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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Seis Películas Uruguayas

I have yet to come up with an impression on what's a typical Uruguayan film. Below is just a list of local films that I have seen so far through DVD rental. Sure, most are socio-economic commentaries, something that is very distinct in third world countries, but I still can't generalize. Maybe the absence of much cinematic identity is triggered by the fact that the country is sandwiched by two enormous nations, namely Argentina and Brazil, and perhaps it's a struggle to have its own voice. Anyway, the line-up is more of international film festival-decorated so I have to check next their more mainstream ones.

Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez’ El Baño del Papa (2007) – The film is a commentary on how religion affects the society. It’s about how fanaticism overlaps with faith and vice versa. In focus is a small and poor neighborhood in Melo, Uruguay, which is just near the Brazilian border. The poor townsfolk invest on an upcoming papal visit by selling their properties just to come up with business for the greeters and cheerers. Beto, the lead character, on the other hand, tries to earn a living by smuggling goods through border crossings using a bike. His business is going to be a toilet rental for the papal supporters (hence the title). Aside from that, he has family issues on his own to address. I can say that aside from the social commentary that overpowers the film, it is very visually affecting. The hue is maintained from Scene One up to the end and the editing makes it viewable even for the mainstream audience. I guess it has something to do with the theme that could be taken as depressing at some point. It is also a family drama where internal issues are more important than the morals or socio-economic condition. It’s a good introduction for me to Uruguayan cinema.

Mario Handler’s Aparte (2002) – It is categorically a documentary. Shot with no script whatsoever, catching a glimpse of interconnecting stories of the people from a poor neighborhood right outside the city center of Montevideo. Opposed to what is expected from a documentary, the film does not share any figures or statistics and even details like its geography and their economic state. It’s just the real-life stories but not to a point that you feel like watching clips from the Big Brother franchise. The end credits mention that Mario Handler captured the series of everyday lives for a certain period (if I’m not mistaken, it’s more than a year). At times, the actors involved are caught looking at the camera and at times, it’s the actors themselves who are helming the scene. The challenge that I see with this kind of approach is on the editing department. To be specific, the director opted to film real people’s stories but along with being real is the absence of storytelling arch. Let’s just say that it’s not every day that an interesting event comes along. Having said this obstacle, the final product still feels like wanting for more, like we don’t know what is in store for the videotaped characters, but it succeeds in letting its audience take a peek into a truth from a different angle. The film reminds me of John Torres’ works, sans the poetry.

Adrian Biniez’ Gigante (2009) – This Hubert Bals funded film (read: some of Raya Martin’s works) tells the story of stocky (hence the title) security guard named Jara who works in a supermarket during night shift. It looks like an uneventful life for him until he meets one of the female workers through a CCTV camera. Jara starts to check the girl’s whereabouts and establishes a connection from afar. Compared to the first two Uruguayan films that I have watched, this one is quiet and always finds time to exhale when needed. The topic on spotlight is also less complex but it provides input to macro economics, recession and oppression. Not to mention that out of its simplicity, it also contributes some outstanding scenes. One of it, my favorite, is a sequence where Jara follows the guy whom the girl just dated. It preempts a tension that Jara might hurt the guy but upon reaching the apartment, two street jerks appeared and do the mugging themselves. Jara and the guy ended up having coffee in a bar talking about the girl’s favorite rock band.

Federico Veiroj’s Acne (2008) – This coming of age is similar to the storytelling approach of “Gigante”: quiet and mature. It’s about a pimply teenager named Rafa who is having a race with his hormones. At 13, he affords to render money just for sex with their house help, prostitutes, etc. He came from a rich dysfunctional family, by the way. His parents are on the verge of a divorce and it is actually his brother who arranges the sex with the house help. Aside from his pimples, where he always makes it a point to be attended by a dermatologist or by himself using some skin care products, the other thing that he worries about is having his first kiss. Unfortunately, the girls he fucked avoid that part on their make-outs. The storyline could very well pass for a Hollywood teen flick (Rafa, for instance, is joined by his friends who are equally passing through their own manhood a la “American Pie” and the like) but the film opted to a take a less travelled route. Editing and music are not in a hurry and the sweet resolution in the end just landed on the right lap. Alejandro Tocar as the low self-esteemed Rafa holds the film as his own. He shines in all of his scenes and he’s probably an actor to watch out for.

