EST. 2009

October 27, 2015

That Plane of One's Own

CLARITY AND CONFUSION WERE TWO SENSATIONS I TEETERED BETWEEN while observing any one of Escher's works. And there are at least a hundred of them, currently on exhibit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Birds become fishes. Convex becomes concave. Lizards become honeycomb becoming bees, fishes, birds, blocks and chess pieces. Staircases loop back on themselves.

A graphic artist with a brief background in architecture and decorative arts, Maurits Cornelis, more commonly known as M. C. Escher, depicted infinity, impossibility and illusion on woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints. He did so with patterns, scenes and architectural constructions designed with both an incredible imagination and mathematical precision certain to challenge any observer. Is it a wall? Is it a floor? Where does the ribbon begin? Where do the stairs end?

Looking at an Escher is like looking at a puzzle that rewards you with satisfaction when you figure it out. I'm particularly fascinated by his work because I am fascinated by geometry, which is a prominent feature in Escher's oeuvre. The Alhambra in Granada was an influence to him, basing patterns and sketches on the geometric grids employed by Moorish ornamentation. His tesselations, which he coined "regular division of the plane" induce awe, not only for their visual ingenuity but also for their manual, mathematical perfection. Depictions of impossible architecture, such as in Relativity and Belvedere, inspire wonder, proving that there are no limits to imagination.

Well-liked by mathematicians, Escher's work also has its share of fans among pop-culture influencers. In film, Jim Henson's Labyrinth and Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring reference Escher's Relativity. In music, Incubus based the music video for "Drive" on Escher's Drawing Hands. It was also famously known that Escher turned down Mick Jagger's "plea" for him to design a Rolling Stones album cover. Evidently, Escher was an artist on a plane of his own.

Unaffiliated with any movement, Escher operated "quietly at the fringes of the art world" to carefully calculate and create the impossible. Art tends to be associated with passion, vision or conviction to be considered great. But the art of M. C. Escher shows that you can be studious, and still be very cool.

Belvedere, Bond of Union, Relativity and Reptiles by M. C. Escher. The Amazing World of M. C. Escher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, All M. C. Escher works © 2015 The M. C. Escher Company-The Netherlands. All rights reserved.

October 7, 2015

That Amazing Grace

WHEN THINKING OF STORAGE OR TRANSPORT CONTAINERS, few things come to mind as automatically as a box does. Typically rigid and rectangular, boxes serve to permanently store or temporarily transport items of endless sorts. Chocolates, cigarettes, jewelry, tools, gifts, lunch, ballots, pizza, cake and perfume, among a world of other items, all come in boxes, proving them to be extremely versatile and functional objects.

In the realm of leather goods, box-type bags lend a dignified air to their carriers, as in the case of briefcases and travel trunks, which traditionally contain legal briefs and personal belongings, respectively. The Grace Box Collection from Mark Cross was inspired by an overnight case: the one toted by Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's Rear Window. The overnight case was in fact an original Mark Cross too, updated into the current model in leather and Plexiglas versions.

Shown here in a muted "Mouse" Saffiano, the pocketbook-sized bag is smart, dainty and luxuriously subdued. It's perhaps the only box I wouldn't keep cookies in, and the only "Mouse" I hope to hold.

They say it's hip to be square. In this case, I say it's sumptuous!

Grace Small Box Saffiano Mouse by Mark Cross,

September 10, 2015

That Everyday Exotic

AT THE HEART OF BRIGHTON, amidst the quaint winding roads, charming cafes, seaside fairground and the unfortunately frequent bachelorette party, sprawls a garden bejeweled with flowers, and furnished with an exotic palace. The Royal Pavilion Garden is one of a few fully-restored Regency gardens in the United Kingdom, sharing an estate with King George IV's former palace, the Brighton Museum and the Dome Concert Hall. Reinstated in the 90s according to John Nash's 1820 plans, the garden features curving paths, picturesque views and a variety of plants conforming as closely as possible to the original list supplied to the king. Maintained under organic guidelines, the garden uses chemical-free planting techniques that encourage the return of wildlife to the city center.

But wildlife, it seems, is not the only thing the garden cultivates. Functioning more like a public park, the Royal Pavilion Garden sees itself providing a fairy tale setting to contemporary life. People hang out here, play music, stroll, sunbathe, read, take a nap, meet up or have a picnic. They walk through the garden before work, after work, and even come by on their lunch break. On both weekdays and weekends, people come to the garden with their families, colleagues, friends and lovers, with some romances blossoming while others coming to an end. "One couple were obviously trying desperately to sort out whatever problems they had, but in the end they walked off down different paths… it was like a short story." recounted head gardener Robert Hill-Snook to The Guardian. "I’ve been here since 1988 and I’m still fascinated."

