Sunday, April 27, 2008

Colliding galaxies

On April 24, 2008, the Hubble Space Telescope marked the 18th anniversary of its launch. In celebration of this event, the HubbleSite released 59 fantastic images of galaxies colliding. These three are just samples of the awe-inspiring photographs on the site. And as you're looking at the images, remember that all these collisions happened hundreds of millions of years ago because that's how long it took the light from them to reach us. Hie yourself over to the article Cosmic Collisions Galore! and get your mind blown away.

This peculiar, butterfly- or lobster-shaped galaxy consisting of two smaller merging galaxies lies in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder, some 400 million light-years away. It has two giant black holes—about 3,000 light-years apart—which are drifting towards each another and will eventually merge into a larger black hole. The merging process, which began about 30 million years ago, will be complete in some tens to hundreds of millions of years.
galaxies colliding in the Ophiuchus constellation
This is the staggering aftermath of an encounter between two galaxies, resulting in a ring-shaped galaxy and a long-tailed companion. It is located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, approximately 500 million light-years away.
galaxies colliding in the Ursa Major constellation
A remarkable collision between two spiral galaxies located in the constellation of Hercules. The galaxy cluster is part of the Great Wall of clusters and superclusters, the largest known structure in the universe. The two spiral galaxies are linked by their swirling arms, and is located some 450 million light-years away from Earth.
galaxies colliding in the Hercules constellation

All text and images from the article Cosmic Collisions Galore!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pretty enough for company

Much as I love my airtight Lock & Lock storage containers (read about my love affair with Lock & Lock here), they're a little too utilitarian for the dining table.

Airtight is a must in our old house and in the Philippines' extremely humid climate. For the coffee, sugar and creamer which we always leave on the sideboard, I found these old-fashioned wire bail jars (also known as French Kilner jars). The rubber ring on the lid helps make the jar truly airtight and to make sure that it doesn't turn brittle, I rub a little olive oil on it after washing. I love the lids' colors—though I wish I found a third color for the sugar. Pink or purple would have been nice.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Old SF&F

It never fails. When my husband and I go out, we end up in a bookstore. Last Saturday was no exception. This time, we visited a different branch of our favorite used books store because we happened to be in the area. It had so much more science fiction and fantasy than our regular branch, so that's all I bought.

Three of these titles are more than fifteen years old, none of which I've read yet, but they're by authors that I know and love. Mark Budz is as yet unknown to me—his book is the newest, published in 2003. That's another reason why I like buying used books—I can try out new authors without burning a hole through my purse.

    Nemesis by Isaac Asimov
    science fiction

    Clade by Mark Budz
    science fiction

    Earth by David Brin
    science fiction

    Her Majesty's Wizard by Christopher Stasheff

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Portable black hole

When I wrote about my husband's new backpack in February, I wasn't kidding about wishing that the company made feminine versions. Not backpacks or laptop bags. Just regular leather bags I can use everyday.

Handbags (or purses, depending on where in the world you are) have been a frustration for me. My girlfriends all got themselves beautiful leather bags from Fino (a Filipino company) over Christmas, and much as I loved them, I couldn't. Their bags—and most other bags for women, no matter the brand or the material—are all just one single compartment with handles. Most have a pocket or two inside, sometimes one or two outside too, but the rest of it's just one huge black hole.

And I do mean black hole. To find anything in bags like that, you have to stick your hand inside and feel around for it—sometimes for several minutes. That is, if you're lucky your hand can fit inside. If it can't, you end up removing every item in the bag when what you're looking for is at the very bottom.

And don't tell me that all I have to do is get one of those bag organizers—you know, that removable vinyl or fabric thing full of pockets where you're supposed to put all your things then place inside your bag. (It supposedly makes changing bags easier too, because you just move the organizer instead of every little thing you've got.) I've tried it. It only works when the bag is relatively shallow—just two inches taller than the organizer. If the bag is deep, no way. I couldn't see anything in there and I ended up taking out the whole organizer!

I still have lots of those single-compartment bags, but they're not for everyday use. Evening bags; embroidered cloth bags from India, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia; abaca and jute bags perfect for summer; casual bags for jeans weekends. They're fine for limited use. But someone please start making elegant leather bags with a gazillion compartments and pockets please!