Sebastian Bednarik’s La Matinee (2007) – The documentary chronicles the rise of a carnaval band composed of veterans who are trying to fit in a society that is prone to favor the younger generation. I am not sure how Fat Tuesday is celebrated specifically here in Uruguay, but it looks like a series of auditions are held first before a set of bands are chosen to perform on the pre-Holy Week merriment. The film starts with the introduction of the members and how its musical director, a young local who adores Murga (a traditional form of carnaval music), tries to gather the band. Next in line is the audition part where they made it as one of the runners-up. What follows is the group’s journey to performances here and there and having a fan base of their own little way. If there’s one thing that I like the most about the documentary is that it doesn’t opt to sentimentalize things. Yes, the band is composed mainly of men on their senior year but they seem to just go on and entertain people. Maybe it has something to do with the nature of the carnaval that even with saggy tired faces, everything can be covered by a make-up or a mask. It’s good to note, too, that just like in the Philippines, musicians here end up either poor or overlooked. One portion of the documentary details how the members cope in life with their menial jobs.

Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s Whisky (2004) – This FIPRESCI prize winner in the un certain regard category at the Cannes Film Fest is so far the most appealing to me among those that I have seen. The plot is very minimal. It’s about middle-aged Jacobo who tries to put up a facade to his long-lost brother Herman who comes over to Montevideo for a commemoration of their dead mother. One of the impressions that he has to build is that he’s a happily married man. To do this, he “hires” his clothing factory’s most trusted employee Marta. What transpires next is a vignette of events of pretension, patching up and moving on as if an ordinary day just passes by. Given the fact that the material only has three major characters, the script does not sway on being stagey or with too many conversations. To make a point, for instance, of how mechanical life Jacobo is having in running his clothing business, it shows some repetitive scenes like he goes for a coffee first, then drives to the warehouse and opens it, operates the machine, checks the air conditioner and asks Marta about the guy who will fix the blinds. The pattern makes a U-turn as Herman breaks in the scene. Jacobo, by the way, has an issue with his brother for choosing to be away and to have his own business and family in Brazil. There are a lot of quiet moments that are worth applauding including a killer last frame that made me clap on my lonesome watching the film. To emphasize further, whisky is the term they use to replace “cheese” in the phrase “Say “cheese!” when taking a picture. It is used in one sequence where Jacobo and Marta have to have their “wedding” photo taken as a proof. It somewhat encapsulates the covering up that is happening within.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cooking Log # 001: Chicken and Pork Adobo


1/2 kilo pork cut in cubes
1/2 kilo chicken
1 head garlic, minced
1/2 small ginger
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
5 laurel leaves (bay leaves)
5 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups of water

Cooking Instructions:

1. Marinate the meat with black pepper and some salt before chopping the garlic, onions and ginger;

2. Sauté the minced garlic, onions and ginger with 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a big wok;

3. Add the meat and stir for 1 to 2 minutes;

4. In a separate sauce pan, boil the meat with 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 1 cup of vinegar, paprika and the crushed laurel leaves. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or when meat is tender;

5. Remove the meat and put it back to the wok. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil and brown the meat for two minutes or less;

6. Mix the browned meat back to the sauce pan and add cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken;

7. Simmer for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Optionally, add two boiled eggs; and

8. Serve hot with rice.


I think it matters when it comes to soy sauce and vinegar choices. So if you don’t feel like experimenting, always stick to your brands. As for this particular attempt, I used Lee Kum Kee Soy Sauce and Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar.

For reference, I got the idea from Updates include ginger being required, not optional, plus a little adjustment with the amount of olive oil (I used extra virgin). It’s also good to note that while boiling, maintain the fire in low heat. My adobo ended up a bit dryer than expected.

When I first came upon the recipe (the website is easy to find, just Google "adobo recipe" and you'll get it) and started sharing to a select few about the ingredients and how it is going to be prepared, I received some scratches on the head kind of reaction. They asked "Why ginger?" or "Why does it have to be so rigorous?", questions that made me more determined to finish the thing. Biased but the final product is rewarding. Maybe that's the lesson behind the adobo experience. We usually put it in a box because it is too common and that it is easy to prepare. Possibilities just keep on showing up.

Fitness Log # 001

NOTE: This is my attempt to satirize Allan Vistan’s fitness journal, with the same format and all. He, by the way, did something similar to my Movie Digest series. So this is more of revenge than returning a favor.

October 20, 2010

Usual warm-up (10-sec each arm and leg stretching, etc.)