I feel fortunate to share some of Mr. Hill-Snook's fascination. Having spent some time in Brighton in the spring, I had a handful of opportunities to visit this exotic world within a world. I would wander along its paths coming back from the shops, and walk through it on the way to dinner. My boyfriend and I also cut through here the night we celebrated his new directorial role. The palace is majestic in the evening.

To behold the garden in its full splendor however, I endorse a visit by day. See the squirrels scurry, the branches sway and the flower-dotted foliage part like curtains to reveal ornate domes, pinnacles and minarets. With gardens known to commonly offer cultivation, observation and relaxation, the Royal Pavilion Garden must also be recognized for offering inspiration. Anything that brings the exotic into the mundane, however momentarily, must have some magic in it.

Royal Pavilion Garden, Brighton. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

August 17, 2015

That World Apart

"THE ONLY THING THEY DEMANDED WAS TO HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE THEMSELVES, not to be forced to deny or repress their feelings, to have the right to live their own lives, to be responsible, to be at ease with themselves." wrote Christer Strömholm of his friends, "les amies" of Paris' Place Blanche. In a world of night and neon light, Strömholm photographed these friends, transvestite prostitutes, with an old Leica, a few films and whatever light was available. The pictures reveal that Strömholm photographed them with tenderness too. He cared for these "night-birds" and evidently had their trust.

The year was 1959, six years before the term "transgender" would be coined by Psychiatrist John F. Oliven. The scene was Place Blanche, where the Moulin Rouge stands. It was different back then; "the Paris of Montmarte that had not yet been painted with the gloss of Amelie." explained Christian Caujolle, who wrote the foreword for Strömholm's book on the subject. Place Blanche was where boys from Normandy, North Africa and the south of France fled to escape their often hostile homes, to live as women in the wee small hours when police control was less frequent. Earning 60 francs daily at cabarets, which covered no more than food and board, working as prostitutes allowed them to save the money they would need for their gender transformation. Unfortunately, few realized their aspiration.

Strömholm's subjects exhibit glamor and sometimes humor in the photographs, in spite of the alienated lives they led. "My friends and I lived together in a world apart. A world of shadows and loneliness, anxiety, hopelessness and alienation." In his book Les Amies de Place Blanche, Strömholm tells of adopting these women's routine, of early afternoon breakfasts and carrying out the days at night. He may not have shared their experience of mismatched gender identity, but his poignant chronicle of their time on Place Blanche presents something that the rest of us can emulate: non-discriminating friendship.

It's quite simple. Friendship overlooks gender, as it does age, social class, religion or ethnicity. When stripped of surface biases, what we are drawn to when we are drawn to befriend people normally have little to do with their gender, age or religion, and more to do with their humor, flair, kindness, intelligence or strength. If there are things we struggle to understand, it's worth acknowledging that we don't always fully understand our friends anyway. Why do they say what they say? Why do they do what they do?

Strömholm's photographs reveal the beauty of camaraderie. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from his example, to offer friendship in place of rejection, and in spite of things we have yet to understand. If we valued people's hearts and minds more than their material parts, less of us would need to live in a world apart.

Les Amies de Place Blanche by Christer Strömholm, images from

July 15, 2015

That Voyage Extraordinaire

"THE UNFORESEEN DOES NOT EXIST." said Phileas Fogg, the surprisingly gallant, albeit stolid and mathematical gentleman member of the Reform Club, whose round-the-world adventures and misadventures left him consistently unfazed. "Phlegmatic" was the adjective used many times to describe his character, offset only by his comical traveling companion Jean Passepartout.

Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days kept me company through the unpacking stage of our brand new British life. Begun in the summer of this year, it was coincidentally when the whole of England seemed to have been traveling on holidays. Eleventh in the series of Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires, the novel was inspired by transport innovations current at the time of its writing. The opening of the Suez Canal, the linking of the Indian railways and the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in America allowed a newly-possible, tourist-like circumnavigation of the world.