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's about me

Because today's my day, and because our wedding anniversary is only a month and a half away I'm sharing another essay written by my husband several years ago. He says that he wrote this as a commentary on elitism in literature. He also says that he's poking fun at himself. Except that, after it was first published, everybody who read it saw it as being about me.

I still can't figure out what this kind of writing's called. Fictional non-fiction is the best I can come up with. Whatever it's called, I hope you enjoy it.

    My wife, the book-eater

    She is in a ravenous mood again. She often is. The stack of books on the small table on her side of the bed has just become smaller. She is starting on a new one. Around her lie the remains of what used to be a book. Wisps of paper, shards of cover stock, bits of binding glue, all covered in a clear viscous fluid. Another hapless victim.

    Starting another book? I ask, my eyebrows furrowed as deeply as I can make them furrow. I wish I had thicker eyebrows. “Envious?” she asks, bright-eyed. “No,” I snap, turn off my nightlight, and will myself to sleep. A half-hour later, I succeed. In the morning I rise before she does, and as I walk to the door I need to tiptoe among the remains of Science Fiction Masterpieces on the floor. I heave a sigh.

    Friends ask me if my wife is a voracious reader. They don’t know the half of it. My wife treats books unconscionably. To her they are not to be savored but devoured, with large chomps, with gurgling and gasping, while making noises one does not make in polite company. She takes the whole mass in her mouth, and, unmindful of manners, picks the poor book clean with tongue and teeth, then spits out the gooey remains. One spots a fragment of a page, a scrap of the spine—of The Chronicles of Narnia or Starship Troopers or Ender’s Game—on the floor in the living room, in the kitchen, in the study, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, transforming any given room in the house into a crime scene.

    Vicious is the word.

    Early on a Saturday afternoon, as I descend the stairs to the living room, pondering the ambiguity of Macbeth’s ending (are peace and order restored to the kingdom after the regicide is himself overthrown, or does the cycle of assassination, usurpation, and internecine struggle for the throne continue well into the future?), I will spot her sprawled languidly on the living room sofa, masticating contentedly on Arthur C. Clarke or Ursula LeGuin or Anne McCaffrey or J. K. Rowling. With a heroic effort to hide my disapprobation, I move quietly to the stereo and put on Bach’s Mass in B Minor, hoping she will take the hint, see the light, pronounce her kyrie’s, and mend her ways. Long ago I made the discovery: hints are lost on her.

    We both carry books in our bags whenever we go out. I will have Henry James or T. S. Eliot or Heidegger with me. She will be packing Neil Gaiman or Madeleine L’Engle or Ray Bradbury. We will come home hours later, her bag invariably lighter than mine. Not that she is in any danger of depleting her stock. She has more books than I do and has gone through a larger proportion of hers than I have of mine. That is only to be expected. When you go through your books as intemperately as she does, and when I read as slowly and deliberately as I do, one expects her to be the faster one.

    Whatever did I see in this woman nearly a decade ago when I asked her to be my wife? Yes, I do realize that one does not look for a clone of oneself as a marriage partner, that one is inevitably drawn to one’s opposite, one’s complement. Mutt and Jeff, Laurel and Hardy, Beatrice and Benedick, Heloise and Abelard. But must my spouse be so far to the other end of the personality spectrum? Must she be so different from me that the gulf between us exists as a taunt? And why must I be the only one between the two of us to be bothered by it?

    The crux of the matter is this: she does not understand that books are founts of learning. They are temples, reliquaries, bearers of the wisdom of the ages. They are to be regarded reverently, treated with great care, read quietly but attentively. Your surroundings must be quiet, you should be sitting up in a good chair that supports your spine, and you must be alert. If any of these conditions are missing, then the whole enterprise is doomed to fail. You will invariably sleepwalk through the book and do it a great dishonor. Having graduated a literature major and being on my way to an advanced degree from a most reputable university, I should know.