5x5 Squat (40 kgs)
5x5 Bench-Press (30 kgs)
5x5 Inverted Row (body weight)
5x5 Pull-ups (body weight supposedly but replaced with 40 - 50 kgs)
3x12 Reverse Crunch

What the hell is WOD?

Oh, well. We’re actually nearing our first month of visiting La Estacada Gimnasio (just a few meters away from the apartment and yes, that’s where the national rugby team of Uruguay sweats out). In fact, we’re renewing our monthly fee para socio tomorrow. I’ve wanted to blog something like this but to be realistic, I was either always sleepy or tired from the work-out.

The program we’re doing is called Strong Lifts 5x5 and it was recommended by officemate/friend Topeng (who’s very strict and who’s having his birthday today). I can say that after gathering all the excuses that I could think of just to skip that gym thing and having them in vain, I am starting to look forward to a leaner me. Thanks to this thing called peer pressure. But seriously, the motivational quote that struck me the most, from one of the links that Topeng has shared, is about having personal sacrifices just to achieve a certain goal. So I have to say goodbye to some of my movie nights. Besides, they don’t replenish movies here the way it’s done back home.

As for the progress, I’m doing well with the squats. Before, I can’t afford to do a full squat. I would feel out of balance even without weights. The program suggests an additional 2.5 kgs every week and it’s been a long way since I started with just the bar (20 kgs). That’s actually my favorite part of the routine. It’s just right and I start to sweat a lot on my third set. My Waterloo is more on the Bench-Press or OHP as I struggle with the increments. For instance, I’ve been doing 30 kgs for Bench-Press for two sets now and I hope to graduate from that real soon.

Aside from the usual food that I am avoiding, I don’t have a diet that I religiously follow. I’m on the roll with avoiding carbs and since fish is good on this side of the planet, I always order for pescado planchada whenever there’s a chance. Maybe I have to be vigilant, too, with my daily water intake. I notice that my weight is stuck in the same digits but Topeng said that it must be the muscle improvement that’s doing that.

So far, so good. I know the road to Mt. Olympus is a long way to go but I am moving. At least I am moving. There’s this priceless self esteem after walking out of the gym. I don’t know exactly what it is but it sure feels golden. Plus, the dinner after the work-out has never been so guilt-free and rewarding.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day Trip to Colonia del Sacramento

Last Saturday, I joined the rest of the Manila Mafia (and a Colombian queen) on the trip to Colonia del Sacramento. It’s Uruguay’s oldest city (just like our very own Cebu) and it’s around 160 kms away from the country’s capital (Montevideo).

We met at around 9:30am past at Tres Cruces shopping center. It’s a mall from ground floor up but down below is a gateway for the busses heading to different parts of the country (and, selectively, outside Uruguay). I am not sure if it has something to do with the long weekend but we missed to get a ticket for the 10am trip for seven people. No choice but to kill time for the 11:30am trip from COT Bus Company. Unfortunately, we were not aware that there are two types of a trip to Colonia. One is direct and the other, the one we got, has a lot of stops that looked endless. Ticket is priced at UYU 185 (or around PHP 390), one way.

Touchdown at close to 3pm and the minute we got out of the bus, we changed our return tickets to 'directo'. Then off we walked along Calle Manuel Lobo to reach Barrio Historico (which is very much like our Intramuros, only with a century old lighthouse and overlooking the Rio del Plata). The walk took us around 15 to 20 minutes.

We had lunch at Restaurant El Torreon (which has a giant ‘torre’ behind the dining tables) with seafood platter and two orders of steamed Corvina. Self-help walking tour started at close to 5pm, giving us ample time to visit the ‘faro’ (lighthouse where a glimpse of tall buildings in Buenos Aires can be seen on a clear day), Igleasia Matriz (the oldest church in Uruguay) and the sunset-drenched Puerto de Yates. At close to 8pm, we left Patrimonio Lounge Bar/Restaurant after having a cappuccino fix. Off to Montevideo at 8:30pm, on board via a bus with Wi-Fi.

The rest of the pictures here.

Plus among other photo albums that I haven't published here yet:

1. Peruvian and Italian nights at Da Pentella;
2. Our attempt to chase sunset in Montevideo;
3. Another nice dinner at La Perdiz; and
4. My kind of other half of Sunday.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dia del Patrimonio is Not Related to Alvin

From top to bottom row, left to right: Palacio Legislativo, Antel Telecommunications Tower, Estancia del Puerto, the Cabildo, the vintage bus (Erhitran), Museo del Carnaval, Teatro Solis, Palacio Taranco and Museo de Arte Precolombino y Indigena.

