Saturday, May 14, 2011

Of cats and boors

COMING from such intelligence and elegance, the boorishness is all the more appalling.

I woke up before my usual hour to find the Dog’s muzzle snorting the hot fumes of his distress somewhere between my eye and a quickly dissipating dream.

I already knew what was coming. Before the dream vanished entirely, Udo let out a howl, or a series of pained affronted cries instantly taken up by the dog across the street.

That racket, though, failed to drown out the cause of so much canine unrest: the wee mewling outside our window.

According to cats, the world is divided into two camps: those who hate them and those who live under their dominion.

Our place is known up and down the street as a kitty halfway house. I can trace the genealogy of about four or five of the cats. The rest of the company must be their assorted lovers, who pad in and out for a quick meal or a quickie.

While it distresses the Dog to see his mistress sunk so low, he has, I believe, made up his mind to make it his life’s mission to ensure that the cats’ territory stops at the door.

So the night when one of the cats walked out after popping out three wet quivering pink bundles, the Dog and his friend, the Dog Across, as well as three blind but remorselessly mewling kittens, kept up from dawn till morning a running commentary on what-can-be-more-irresponsible-than-a-mother-without-reproductive-responsibility?

The sun broke even harsher news: one kitten disappeared, another was dead, and the other might be joining his poor siblings. Guess who got volunteered to rig up a kitty incubator?

It’s a myth that a cat is ideal as a low-maintenance pet. Sure, they hunt anything that moves if you forget to leave out anything for them or miss the reason why they’re blocking the kitchen door, hypnotically waving their tails in anticipation.

While a dog can’t wait for you to talk to them about your day, a cat might pay you some attention only after a million times of passing by, in between and around your legs. Unless it has mistaken you for a scratching post.

Let no human be mistaken, though. A failure of imagination and consideration is fine on the feline side; on the human, it is inexcusable.

Although long in thrall of cats, I know better the creatures of flesh and blood behind the sleek furred stereotypes fostered by myths.

For one, cats don’t have nine lives. They also don’t always land on their feet. One of the toms, who loves to sleep in the sun, once stretched after a runaway dream, lost balance, fell and impaled its leg on the arrowhead of our gate. In its fury and pain, it would have slashed me to ribbons had not my more rational husband prevailed and propped it up with a plank of wood so it could right itself and leap away.

Admittedly, cats lead sexual lives of great fecundity (and terrible acoustics). They can be nightmares as parents, too. Cats eat their young. Some abandon their newborn to rats, ants or other cats.

And while yodeling Lotharios of the night think they’re the top cats in the jungle, cats are vulnerable to a pitiless predator: humans. A Quezon City court convicted a student who blogged about torturing and killing a cat named “Tengteng” in a recent landmark case upholding Republic Act 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act of 1998.

The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) filed the case. The court ruling and the PAWS campaign are not just about animal cruelty. A profile of criminals reveals that those who torture cats and other small animals graduate to greater desensitization and violence.

At 45, I’m too old to be a mother again. Waking up to feed on demand, cleaning up, waking up to feed again. I can’t stand it that the other woman walks out at any hour to go off with Mr. Libido-and-Whiskers, whose scent upsets the Dog (and Dog Across), who send my biorhythm out of whack.

Sure, I’ve got 101 complaints. But these can wait while the Wee One gains weight.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 15, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Holy mysteries

GOOD Friday in Dumaguete is still slow enough to savor a procession.

Our family stood at a corner of Perdices St., waiting for the Santo Entiero procession to start.

The mass after 3 p.m.—the time Jesus expired on the cross—found the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral, also known as the Dumaguete Cathedral, full of people and, this being Dumaguete, mopeds and motorbikes.

The 17th-century landmark is reportedly the oldest stone church in Negros. Our group of four found a spot on the cathedral grounds, but the children and a far-from-penitent sightseeing mood made it difficult to concentrate on the service.

Filipino piety is a mix of contradictions. We bring our small ones to hear mass, and then bribe them away with candies or any sweet sop, bought outside the church, so they will not run up and down the aisles or cry the place down to kingdom come.

Perhaps to leave in peace mothers and the older siblings to pray and sweat inside the church, fathers are sent out to divert tots for the mass duration. It seems to be a welcome release, with the tiny tornados getting stickier and wound up by the minute and their relaxed paternal guards, indulging with a cigarette or the sight of other mothers and mothers-to-be.

What would other witnesses say?

Towering beside the cathedral is the 18th-century belfry, said to be the oldest bell tower in the Visayas.

Even the uninitiated can guess the purpose of this conical structure, lichened, solid and impregnable except for the “eyes” near the pinnacle, the lower ones for detecting the pirates that once launched their attacks from the sea and the upper ones, suspending the bells that sounded the alert.

The old belfry is now relegated to the duty of summoning the faithful to mass. I cannot recall hearing the bells toll. Many churches replay recorded chimes, the religious version of karaoke, a charming tinkle that utterly fails to reverberate in the internal chambers where faith, or doubt, resides.

Still, because it has sightseers like me, forever looking up in awe at its pinnacle, the old belfry is not so diminished from its early days, when it was the phallic symbol of vigilance and resistance, steady consort of Mother Church. Along the southern coast of Cebu, some watchtowers have fallen into forgetting or the worse ignominy of being sold and re-sold, along with beachside property and a priceless view of eternity.

This Good Friday procession, like others I’ve witnessed or participated in, took time to begin.

Circling the blocks along Perdices and Real Sts., this was also the quietest by far. The crowds spilling out of Rizal Park and munching a nearby fast food joint’s trademark crispy chicken skin was muted, guilt apparently being better than abstinence at dampening premature fervor.

Even the hawkers of bottled water and the cartoon-character balloons enticed without, well, hawking. Some of them were quite the sidewalk mime artists, having many speechless ways of waving a sweating bottle at a prospect.

When the procession finally snaked before us, we were unable to identify all the Marys, or the women figuring in the replaying of the Holy Burial. Since the life-sized images are owned and preserved by families, it is understandable that these depict not the actual bloody mess of the flagellation and crucifixion but a gilded version of Christianity Triumphant, post-oppression.

Lights, flowers and sumptuous gowns mark the Filipino’s celebration of Mary and the other women. Even in the midst of embracing a torn corpse or holding a cloth imprinted with the bloodied visage, these biblical females radiate star power. Perhaps it is easier to swallow the ashes of our mortality with a liberal sprinkling of drama and pageantry.

The figure I awaited, though, was Joseph. In this Marian-fixated country, Joseph has his following but not enough devotion or scholarship to peel away the mystique. Who was the man who crucially stepped into Jesus’ life? Who taught his craft to the child? But who is not seen at all when He was crucified?

Heading the Santo Entiero procession in Dumaguete was St. Joseph. Confronted with the timeless challenge to “dress up” a male in the company of female flamboyance, someone covered Joseph’s halo with chasing Christmas lights.

Looking more like a disco king, this Joseph trundled past, another enigma for deciphering.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 8, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column