    My wife, however, will not be ruled. She does not show books the proper respect. She chooses for her delectation, not the classics (no matter how often I tell her that she can dip into my library any time she wishes) but science fiction, fantasy, children’s stories. What’s worse, she opens the books with little regard for the spine, for the paper, for their longevity. And she takes them to bed, and so cannot possibly summon the requisite attention. And she refuses to listen to my pleas.

    I need not argue what happens to a person who prefers Asimov to Aristotle, Herbert to Homer, Tolkien to Tolstoy. The mind simply turns to mush, having very little nourishment to live on. The mind is filled with flights of fancy instead of thought. True, her selections are probably lighter, more entertaining. But then, one does not go to Tolstoy hoping for a good time. One goes for the beautiful misery, the exquisite suffering, the difficult wisdom gained from the slow slog through dense literature that is the highest reward of the learned mind. But being learned is not my wife’s ambition. She has no such lofty aspirations.

    And so it goes on. Once in while we will be at different sections of a bookstore, I in literature or classics or philosophy, she in science fiction, fantasy, bestsellers. I will browse discreetly, quietly, not wanting to call attention to myself. I will peruse a new translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, Harold Bloom’s commentary on Shakespeare’s plays, or the new paperback edition of Dostoyevsky’s Karamazov. But when I hear snorting, lipsmacking, and exclamations of “Ooooh!” or “Goody!” from the other side of the room I roll my eyes and hope that no one casts accusing glances at me. I look furtively to my left and right to see if there is a side exit. Moments later I duck out of the store, hie myself to a nearby coffee shop, and cool my heels (and my head). Not too long after, as the cup in front of me slowly empties and as I wonder whether I prefer the Fitzgerald translation of The Iliad to the Mandelbaum, which of the Four Quartets I like best, or whether Mozart’s Requiem is essentially classical or romantic, she approaches, a look of satiety on her face. She sits beside me. I sigh, then put a napkin to the corner of her mouth and wipe off the saliva and bits of pulp. She looks me in the eye. Then she gives me an impossibly soft, unbearably sweet look and plants a wet one on my cheek, as if to say—I don’t care if you’re a fuddy duddy, you big lunk.

    I suppose there are many reasons far less compelling to stay married.

Illustration by Alan M. Clark

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Perfect for traveling


toiletry products in sachetsI don't know how it is in other countries, but here in the Philippines, almost everything is available in single-serve packets.

These made up my toiletry kit for the weekend retreat. Shampoo, hair conditioner, feminine wash, facial wash, moisturizer, toothpaste and mosquito repellent, all in spill-proof foil or plastic sachets.

I love these things for traveling. They're not bulky, they don't spill (unless you're silly enough to keep them with something sharp and pointed), I can bring only what I will exactly need, and if I don't finish the pack, it's not painful to the pocket to leave them behind.

And I have a confession to make: you know those little bars of soap that hotels place in your bathroom? I always bring home the ones we don't use. (Just the soap, okay!) And it was one of those that I packed with these sachets. So even with my toothbrush, dental floss and hair serum, everything fit in a 2" x 6" x 2" case.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Flowers at Canossa

One of the biggest differences between Metro Manila, where I live, and Tagaytay City, where my retreat was over the weekend, is the temperature. Tagaytay is on a ridge and is always about five degrees cooler than Manila. That's according to the thermometer. But factor in Manila's sun-reflecting concrete and wind-blocking buildings, and Tagaytay's woods, hilltop location and low structures, and the temperature difference as you really feel it is very, very pronounced.

In Manila right now, I can't bear to leave my air-conditioned office at noon. As soon as I step out of the building, my skin feels like it's crinkling up and shrinking. In Tagaytay, I was walking around with my shawl on.

Because of this five degree difference in temperature and the fresher air, Tagaytay's flowers are so much more beautiful and colorful than any you'd see in Manila. (I guess it doesn't help that Manila's plants are always covered in soot too.) Half an hour after our arrival at the Canossa House of Spirituality, I was in the garden with my camera. I knew that it would be the only time I'd have to take pictures, because I wouldn't be able to once our sessions started. Here are photos of the three flowers which I liked best.

