Roald Dahl Rules!

Roald Rules! 
By Walter Ang
October 25, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Do you know what the movies "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "The Witches," "Matilda" and "James and the Giant Peach" have in common? They are all adaptations of books written by Roald Dahl (pronounced Roo-al). While these movies are fun to watch, I'm sure fellow Dahl fans will attest that his books are definitely better. If you enjoyed these movies but haven't read the books yet, boy, oh boy, you're missing two-thirds of your life!

The first time I encountered Dahl was in high school. One of my friends brought a copy of "Revolting Rhymes," a deliciously wicked collection of well-known fairy tales in poetry style, complete with inventive rhymes and extremely hilarious twists. With Cinderella's opening line: "You think you know this story/You don't. The real one's much more gory," my friends and I knew right away it was going to be a fun read.

We sat in a circle in the cafeteria and took turns reading the stories aloud. With a pistol-toting red Riding Hood and Snow White's seven dwarves gambling on horse races, we were laughing our heads off. At the end of it all, I took a look at the list of books the author had written, two titles caught my attention: "the Witches" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

I'd already seen both movies. (In the movies' title, Charlie was changed to Willy Wonka because "Charlie" was a racial slur during the early `70s when the movie was released.) And, I thought, if this were the same guy who wrote the books for these movies, then I've got to get the books myself!

Buy me this, buy me that!
The bookstores didn't carry Dahl books at that time when e-mail was not yet the in thing. I wrote a nice letter to my aunt in the United States, asking, "Buy me this! Buy me that!" After waiting for eons, I finally received several Dahl books (thanks Auntie Melissa!) which I have since read and reread with much amusement and enjoyment.

Dahl uses dark and cruel humor at times, but it's what makes him a winner with younger readers. If you think Harry Potter has it bad when he received a used clothes hanger for his birthday, you should see what happens to some of Dahl's protagonists. Readers usually cheer on for children who have to deal with some not-so-nice adults and whenever they do villainous acts to such adults.

Another part of Dahl's appeal is his playfulness in using words: he even creates new ones to suit his needs. Food isn't just delicious to him, it's scrumdiddlyumptious! The stories are even more fun to experience with Quentin Blakes' quirky illustrations. His style aptly captures the irreverent, inventive atmosphere of Dahl. If you plan to purchase the books, make sure to get the versions with Blake's illustrations.

Sem break is the perfect time to pore over a Dahl book or two. Forget t6he movie version; the books are more fun. Here are some of his books that you can try. If you're one of the unlucky ones who get a measly weekend that masquerades as a sem break, at least you'll have a few items to put in your Christmas wish list! he's written a veritable library but I'll allow you to discover his other works.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" 
Charlie goes to the world's greatest candy factory where Everlasting Gobstoppers are made) and meets the man who owns it. The movie gave the world the song "Pure Imagination" sung by Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka), "If you want to view paradise?"

"Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator" 
This is the sequel to "The Chocolate Factory," if you're interested.

One of my all-time favorites. About a girl who's already read Charles Dickens by the age of 4 and discovers her hidden powers to help her teacher, Miss Honey, challenge the school's vile headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.

"The Witches" 
Made into a movie in 1990 with Angelica Houston as the Grand High Witch who hates all little children and plots to turn them all into mice. Contains one of my favorite lines in literature: "It is dangerous of children to take baths."

"The BFG" 
Catch little orphan Sophie and her adventures with the Big Friendly Giant (who collects happy dreams and blow them into the ears of children as they sleep) as they stop some evil giants from flush-bunking off to England to swollomp little chiddlers.

"Dirty Beasts" and "Revolting Rhymes"
Abso-bloody-lutley, fantabulously hilarious! With these two books, poetry, rhymes and fairy tales have never been this much fun.

Happy reading!

The Booksale Curse

The Booksale Curse 
By Walter Ang
October 12, 2000
Confuse Shoes column,

I've been extremely caught up in work the past few weeks. September just started yesterday and ? okay, I've just been told it's already October. The second week already, no less! Oy.

In any case, even if it is already over, September is an exciting month for bibliophiles in Manila because that's when the yearly bookfair is held. Piles and piles of books with crowds and crowds of book lovers congregating in one place. The smell of fresh books (and a couple of used books) and the palpable excitement of finding the good buy is enough to intoxicate a cow. Not that I've ever actually seen an intoxicated cow at one of the bookfairs, but I digress.

