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Mural lessons, moral lesions

MY favorite panel in that P50-million or so mural cum feast for white ants at the National Press Club is one which depicts an hour glass where a big shot’s hand pours coins of the realm that trickle down as transmuted typescript with two or three bats hovering like moths over the ripple of words. That tells me words—in due time to round out a prelude to the gospels, “In the beginning was the Word”-- can be precious and be light-like that draws those oriental sigils of longevity, those bats. I take that to mean writings can endure, paintings may not. Why, the same panel has attracted hordes of termites as an uncared-for book does.

The adjacent panel has the same big shot’s other hand garroted around the head—all senses clamped shut-- of a writer banging away at copy that stretches way, way out like a highway paved with verbiage. ‘Tis an old maxim in the schools that flattery’s fed to fools. So I’ll take such a sight anytime with a grain of assault.

Maybe, Enteng Manansala and his crew of artists who did that mural were taking a dig at writers who can get sued for libel or get shot dead for writing something unsavory about big shots. Painters don’t get such honors.

Aside from painters, termites joined the fray by taking a chomp at the mural’s writer figure. Those wee bites can be painful. But nobody really felt bitten.

Those accursed termite hordes spared that pork barrel-bellied big shot—butete or puffer fish doesn’t look like safe eating. They must have decided the wiry dilis-like—dried anchovies pack lots of iron-- figure of a writer’s more delicious. They gnawed at him morsel by stringy morsel, tidbit by sere tidbit.

Soused to the gills, I’ve often slept and said prayers on a row of chairs beneath my favorite panel that has the signatures of Maestro Manansala and his crew set on the rightmost lip of the hourglass. Such token devotion has gifted me one morning with two amoeboid flakes of oil paint bigger than a twenty-five-centavo coin that fell off that panel. I’ve kept both paint flakes in the fly leaf of my copy of the sacred Q’uran— ah, priceless words can endure, precious paintings can flake off ravaged by dry rot, tropic dampness, and wee critters.

Or maybe I was deluding myself at quiet time each dawn with a mural lesson that bundled words can be hocked pronto like an heirloom at any agencia de empeƱos or be plunked like an item of value down an auction block for the highest bidder. Mural lesson aside, there can be moral lesion: why, even big shots like one Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won’t tab a cent to glorify palabra de honor. See, I had to take to such less than comfy bed space arrangements at the Press Club—Luis T. Logarta was its president then. The paper I wrote columns for that time hadn’t paid me for months. The long-awaited payment could have covered three or four months of unpaid rent that prompted my landlady to…

Saka mas masahol pa nga ang manunulat kaysa pokpok na bago magpabarukbok, kailangang bayaran muna ang transaksiyon. Matagal nang ginamit ang gawa ng manunulat, hindi pa binabayaran. Minsan nga, talagang sinusuba—nagkahindut-hindot na lalo. So let’s offer a toast to kindred spirits and timely visual metaphors like whores and whoring and writers and writing, may their diatribes increase!

The multi-paneled mural was finally sold sometime December 2006. It fetched P10 million—um, bestsellers can fetch that much, too and a lot more book-lovers get to own and keep a cheap copy; owning paintings is a different story. The men that took out the panels had to use a few kilometers of tape to keep the panels from crumbling into wee flakes of chewed out lawanit fiberboard and oil paint. Once restored, a tarpaulin reproduction of the same dig at writers could be fitted back in the same place. It should take a longer time for corruption to render tarpaulin to shreds.

A few decades back, significant sums were offered to local painters to do murals that would depict unity among Filipinos at the walls facing the Kilometer Zero marker in Rizal Park. One depicts Dr. Jose P. Rizal at the steering wheel of the jeepney nation in which Andres Bonifacio is a hanger-on. All the murals are still there. Fading away, flaking, and peeling off in places, turning into powdery dust. Who’ll sell ‘em before the walls they’re daubed on turn blank? Art connoisseurs ought to raise some foofaraw and interest among buyers.

And if we can’t sell, we’d better hand over those works to people who can truly dote on ‘em works. Let’s not keep what we can’t care for.

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