I'm not really crazy about roses, especially the perfect, unblemished hybrids sold in flower shops. But the color of this rose, located at the lowest level of the garden, caught my eye while I was standing at the top: a bright salmon pink fading to yellow at the center. Gorgeous.
salmon pink rose
Now this is the kind of rose that I don't mind, though I have no idea what it's called. The petals are actually messy and kind of fluffy. And I love its baby pink color! I had such a hard time taking this shot. The bloom was so light, the wind was whipping it constantly and the plant had so many thorns, I couldn't hold on to it. I think I spent about ten minutes sitting beside it trying to get a decent picture. And it's still fuzzy.
light pink rose
Not much to explain here. I love lilies. All kinds and all colors. What can I say? I love their wild extravagance.
white lily

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Blessed silence

And silence, like a poultice, comes
To heal the blows of sound.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894)

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.
~ Mother Teresa

And so I go this weekend to revel in silence, after the deafening noise of the world. To gather the little pieces of me that I have had to carve out and distribute to those who needed it. To refresh my spirit and renew my strength. To be with my Lord and Father who has patiently been waiting for me to again look deep into His eyes.

taal lake and volcanoThe view from the Canossa House of Spirituality in Tagaytay City,
where our retreat group will be staying.

Photo of Taal Lake and Volcano by Lorimer Black

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Better packaging?

During my monthly mall expedition over the weekend, I also bought my new batch of knee-high stockings (I buy them a dozen or more pairs at a time, and I explained why here). I just buy the store brand because they're less expensive and no one's going to see them under my slacks anyway, and the only reason I wear them is because I hate the feeling of bare feet in closed shoes (you get what I mean).

Anyway, I noticed that the store brand had changed its packaging. What used to be a pink half-box in a plastic wrap was now a tan and gray box, and the price had increased by five pesos (about 20 US cents). Since prices of all sorts of products have increased this past month, I didn't think much of it. But when I got home and opened the package, I got really irritated. I found out the reason for the price increase, and it wasn't because of any improvement of the product, but because of the packaging itself. And what a waste this new package is!

There are three pairs of stockings in one package. One stocking has a piece of cardboard inside and all the other pieces folder over it. This lot is inside a plastic bag. The plastic bag is inside a box. And the box is inside another plastic bag, this time with a self-adhesive flap.

I can use the cardboard inside the stocking as a bookmark—all it needs is a little creative scrapping. The box can go to the recyclers. But the plastic bags! They're not the recyclable or biodegradable kind so they'll just add to the tons of garbage we don't know what to do with. And why two pieces when one could have sufficed? I know that this piece of plastic is really a very small thing, but not when you put them all together. Every little thing we can do to help, will.

I'm going to email the url of this particular blog to the department store.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I'm shameless

It's exactly two weeks to my birthday and I'd like to ask you all to please leave me a present here. Don't forget to write your url/username so I know where to send my thank you card.

I love presents.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Just because

colored glass bottlesAren't they pretty?

I saw them in the warehouse of a gifts and novelties importer a couple of years ago and though I really had no use for them (at least not as liquid containers), I still bought a whole bunch just because I liked them.

I'd been wanting to buy some ever since I saw them in the home section of the department store I frequent, but I knew I wanted to buy a lot and the department store's price was a tad too high just for colored glass. At the warehouse, they cost only a fourth of what I would've paid in the department store.

Now they're all together on a tabletop in the living room. And when the sun shines through them in the late afternoon, they fill the spot with lovely colored rays.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

March 2008: Happy elsewhere

What with performance groups winding down their season for the summer (and preparing for their summer workshops), everything shutting down for Holy Week, hubby busily grading papers because it's the end of the semester, and so many things going on at the home front, we didn't get to go out much in March. But we still managed to visit an outdoor exhibit and watch two performances.

This is my third such entry for the year—an entire quarter has come and gone. Where did all that time go?

Impy Pilapil's Music Chamber
Interactive: 12 Human Senses
An interactive art installation by Impy Pilapil
At the Ateneo de Manila University
Photo of "Music Chamber" by Teya

Ballet Philippines' Latin Heat
Latin Heat
Ballet Philippines

Slipped Disc poster
Slipped Disc - A Study of the Upright Walk
Goethe-Institut in the Philippines
Written by Ingrid Lausund • Directed by Lito Casaje