Don't you just love digging though mounds of books, be they new or used, and finding one that you fall in love with? Especially if it they're on discount! I'm not usually an expressive person, but if the right book came along at the right time, I wouldn't be opposed to shrieking like girl to celebrate a good find.

I used to go to the bookfairs with my family all the time. The past few years however, I've always been extremely busy during the month of September. There would always be some sort of exam to cram for, a production I'd have to rehearse for, a project I'd have o work on. I'd sometimes have the weekends free, but I'd be too tired to even get out of bed. Thus denying me the chance to go to that year's bookfair.

Missing out on bookfairs, however, are the least of my problems. The thing I have to deal with is the booksale curse. What in the world is the booksale curse? Whenever I go to a booksale, I can never find a book I like. I scour and browse and pace and look all over the shelves and bins and stacks to no avail.

That's just part one of the curse. There's a part two. Part two is that almost all the books I do get to find the rest of the year and purchase at the regular price seem to mysteriously end up on sale later on. You have no idea how incredibly frustrating that is!

Remember that scene in the movie "You've Got Mail"? Tom Hanks was complaining how a book could cost so much. The bookseller explains the care that went into making the book makes it "worth" so much, not "cost." Books are worth what you pay for them, certainly. But a bargain is never a bad thing to have!

So you can imagine the look on my face when I dig through the discount bins during sales and come face to face with books that I've already bought. Then only to discover them with prices that are a fraction of what I originally paid for. This happens to me all the time.

For example, I once bought Douglas Coupland's "Mircroserfs" at around 300 bucks and found it in the discount bin later in the year for only 80 bucks! Poor me. Apart from doing my Fran Drescher impersonation, "Why me?" I can only muster up a pathetic sigh. Maybe in the next time I visit a booksale, I should try to look for a book on how to break curses.

REVIEW: Tanghalang Pilipino's "Macbeth" in multimedia

Macbeth in multimedia 
By Walter Ang
October 11, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Macbeth does not wear a kilt in this version by Tanghalang Pilipino. Director Chris Millado and designer Salvador Bernal's concept and design is what's most fun about this production. The audience comes into the CCP's studio theater to see a backdrop of red cloth gently rippling like a waterfall of blood and an acting area filled with sand. Very stark, very Zen ? and that's only the beginning of this production's Asian themes.

Transplanted away from Scotland, it is an amalgamation of various Asian theater forms. There is Japanese, Chinese, and shades of Indian influence in the costumes, make-up, movement, and choreography. Actors wear costumes, headdresses, and make up inspired by Kabuki theater and Chinese opera. Instead of swords, warriors combat with fans.

Just as Chinese and Japanese drama puts emphasis on every step and every hand movement (for example, if an actor starts walking with literally the wrong foot, it can reveal flaws in his character) this version utilizes stylized movement and action. Words are spoken not just by the mouth, but also by the hands. As such, it is only fitting that Macbeth and Senyora Macbeth are portrayed by two of the country's well known ballet dancers, Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida, respectively.

While both performers certainly look their parts, their strength lies chiefly in their ability to move their bodies. They establish a strong presence the moment they appear onstage. One readily notes a difference in the way the two principals moved compared to the rest of the cast. Froilan and Vida do not just merely cross the stage, they glide. Their movements are graceful, deliberate, and powerful. It was inredible to watch them physicalize the inner workings of their characters.

This stylized approach is certainly an interesting take on this Shakespearean tale of prophecy, murder, and guilt. One feels, however, the grand action and some fight scenes might have been better suited for a bigger acting area rather than the small studio theater. The marching scenes when the army troops congregate are especially impressive and would have looked wonderful from afar.

If this play were performed in a bigger area, the only drawback would be the loss of immediacy the small venue provides. If there were a great distance between the actors and the audience, we would not have experienced hearing and feeling the sand move whenever the actors paraded onstage. More exciting were the battle scenes. It was a sight to behold, the actors in their flowing costumes and grand headdresses, fans flapping about and sand flying in all directions. An occasional shriek here and there from ladies in the audience would pepper some of the combat scenes as they shielded their faces from the flying sand.

Done in Tagalog translation by Rolando Tinio, another interesting aspect was the way the three witches were portrayed. I was half expecting to see mangkukulam type women with wild hair and noses with carbuncles, or perhaps Japanese fox spirits with jet black hair and pale white faces. Instead, director Millado presents them as "angels of History", not the Catholic kind, but with "winds of Paradise caught in their wings flying backwards into the future, surveying the debris of the Past."

