EST. 2009

April 21, 2015

That Sabah Sensational

WITH JADE FORESTS, SPRAWLING SHORES AND A HEAVY TROPICAL HEAT that encourages summering of the most indolent sort, Sabah draws tourism as a resort and wildlife destination offering recreations of plenty. Home to Southeast Asia's second tallest mountain, as well as the world's largest flower, the state also shelters one of two species of orangutans, native to Borneo and currently found solely in its rainforests.

Two friends and I whiled away a weekend at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort in Tuaran, just 45 minutes north of Kota Kinabalu. The resort features an impressive stretch of beach and 400 acres of tropical forest, in which the hotel has established a nature reserve with Sabah's State Wildlife Department. We spent an afternoon there, viewing orphaned orangutans idle about like off-duty acrobats. Visitors didn't appear to bother them, though they shooed away approaching deers, eventually feeding them some fruit. "Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints." states reserve policy, though it didn't quite apply to the monkey crew that came after the orangutans had fed.

Once at an appropriate stage, the orangutans are rehabilitated into the wild, as they are otherwise unlikely to survive. Until then, the nature reserve provides sanctuary to the apes, sheltering them from the risk of human-induced injury and domestication. Other activities at the reserve include a walk through the 10-meter-high canopy bridge, breakfast at the summit, viewing of over 60 bird species and night visits for viewing nocturnal fauna.

Outside the resort, we made a trip to Kota Kinabalu's Masjid Bandaraya, or City Mosque, on Likas Bay. The building features four minarets and a dome, with an overall design inspired by the Nabawi Mosque in Medina. Bare feet and traditional hijab is required to enter the building, with robes and headscarves available for rent at the grounds. For those unaccustomed to the layers, ceiling fans fortunately abound inside the mosque, providing a semblance of ease from the tropical swelter.

Back at the beach, foliage keeps temperatures reasonable. Of course I speak for myself, a native of the tropics reared in humidity of up to 90 percent. But if sticky heat is something foreign to you, sunset cocktails should make you feel right at home.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque and Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort and Spa, Sabah. Photos by Lady San Pedro, Lara Santico and Jennifer from the car service.

April 15, 2015

That Mystic Smile

"OR JUST A COLD AND LONELY, LOVELY WORK OF ART" ends the song popularized by Nat Cole in 1950, singing poetically about Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Lisa del Giocondo. Lovely, she is. But lonely, Mona Lisa definitely isn't, with flocks of visitors coming to gaze upon her at the Louvre each year. Highly replicated even during da Vinci's lifetime, the Mona Lisa has, in the modern age, also been subject to numerous reinterpretations by artists and amateurs alike.

Among early derivative works are Eugène Bataille's pipe-smoking Le Rire in 1883, and Marcel Duchamp's readymade L.H.O.O.Q. in 1919. Salvador Dalí created the cheeky Self Portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954 and René Magritte painted the surreal La Joconde in 1962. Fernando Botero created two Mona Lisa paintings, in 1959 and 1963, although the second version better represents his full-figured style. Printing multiple versions of multiplied Mona Lisas, Andy Warhol created the screen-printed Mona Lisa (Two Times), Four Mona Lisas and Thirty are Better than One in the 60s. Jean-Michele Basquiat's Federal Reserve Note features the lady in the artist's signature scrawl, while Lennie Mace's Mona a'la Mace has her drawn with in ballpoint pen.

Reinterpretations that break the Mona Lisa's recognizable composition include Robert Rauschenberg's Currency (Mona Lisa), Keith Haring's Apocalypse Mona Lisa and Jasper Johns's Figure 7. Banksy's various versions of the Mona Lisa also stray from the original with the incorporation of a rocket launcher and an exposed bottom.

Beyond traditional mediums, the Mona Lisa has been depicted with Lego blocks, jelly beans, coffee, toast, Rubik's cubes and 100,000 carats of jewels, among other materials. The variety of style, scale, not to mention selling price of the works, while resulting in both the amazing and the atrocious, serve only to reinforce the iconic status of da Vinci's original.

Born today in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci has gifted us with one of the world's most beguiling manifestations of human artistry. It's unfortunate to hear disappointment expressed towards the Mona Lisa's modest size and presence at the Louvre, when her face amidst the crowd filled me with a tear-jerking, heart-swelling awe. I was genuinely moved.

"It's so small!" some say. Actually, it's anything but.

Le Rire by Sapeck (Eugène Bataille), Mona a'la Mace by Lennie Mace, La Joconde by René Magritte, Self Portrait as Mona Lisa by Salvador Dalí, Figure 7 by Jasper Johns and L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp

April 9, 2015

That Fight Style

THE HIGHER THE STRAPS, THE HIGHER THE RANK was how it used to be with Roman officers, who sported the sturdy leather sandals made for military activity. Similar pairs in deer or cattle hide are also said to have been worn by gladiators, although most mosaics depict these combatants barefoot.

Today's gladiator sandal is named as such nonetheless, inspired by ancient Rome's gruesome games. Its form, comprising a stiff sole fixed to the foot with cords or straps, is still generally preserved, although its context of use has been altered colossally. Made mainly for women's contemporary wear, the sandals were first reincarnated in the 60s, reported by The National Footwear Institute in 1968 as having had "laces to wrap around the leg to the knee. A gladiator influence was apparent in sandals with chunky chains starting at toes and ending at knees -- held there by a leather strap dyed gold or silver." 1971 also witnessed the trend, with Times Daily reporting on "super gladiator sandals that wrap up a suntanned leg half way to your hot pants."