Last weekend was one of the best weekends for me here in Montevideo. I got to do the things I love to do on a clear day. To be precise, that’s walking along the streets, visiting some interesting places while cam-whoring on the side (with my little red backpack, of course). Uruguay just held its Dia del Patrimonio, or Heritage Day, and everything fell into the right place. Entrance fees are waived and most historical buildings that are accessible only on weekdays are open to the public. Lots of tourists, be it local or otherwise, were everywhere (making me, or Asians in general, slightly expected).

Held every last weekend of September, the two-day event is Uruguayans’ way of respecting the past and reminding people of what valuable their history is. All the museums and other old buildings are open to the public for free from 11am to 4pm-ish (others close an hour later), complete with flyers about the significance of the place and occasionally guided by some ushers. There are also street performances here and there, particularly in Ciudad Vieja (“old city”) area so the mood was festive enough for me to kill the weekend.

Anyway, below are the places I’ve visited courtesy of Dia del Patrimonio. I haven’t seen a lot of blog entries containing an itinerary about the event but hopefully the list would help.

1. Palacio Legislativo – As the name suggests, the historical edifice is their sort of parliament building where both the senate and congress are housed. It was probably built during the dawn of 20th century, and it’s a fine example of neoclassical architecture (just like our Manila Post Office Building in Lawton). We went there at around 11am by cab. It’s in the center of a roundabout and it’s roughly ten blocks away from Avenida 18 de Julio. A lot of visitors were already present when we went there but not too crowded;

More pictures of Palacio Legislative here.

2. Antel Complejo Torre de las Telecomunicaciones – Just two or three blocks away from Palacio Legislativo, this tower, privately owned by Antel (closest in the Philippines could be PLDT/Smart), is the tallest building in the whole Uruguay. Since most buildings in Montevideo are not that high, this one is easy to locate (in the same manner that you see Eiffel Tower in Paris). Designed by architect Carlos Ott, you won’t miss the similarity with Burj Al Arab. I am not sure if it has something to do with the time the architect did designs for some buildings in Dubai or it is just plain coincidence. The main attraction in the complex is the building’s panoramic area on the 26th floor. Staffs are very friendly and one of them even bothered to describe the city landmarks in English;

More pictures of the complex here.

3. Ciudad Vieja – From the bus stop beside Antel building, a lot of busses are heading to the old city. One of it is a special bus designated only for Dia del Patrimonio. It was already past 1pm when we reached the port area and nothing beats a hearty late lunch at Estancia del Puerto at Mercado del Puerto. After a plate of asado and morcilla, we headed to three more museums namely Museo del Carnaval (just beside the market), Museo de Arte Precolombino y Indigena and Palacio Taranco (both along Calle 25 de Mayo). We reached Teatro Solis at five minutes past 4pm and right in front of us were the ushers closing the entrance doors;

More pictures of Ciudad Vieja here.

4. Teatro Solis – The next day, right after mass at Catedral Anglicana dela Santisima Trinidad (which is also open for Dia del Patrimonio), I headed to Teatro Solis. It’s another neoclassical architecture and it’s a cultural center, much like of our CCP, with an astounding performance hall;

More of Teatro Solis here.

5. Plaza Matriz – From Teatro Solis, I just walked along Calle Sarandi to browse through the items in the stalls along the street. Before having a short rest in one of the benches at Plaza Matriz, I visited Cabildo de Montevideo which is a perfect heritage of the colonial times. There was also a makeshift performance stage nearby where I witnessed a chorale, a one-act play and some flamenco. Just a few meters walk, there’s the CUTCSA Office which was converted into a museum and Centro Experimental de Formaccion which houses some impressive sculptures (some of it were under construction); and

See more pictures around Plaza Matriz here.

6. Equipo Recopilador Historico del Transporte – To cap the day, I had a cozy trip on a vintage bus. Fare is UYU 17, one way, and it has stops at Puerto de Montevideo, the Antel Complejo Torre de las Telecomunicaciones, Estacion Central then back to Teatro Solis. It was a great experience and most tourists always find time to take a picture of the bus every time we pass by.

More pictures of my cozy vintage bus trip here.

Off-topic, below are the photo albums that I haven't posted here yet so:

1. My fifth week in Montevideo here;
2. An exciting futbol match here;
3. Our favorite after gym dinner spot here;
4. Mike's awesome birthday dinner at La Vaca here; and
5. Pictures of the best Japanese restaurant in Montevideo here;
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