In an item yesterday about the distinguished Filipino novelist F. Sionil "Frankie" Jose, I mentioned that I'd taken a road trip with him to the northern reaches of Luzon and written about it in the Atlantic in 1991. Thanks to our web team, especially Cotton Codinha, that article is now online, here.
I hadn't looked at the article in a very long time and was disconcerted to find that the comparison I used yesterday to describe Jose's gusto was the very same one that came to mind 18 years ago. I hope that this unintended self-plagiarism says as much about the rightness of the comparison as it does about the limits of my imagination. It comes at the end of this part of the original article:
José is a short, plump, nearly bald man of sixty-six, who would not look out of place wearing the baggy shorts and basketball-style undershirt of the typical Chinese shopkeeper in Southeast Asia. When I see him, I am reminded of a little boy--in the way he carries his body, in his quick and unconcealed switches from desolation to glee. On our five-day trip last summer, when he was driving me and a young Soviet academic to see the sights of his youth, we passed a railroad siding where the teenage José had been held by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. "I was so scared," he said, his face clouding like a ten-year-old's. "I was so little and skinny then--ho ho ho!" he roared, slapping his round belly. We stopped every few miles so that José could see whether the cane-sugar sweets, or the little roasted birds, or the other regional delicacies were as tasty as he recalled. When he was not planning the next meal, he sat watching women with a blissful look. "Ah, I tell you, Jim, the eye never dulls!" he said in a restaurant after four stunning young women walked by our table "Only the flesh becomes weak--ho ho ho!"
Eventually I asked him how his wife, Tessie, whom he married forty-two years ago, after both had been students at the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila, feels about the adoring descriptions of young women that fill his work. "She knows I am devoted to her," he said, serious for a moment. "And she forgives me my pecadeeeeyos!" A rich roar of laughter. This, I thought, is what it must have been like to be on the road with Rabelais.
Because Frankie Jose has been so centrally involved in debates about the effects of Philippine culture on the country's political and economic destiny, for the record I include a link to my 1987 article "A Damaged Culture," which also cites Jose's works. This article generated a lot of heat, and some support, in the Philippines. From what I can tell similar debates still rage.
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