RUNNING ON CHRISTMAS DAY

Most people, either because of the previous night’s revelry or sheer laziness, see the sunlight at 12noon on December 25. I decided that this year, I would greet it at 6am, with a Run.
I forced myself out of bed. I wondered whether it was because of my desire to prepare for an upcoming fun run, health consciousness or just madness. Anyhow, I reached Greenhills after around 10 minutes of running half-awake. The Greenhills Gladiators were cut down to half their number, probably rewarding themselves with more sleep for at least once this year.
Since I was carrying out the Christmas madness anyway, I also decided to make myself useful. I pondered in between huffs and puffs  if there was an intersection between running and Christmas. I’m glad that perhaps there is.
“Emmanuel” means “God is with us.” Christmas sermons have hinged their messages on this, and Christmas songs have also made a lot of money on it. This is because in a very real way, through the birth of Christ, God is WITH us. Totally, completely, to the point that he became one of us (cue that other famous song).
By doing this, he upgraded humanity. He showed how the factory model should perform. Throw the song “Sapagkat kami’y tao lamang” out of your playlist. “Tao” became dignified, because the Creator became himself became one. He showed us that “God” was not some abstract concept, but as tangible as the goosebumps on your skin, as the sweat dripping on your forehead, as the stink that comes from your body odors.
Jesus said that he came that we may “have life and have it more fully.” Many might argue that what Jesus meant was that he would give them spiritual life, and that would be the “fullness” he was talking about. Sure, but to say that Jesus came for the Spirit alone would be antithesis to the Jesus who definitely cared about the physical (he healed, even on the Sabbath, he fed thousands,) and the emotional(he wept with those who grieved). He cared about the human who was here, encased in flesh. Not some floating poltergeist. He wanted the Kingdom to happen “here on earth as in heaven.” That is why the Human body is special. God himself became human. He had a heart. He had lungs. He had eyelids. He had feet. He had scabs. He had dandruff. He had a penis. He was circumcised. The divine was housed in the daily-ness of the human body.
In some way, running (or any physical sport for that matter) reintroduces you to your humanity. What was that muscle that hurt? Was that part of me? I had a bone there? What do you mean the heart does that? Is that my blood on the pavement?
Running makes you meet your physicality. Running, is where desire and limits meet. This tension reminds us that we are divine beings physically encased. And that – is cosmically beautiful.
The King of Heaven came to earth to be US. To tell us that we are worth it. To tell us that our humanity is not an excuse. Rather, it is a way for the Divine to make itself more believable to those who have long thrown it into the rubbish. Like running, Christmas thus reminds us that there is more to the physical side of the human being. That we are better than our worse selves – yes, even the self that can’t get up at 6 in the morning on Christmas Day.
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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Ayala’s all glammed up. Its lampposts are entwined with Christmas lights (lights with lights. oh the irony.). The nights are longer, the days shorter. People coming out of buildings with boxes of appliances, fruit baskets and other Christmas party take-homes. Overhearing other office workers hear about their coming performances for each other (or laughing at each other when they’re done).
 
And the long, long, long, queue for taxis.
It has become some sort of a bizarre christmas tradition, or too much of a running gag for one not to take notice, or at least make one reflect. or maybe my anger (more precisely, my feet’s) toward it can have a more positive output.

Fact I’ve had to live my working life: I live in Qc. I work in Makati. For various reasons, I don’t see myself transferring to a Makati apartment or condo soon. Ergo, second fact: It’s tougher to get a taxi home because of the taxis refusing to take me, if ever I find the unoccupied rare one. Bigger Picture, Third fact: Everyone seems to want to get home by taxi this Christmas. Whether it’s because of all the Kyowa boxes, SM bags and Magic Sing boxes they’re carrying or that there are just too many people trying to get to places this holiday season, this city just ain’t big enough for all of us.

So as a taxi driver (one of those kind ones who ferried this poor soul across the Styx that is EDSA), explained to me, there is another fact of Metro Manila life: the taxi drivers just want to make some money, too. They want to make a living. They get tired. The traffic situation forces them to be out on the road with just one passenger (or one group, as the case may be), for an entire hour or two. All that time could have been another passenger, more clicks on the taxi’s meter, another cash-in. Instead, they’re all stuck in the overeating esophagus that is EDSA.

There’s the rub.

What’s the solution?

Some hardliners (you meet some of them in taxi queues feel that you should just get in the taxi and tell the driver where to go. No questions asked. Ideally, that’s how it should be done. But i’ve witnessed – and myself been on the wrong end of – taxis stopping only after a few meters because the supposed hardliner apparently wasn’t able to force the driver to follow her. More taxis? Yeah, if you want EDSA to choke some more. Less Christmas parties? Maybe.

That’s what got me thinking.

