Dog-ears in the Wrong Notebook
AND of course, out of all the parts in Nick Joaquin’s play Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, it’s the beginning of the third and final act that I’m drawn to.
The part most pivotal to any play, really: near the end, but not quite, the high dramatics of the climax about to be reached, the steep stakes set, but then there is still space enough to wonder where the sword’s tip will hit, whose wound will be deepest, whose heart will be irrevocably splintered into shards — or miraculously redeemed.
It is as if one was in the eye of the storm, where was a stillness momentary enough to drag indoors a precious pot, or to hide the porcelain in a box, before the storm’s strongest winds came to shake the house.
In Joaqiun, we are brought by Chitoy, the play’s main narrator, to the feast of La Naval de Manila, the patron of Intramuros, where the procession is about to pass the house of our protagonists, and the previous evening’s radical turn of events are about to show us story’s eventual ruin. Like all beautiful tragedies, it is no longer a question of whether the windows will break, but of how bad, no longer whether things will remain the same, but of how radically transformed— and if for the better.
Is it wrong for me, then, to be so enamoured that Chitoy’s long soliloquy about the passing on of the aristocratic life of old Manila, it is really his description of weather that I find most fascinating?
October with its “dark skies” and “a typhoon wind that’s blowing”. October wind that blows “summer’s dust and doves from teh tile roofs, freshening the moss of old walls, as the city festoons itself with arches and paper lanterns for its great votive feast.” As if for anything else that was changing, at least October weather would remain the same.
What Chitoy, or Joaquin for that matter, say that December weather now seems more like typhoon October than years before?
Or perhaps these are frivolous questions to ask a play, frivolous details that only really come out once, for example, midway through reading a book, one decides to watch its movie adaptation, and now that you know how things will end, one is able to notice these minute moments, as in looking at portrait one has seen many times before, one can finally notice the shape of an ear, the color of a coat, instead of the smile of the face, or the eyes.
The same way that maybe the obvious heroes of the play — Candida and Paula are perhaps its villains, staunch defenders of an old aristocratic and problematic way of life? Or that Tony is perhaps the tragic hero— whose commission of the portrait, a mere portion of what the women would have gotten, would have actually saved him poverty and actually change his life?
Or is the weather really just the weather?
Perhaps only then does a portrait come alive. Or a story, or a play, or a movie, become a myth that one can read over and over again and begin to finally either believe in — or not.