It was fun to hear the witch's chants and curses done in Tagalog. Their role as surveyors of the past was reinforced with a video projection of humanity's past atrocities (images of Hitler, Stalin and world wars) as they prophesized Macbeth's death.

The youth of today who try to get a thrill out of multimedia computer games should get out of those chairs and experience what real "multimedia" feels like. No cartoon show or Playstation role playing game could possibly deliver the same level of excitement of a live performance. Nor the creepiness evoked by rows and rows of death idols flanking the sides of the stage, high above in raised towers, watching over the audience . Watch out also the coronation ceremony of Macbeth; a fantastically eerie ritual.

Fans of anime such as Samurai X will find this production appealing with its Japanese themes and warrior sensibility. After all, if some anime shows can deliver nuances such as honor and guilt so eloquently, it would be an interesting change to see it live. Lights, sounds, fight scenes, costumes, flying sand, emotions ? now is that multimedia or is that multimedia?

For schedule, call Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661 or 812-1125 loc.1620. 

Italian cuisine 'at the table'

Italian cuisine 'at the table' 
By: Walter Ang
October 4, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

A Tavola is an Italian restaurant that sits at the corner of the Ortigas and Santolan intersection. Inside, a dining area of yellow walls, red bricks, and small, intimate tables greet the patron. Owner and chef Hazel Lu Galvez designed the interiors so because, "I wanted it to have a Tuscan feel, a bright and happy feel to it."

As I sit down to have a chat with her, she translates the name of her restaurant, "At the table." She confides however, that she will be changing the name of the restaurant soon. As it turns out, even though she was granted the name when she applied for it, there are around three other restaurants with the same name or variations thereof.

After graduating from the University of the Philippines, Hazel worked in investment banking for a while. She was bored with her job and finally decided to do what she really wanted: cook. Even when she was younger, she loved to cook and did experiments on weekends. "My younger sister would be my guinea pig for the concoctions," she recounts. Hazel left her job, surfed the internet for a suitable cooking school, found one, packed her bags and flew off to Italy.

For four months, she attended the Cotstigliole d' Asti. Three months of studying and a month of practical application working in a restaurant. "It's different from cooking schools in the States where students learn different kinds of cuisines over many months. In Italy, you learn only the local cuisine in a short period of time," explains this lady who originally hails from Cotabato.

After completing the course, she had wanted to stay in Italy longer. She'd been told that her visa would be extended there, but no dice, she had to come back home. "The bureaucratic red tape over there is, unfortunately, very similar to ours," she observes. Hazel was planning to return to Italy to study further, but her then boyfriend (now husband), convinced her to stay a while and give Manila a try.

Exploring new tastes
Hazel always knew she wanted to open a restaurant, so she immediately started scouting for possible venues. She tried the malls first, but eventually spotted an old rattan furniture shop that she transformed into what it is now. This chef points out that the area may not be ready for this kind of cuisine. She explains most Pinoys are used to the Spanish influence in our local cuisine and, to a certain extent, French influence, "But that's why I want people to try the food, to try Italian cuisine, so they can learn more about it."

Things seem to be working out pretty well. She's already had repeat customers since opening only in May this year, including families with young children. "It's great when families come in. Kids try the food and they like it. If you don't tell kids spaghetti sauce should be sweet, they're very willing to try new tastes."

Hazel wants to share what she's learned about the cuisine and dispels the myth popular among Pinoys that Italian cuisine should be sour, a misconception grounded on the tomato based dishes. "People think tomatoes should be sour, but in Italy, they use vine ripened tomatoes and those are sweet. They're not the least bit acidic."

To educate more palates and to keep them coming back, the menu is changed every six weeks. Of course, customer favorites end up staying on the menu. Seafood dishes are popular and so is the gelato, a frozen desert this chef makes from scratch. People seem as eager to learn about the cuisine, evidenced by jampacked evenings when Hazel has to sometimes seat diners at the bar and even turn away a few unlucky ones. She confesses, "When the restaurant is full, we're running around and it's hard work, but we don't get tired. It feels great."

A Tavola is at Unit 5 Madrigal Bldg. Santolan Road, corner Ortigas Avenue. It's open for lunch until 2PM and for dinner until 10PM. They're closed on Mondays.