We take such things for granted today. Over a hundred years since the beginning of global tourism, travel appears to have lost the wonder carried over from the exploration age. Where in 1870, people marveled at the concept of traveling comfortably to where only pilgrims, adventurers or men of means had previously been, in 2015, tourism has become synonymous with selfie sticks, spawning selfie-related injuries and damages, as well as next-generation selfie technologies like the Lily and the Nixie: drone cameras that follow you around taking footage.

Skipping on the sand, sea, selfie-ing and sightseeing this summer, I found pleasure in Verne's rich, cinematic paragraphs, sweeping through "cotton, coffee, nutmeg, clove and pepper plantations," "picturesque bungalows, viharis (sort of abandoned monasteries)," "marvellous temples enshrined by the exhaustless ornamentation of Indian architecture," "jungles inhabited by snakes and tigers," "vast forests of palms, arecs, bamboo, teakwood," "fir and cedar groves, sacred gates of a singular architecture, bridges half hid in the midst of bamboos and reeds," and other postcard panoramas from the British Empire. And as Phileas Fogg did not yet have Instagram in those years, Verne commissioned Léon Benett to masterfully depict his adventures in illustrated scenes that put our travel albums to shame.

The sights and scenes were naturally spectacular but it was Phileas Fogg himself that made the biggest impression on me. I admired his composure in the face of threat or loss, his British "phlegm" and lack of drama in spite of his sensation-rousing, society-stirring actions. "The unforeseen does not exist." he asserted in response to skepticism over his plan. But skeptics are averse to adventure anyway so why bother with their remarks?
Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you some of Phileas Fogg's quiet confidence, to brave what critics say cannot be done, and welcome your own voyage extraordinaire. Unless your intention is to risk your life or violate some artworks in the process of taking a selfie, do mind the critics and avoid the extraordinary. Please let travel be enjoyable for us too.

Around the World in Eighty Days, illustrations by Léon Benett. Images from

June 29, 2015

That English Channel

THE ENGLISH CHANNEL IS THE BODY OF WATER that separates England from France, while also being the body of water under which the Eurostar connects the two countries. It is 350 miles long, 150 miles wide and 571 feet at its deepest, with a history of its early 19th-century seaside tourism being a significant influence to resorts worldwide.

The English Channel has also borne witness to our first few weeks in England, spent mainly in the town of Brighton. Although the stay is no holiday, there's no ignoring the breathtaking view of the seaside, unfolding behind endless grassy fields, or peeking in through lanes of Regency-style buildings. Down by the water is lovely too, where the four-mile seafront is interrupted only by some gulls, a ferry's wheel and fair ground lights. For reference, four miles is about the length of six hundred seventy-seven double-decker buses lined up.

Close to where we lodged was the Undercliff Walk, east of the Brighton Marina where magnificent chalk cliffs run all the way to Saltdean. In my experience at least, the wind is always wild. But on a sunny day, the violent hair-whipping and skirt-blowing is worth the vistas of raging turquoise and sea foam. Hectic days don't look at all that frantic against such a backdrop and walking the dog has never been so scenic.

Still, we couldn't have been readier to move into our new London home. This channel will now at last resume regular programming. Thank you for the spectacular views.

Undercliff Walk, Brighton. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

June 24, 2015

That Standstill

DERIVED FROM THE LATIN WORDS SOL FOR SUN AND SISTERE, TO STAND STILL, summer solstice took place recently in the northern hemisphere, and was celebrated so exuberantly on my social media feeds. Back in my previous home of Barcelona, folks observed the Verbenas de Sant Joan with a long night of city-wide firecrackers and fiestas, followed naturally by a non-working holiday. Further back in my hometown of Manila, summer solstice is not exactly a celebrated event, but Saint John's feast day is nonetheless met with a splash, literally, as the saint's namesake district baptizes itself in an annual water festival.

Meanwhile, no merriment met the longest day over where we are. A little over a week into moving to England, we are still on the hunt for a new home, encountering much difficulty due to restrictions on tenancy with pets. Nine days have never felt so long and unsettled, with life yet again in limbo and all things only temporary. Who knew London would be so un-pet-friendly?

These days surrounding the solstice though, however long and laborious, do have their charm. Jacqueline Osborn's Table in The Corner captures our nightly congregations as of late, against 10pm twilights that paint the evenings prettier than on any other time of year. Dinners have become the one pleasurable part of our temporary standstill, especially since there hasn't been any time for lunch at all. It appears we're not in Spain anymore.

Days gradually grow shorter after the summer solstice. Perhaps demandingly long days will now gradually grow shorter too.

Table in The Corner by Jacqueline Osborn,