If all this merriment is because we want to make all our friends and family members feel special this season, then I’m all for it. If it takes a congested city spewing more smog, just for you to be able to express your love at least once a year, then by all means let’s do it. Other “Make everyday Christmas!” hardliners would tell us at this point, that we should express our love more often, so that we don’t even have to get into this December BumperFest. I would agree, but that’s ideal. I’ve come to understand that there are relationships that need certain “manufactured occassions” so that they have an excuse to at least say “hi,” to remember, to finally make amends, to say what they’ve long wanted to. For all those relationships, I would gladly understand and even brave the traffic onslaught.

IF

that is what this is really all about.

The flipside (there has to be, because we are “Flips” after all), is that this might all be reflex responses to seasonal ticks. Is it really about relationships? Or compulsion? Is it about merriment? Or a blind carrying out of tradition? Have we again, fallen into a cultural spiral? Like lemmings falling into cliffs, have we instead chosen to leap into a machine-run stampede? If that is the case, then let’s forget about all this.

Let’s forget about the taxis. Let’s forget about the puto bumbong and caroling and gifts and shopping and hot chocolate and lechon and reunions and kris kringle and all the other responses to this gigantic cultural tick. Because you know what? It ain’t worth it.

There are a lot more useful things we could do instead of waiting at the taxi queue.

 

 

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(all photos courtesy of Google searching… )

Morocco: Cooking Cultures

The author amidst the markets of Essaouira.

Morocco is a country perhaps too complex for some simple metaphors. When our company took all 90+ employees to Casablanca, Marrakesh and Essaouira, I was trying to look for a singular image or idea that encapsulates the big blessing of an experience. Going through the many images in my camera and my head, I have finally settled on what I feel might be what best describes Morocco best: one of its own icons: the Tagine.
Mostly seen on the ends of keychains and as mocked-up miniature versions in every corner of the Souk, the actual tagine is a serving clay pot that keeps the heat of the food inside through its cover with the unique top (maybe one of the reasons for it being iconic). If you didn’t know any better, you would have even thought it was some sort of a top with a sauce dish for a cap.
Once the lid is taken off (sometimes with a flourish, a few flips, shouts and gasps from the audience), steam and aroma emanate. Inside is what appears to be steamed chicken, vegetables, kouscous and more things of which I do not know the origin or pronunciation. Different foodstuff co-exist in one single steaming delicious serving. Morocco, similarly, is not just one dish. It’s a pot of different cultures heated through history.

a tagine from a google search

Geographically, Morocco is in Africa. However, most of its people is Arabic – so there is a lot of Middle Eastern tradition and influence. It is also French. Almost all of their street and store signs have a French “subtitle.” It’s their second language, their “English.” They’ve got one foot in Africa, another in the Middle East, one hand in France, and yet another hand in Spain. It’s a wild game of continental Twister.
When you haggle at the Souk (it has to be an Olympic event), the  sellers are often adept at almost three languages, at least. English (Excuse me, my friend! I give you good prices!), French (Pardon! when they bump you), and Arabic (Shukran!). Sometimes, they even throw in an occasional Spanish.
Cafes around the cities show you how they have adopted the French culture of drinking espresso while watching people, birds, the sun set, or the dust gather. For coffee lovers, consider moving here.

view from one of the cafes

Movies have often portrayed Morocco in this way, too – as somehow here but not quite. It’s exotic enough, but safe enough. Europe-West, yet African-Middle East. Casablanca, Sex in The City, the Man Who Knew Too Much, the Bourne Identity. When you need a chase scene, a getaway, a hideaway, or a faraway place where you unexpectedly see the love of your life again (You must remember this/ A kiss is still a kiss…), you know where to go.
Food and drink are also manifestations of the coming together of the cultures. European-Middle Eastern traditions fuse in restaurants and cafes. The Moroccan Mint tea, another national trademark, is also a testament to the tea-sipping cultures that Morocco had been exposed to: China and Europe . Yet, its own twist is that it is made from a naturally-grown ingredient: the mint. To a first-timer, it tastes like heated mouthwash.

moroccan mint tea from a google search

one of my first moroccan meals. it wasn't served in a tagine. but a later lunch would have a tagine that had almost the same stuff inside.

we had our first meal here.

Even its own cities are not only far away from each other geographically, but even in their color palettes. Essaouira has a blue sky with no cloud whatsoever. Facing the sea, it’s almost decidedly cerulean. Marrakesh is the red city, with the ochre color of the buildings (even though they weren’t clay anymore, they still had to have that color) in that shade. Casablanca has the clouds reappearing in the sky (more whites for the white house-named city!).
“Melting pot” is the usual term for these “port countries” but to say that the cultures simply melted in this country throughout the years diminishes the vibrancy and life these cultures have become. Morocco is its own tagine – a steaming pot of mixed cultures – exotic, delicious, and goes well with a bottle of wine.

lunch in Essaouira