Penman for Monday, Jan. 21, 2013
AS I’VE been reporting lately, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight since my doctor ordered me six months ago to take brisk walks and go on a sensible diet to fight the onset of Type-2 diabetes. I seem to have hit the wall at a weight loss of 45 pounds, but I guess I should be happy where I am, in the low 170s. With my blood sugar in the 100 range and my blood pressure steady at around 110/80, I’m a whole lot better off than where I was a year ago—and, I suspect, than many men my age.
But this isn’t about cholesterol, triglycerides, and all that; rather, it’s about another unexpected side benefit to all this huffing and puffing. Because I take 30-minute to one-hour walks around the UP Academic Oval several times a week, I’ve rediscovered all the music I’d stored away in my iTunes. I have about 2,000 songs all in all—apparently not much by the standards of today’s kids, some of whom I’ve seen to profess having 10,000 songs in their playlists (of which, I’m pretty sure, 9,900 will sound all the same to me).
As you can imagine, most of my music is made up of what seniors know as “standards”—vintage pieces from the likes of Doris Day and Bing Crosby that can put a 20-something to sleep in 30 seconds, the kind of music you’ll hear on FM radio at 2 pm. Of course I have the complete Beatles collection (and could probably sing 80 percent of it from memory), a boatload of Broadway, Sinatra from here to eternity, Michel Legrand in both English and French, opera like I knew Italian, enough bossa nova to make me wish I knew Portuguese, and instrumentals from the likes of Jackie Gleason (yes, he was also a bandleader). Henry “Pink Panther” Mancini, and Toots Thielemans, who can make a harmonica sound like a love letter with your address on the envelope.
I do have quite a few new songs—but “new” to me usually means something 20 or 30 years old. Instead of Linkin Park, I have Led Zeppelin; instead of the Eraserheads, I have Heber Bartolome and Banyuhay. OK, I have a couple of songs by Journey (what else but “Open Arms” and “Faithfully”) and one by INXS (“Afterglow”) but no Nirvana, no hip-hop, nothing to disturb my hard-won equanimity or my illusion that the world is anything but an ordered whole.
It’s that old-guy sense of order and purpose that drives my left foot in front of the right and the right in front of the left, for 2.2 kilometers around the oval until I reach the Oblation and then do it all over again. I have to believe that all of this exertion will actually mean or bring something good, and for that I need emphatically optimistic music.
Broadway, I find, best puts me in this mood. If anything—from Carousel to Les Miserables—Broadway’s been built on selling the power of love and the indomitability of the human spirit, so you could whistle a happy tune and never walk alone and look to the rainbow and be sure that the sun will come out tomorrow. I might start with something light like “Dites Moi” from South Pacific or “Question Me an Answer” from Lost Horizon, progress to something more dramatic like “We Kiss in A Shadow” from The King and I or “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot, and then push myself for another turn around the oval with something truly rousing like “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady or “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific. I’m singing all of these in my head, but being deaf to the world with my noise-canceling earphones on (not the smartest idea on the open road), I’m sure—from the strange looks I get from people I pass by—that I’m making noises I’m not hearing.
Next to Broadway, my two favorite genres are Latin music and OPM. I don’t really speak anything more than schoolboy Spanish (thank God for the old Spanish Law, which of course all of us detested in our time), but whenever I listen to someone like Luis Miguel, I find myself feeling foolishly sorry that we kicked those Spaniards out. I have eight versions of “Sabor a Mi” in my iTunes, and savor both Andrea Bocelli’s and Ennio Morricone’s versions of “Amapola” (which Morricone used for the soundtrack of Once Upon a Time in America). Speaking of Morricone, how could anyone resist “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission, especially when it’s Yo Yo Ma doing the honors? And speaking of Yo Yo Ma, how much sweeter can a cello get than on “Doce de Coco” from his Brazilian album?
Ah, Brasil, where hearts were entertaining June, and we stood beneath an amber moon…. I’ve told my wife June (also known as Beng) that when I croak, the kind of music I’ll want at my wake will be that of Antonio Carlos Jobim, especially “Desafinado.” There’s something in the gentle insistence of the bossa nova that speaks to my own temperament. And here I have to bring up one of my favorite divas (aside from the inimitable Barbra and our own Sharon—yes, I’m an unabashed Sharonian)—the Japanese-Brazilian chanteuse Lisa Ono, whose “Pretty World” never fails to add some lift to my shoes.
For something more soulful I’d turn to Laura Fygi’s “Abrazame”—and it may be an odd way of looking at these ladies, but if Laura Fygi and Lisa Ono’s voices were like ink, Laura’s would shade to purple and Lisa’s to green. To top off my Latin section, no single album gets more airplay in the car or in my earphones than the soundtrack of Woman on Top, which has an upbeat vibe you can listen to all the way to Baguio. (I was playing it in the car once while driving around Pampanga, and everyone with me wanted a copy.)
And did I say OPM? Much as I may appreciate exotic melodies like “Dein ist mein ganzes herz” or “Les moulins de mon coeur,” they can’t get me going like Sharon’s “I-Swing Mo Ako” or “Bituing Walang Ningning.” When I’m rounding that long bend around the Sunken Garden and am tempted to linger under the acacias for a lick of sweet sorbetes, I strengthen my resolve by drawing on “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas”: “Kahit na ilang tinik ay kaya kong tapakan, kung iyan ang paraan upang landas mo’y masundan… Kahit ilang dagat ang dapat tawirin, higit pa riyan ang aking gagawin!”
And that—plus a lot of kangkong and hasa-hasa in sour broth—was how I lost 45 pounds in six months.