 19, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events

While commenters wage war in the social media over Alex Tizon’s last article—even in the antisocial media we can hear the gnashing of teeth—let’s talk about our own histories with domestic helpers, maids, yayas.

We had a succession of maids and yayas in our house when I was growing up, but none of them lasted very long. They usually up and left over non-payment of their salaries (an option Tizon’s “Lola” never had). My family had the middle class accoutrements without the middle class income (I was on scholarships, which is how I can use accoutrements in a sentence). Had we been in the same situation as Tizon’s family, the same thing might have happened to our maid. So I’m not in a position to pass judgement on his choices. I’m glad Alex Tizon was able to write this story and send it to his editor before his sudden death. Also I hope that the laws protecting kasambahay are enforced and that the feudal arrangements that continue to exist in our country are ending.

Read some of the responses to the piece here.
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