May 17, 2004

Fire of the Kabalyero

Earlier, I rose from another night of dreams and sweat. I'm here in Makati, see? After I got up to my cellphone alarm, I read the glimpse my student gave me of the morning I didn't wake up to in Los Banos.

fire treE n ful bl00m,damp & cl0udy m0rnngs, sampal0c leavs scattrd thrght d pathwy kipng mang serye bc alday sweepng thm off...rainydays r hir agen

These are what I love most in Los Banos: early mornings, late nights, students, and friends. To have a full, happy day is easy; I fill the gap between the early morning and the late night with students and friends. Only when I don't have them near do I resort to books, sketchpads, and other weights - books when I'm well, sketchpads when I'm nursing a headache or an inexplicable lust for color, and any other weight when I see fit.

I have reasons to be there too, reasons being the first currency we negotiate in our spare inner lives. Amy just got home from her conference in Vermont and gallivanting in New York. U and I will meet her in LB this week for our share of the stories. Myke beat us to it because U still had classes and I still had tasks.

Wait. See, I have a poor seat here in front of the monitor where the only green to be seen emanates from the window of the Free Cell game I lost. I wonder why we had to call these 'windows'? Well, that's apt too, in a way. At least we mark the other views we've lost.

Excuse me then while I close the window of my loss. There. Now, in its place, there's a screensaver of the orange autumn of another somewhere else. I'll just maximize this notepad window then. There, good old black and white. Let me ruminate with the digital leaves of my letters.

I'm thinking now of a perfect place for stories with my best friends in LB. If we won't have the wheels for Jamboree, I guess a seat at Umali or Baker with the field, then the trees, then the mountains in front of us. I won't wish for a seat though. I'll prefer a long walk. The fallen petals there now are surely violet, white, pink, and red from the banaba, kalachuchi, Dona Aurora, and kabalyero. White too from the descent of cotton. Then the green of the grass and the fallen leaves. It is one thing to look at them, another to walk on them.

They'll want a seat though. That'll be well too since most of the petals will still be aloft anyway, and we could only view them walking or sitting down. My friends will be more prudent to consider the rains that could fall, any minute then, on our words. So we'll have our seats and our stories.

With Amy and U, it's hard to imagine a thoughtless silence. Especially after long, eventful weeks of not seeing each other. Still, if a silence will fall, I'll ask them a couple of questions. The thread of thought will begin this way. In Ben Singkol, F. Sionil Jose has a Japanese student writing to Singkol. She looks forward to the fire trees and, she notes that they are said to be superior to the cherry blossoms of Japan. Now, the fire tree is the most arresting of Philippine trees in my eyes, the red petals sometimes usurping the strong viridian hue of the leaves. With the proper sun, there would be no other way to describe the tree execpt in incendiary terms. The cherry blossom's beauty is in its delicate grace. It's petals fall as snow, the other as flame. In this comparison, superiority is a matter of a system of values. Both are strong, one in intense abundance, the other in pervasive subtlety. Would you prefer the blossom of pure serenity? Would you have a tree of sanguine passion?

I will ask then, which for you is perfection?

This must be answered first, for the second question will break the thought without leaving it. The second line will proceed? Very well. There is a certain Japanese saying from their antiquity.

Among flowers, the cherry blossom;
Among men, the samurai.

Here we see a clear parallel with an Achilleus or Launcelot figure dubbed as the flower of manhood. Note also that the local name of our fire tree is kabalyero, from the Spanish name for knight or chevalier. Why are the flowers, the most complex development of the plant kingdom and the most aesthetically pleasant markers of natural life associated, in their superlative form, with warriors?

I shall not ask for an anthropologically valid answer, even if such a thing as an 'anthropologically valid answer' exists. Colorful conjectures will do fine. Amy will trail into thought and may never answer. U will come up with something snide. One or the other will, at some point, get to change the topic, as one naturally does in conversations. Then afternoon, night, rain, or more silence will fall.

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