Hot pants or not, the gladiator stayed hot through the decades, re-emerging in the 90s on supermodel superlegs for Gianni Versace, and numerous times since the 2000s for as many labels and in as many versions as its strappy, rising rungs. Spring/Summer 2015 sees wedge-heeled suede neutrals from Chloe, paper-flat summer sandals from Valentino, choppy ankle fringes at Alberta Ferretti, a shin-guarding cutout boot from Stuart Weitzman, and lower-cost lace-ups at Zara and Massimo Dutti.

Tending to favor longer, leaner legs, the gladiator sandal has proven tricky to wear, and even trickier to pair with hemlines. Too long can look stubby. Too short can look tawdry. And let's be honest. It's not like we can in fact walk around in nothing but a white men's shirt à la Gisele for Stuart Weitzman.

Done right, I find them divine. Pollice verso. Do you give gladiators a thumbs up or down?

Paco Rabanne 1967, Zara SS 2015, Carly Simon in 1971, Stuart Weitzman SS 2015, Vogue Italia 1966, Harper's Bazaar Brazil January 2014, Harper's Bazaar UK July 2012.

March 26, 2015

Those Femmes Forgotten

JUST TWO WEEKS AGO, WE CELEBRATED INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY mainly through the social posting and sharing of quotations, dedications and images of both women who have influenced history, as well as women who have become influential to our own personal lives. Today, those social posts and shares are deep into our feeds and far out of our minds until next year, when the celebration is fed to us once again via the social posting and sharing of quotations, dedications, images, etc.

International Women's Day may be momentarily forgotten for now, but Women's History Month is still in fact on course, running all through March in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. As a last hoorah for highlighting the contributions of women in history and contemporary society, allow me to spotlight a series by artist Annie Kevans, which brings to the foreground, some fine, yet forgotten women in the history of art.

Kevans found that as early as the 16th century, many women already managed to surpass obstacles and have successful careers as artists. Their work is however sidelined in major exhibitions and their personal lives tend to receive prominence over their artistic achievements. Victorine Meurent for example had her works frequently selected for the Salon, even on the year in which Manet's work failed to be accepted. Still, she is known to many as a favorite model for Manet's paintings, as opposed to being an artist in her own right. Suzanne Valadon was the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, yet her memory is never independent of her possible relationship with Edgar Degas, whose history on the other hand, makes no mention of her.

Marie Bracquemond was one of "les trois grand dames" of Impressionism, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was court painter to Marie Antoinette, Lavinia Fontana was a portraitist at the court of Pope Paul V in Rome, and Sonia Delaunay was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre. These women's accomplishments may sound modest against the more prominent men of their times, but one has to acknowledge their obstacles, and wonder how much greater their influence could have been, had their work been regarded with greater importance.

Kevans takes it somewhat personally. "Her project was partly inspired by the realisation that she, too, could be erased from our collective cultural archive." writes The Guardian. That her portraits are not all entirely based on real documentation says much too about the fading memory of these women artists, whose names fail to ring a bell today. What will be of their legacy tomorrow?

Women and the History of Art by Annie Kevans, From top: Dorothea Tanning, Marie Bracquemond, Gabrielle Capet, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Giulia Lama, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rosalyn Drexler, Edmonia Lewis, Angelica Kauffmann, Sonia Delaunay.

March 19, 2015

That Saturday Calm

ROWDY TOURISTS EXCHANGED HOOTS AND HOWLS as I turned into Calle Diputación. I saw Fidel shake his head in disapproval before returning to his reading, which I interrupted with my arrival. It was a Saturday morning and we had scheduled to meet at Fundación Francisco Godia. Established by Liliana Godia in memory of her father, the foundation occupies the magnificent Casa Garriga Nogués and houses up to 1,500 paintings, sculptures and ceramics from Francisco Godia's legacy. New pieces continue to be added to the collection each year, and yet it manages to still feel uncluttered in spite of its ever-growing size.

Welcoming us into the building was a white marble staircase, elegantly curving underneath a stained-glass ceiling. Upstairs can be found art and items from as early as the 12th century, in an eclectic mix including Romanesque statues, polychrome china, realist canvases and cubist compositions. Fidel de Tovar, the morning's photographer extraordinaire, shared his distaste for baroque. I secretly eyed an ornately-framed mural of a maiden on a swing. Fortunately, the collection covers a range of styles, balancing diversity and harmony while ultimately showcasing Francisco Godia's eclectic taste.

Francisco Godia Sales was an art enthusiast but he was more commonly known as Paco Godia, the gentleman racer who was the first Spanish to compete in Formula One. Driving for Maserati, he completed 14 races between 1951 and 1958, placing 6th in 1956. This was a success unmatched by any Spanish driver up until Alonso came along. Succeeding his retirement in 1969, Francisco Godia maintained ties with the world of motorsport, becoming influential in the development of Barcelona's Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya race track.

The foundation contains a few objects from Paco Godia's racing days but its atmosphere adopts none of that which you'd associate with speed racing. In here, it's calm and still, sacred almost, encouraging decorum and contemplation. Alain de Botton has in recent years suggested the idea of museums as the secular world's new churches; at least in their being "places of consolation, meaning, sanctuary, redemption." I found my sanctuary alright, at least from the occasional bad behavior outside. As for redemption, I may have found it in being clean and competent, after the occasional bad behavior the previous night.

Fundación Francisco Godia, Barcelona. Photos by Fidel de Tovar,