Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why Does Old Wine Taste Better?

"And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, `The old is better.’" Luke 5:39 (NIV)

Why is old wine better? There are several reasons. One, age tends to mature wine as the chemical reaction involving alcohol and sugar provides a more balanced and smoother taste. Exactly how this happens, we leave to chemists. Besides, the final proof (no pun intended) we can trust wine connoisseurs to tell us. It is also said that oak barrels in which wine are stored, provide the distinctive taste to aged wine. Of course, other wine-makers will contest this point, especially those who use other kinds of container. Ultimately, the quality of the taste depends on the origin of the wine, whether it be grapes, coconut, rice or sugar cane.

My father used to make wine at home. I remember when he experimented with native fruits such as guava and duhat. He kept them in old rum bottles on elevated shelves in our living room. For as long as he could, he held on to them until some of his drinking relatives heard about them. One by one those bottles disappeared. (My older brother, Levi, has confessed that he secretly drank some of the wine.) I never found out how they tasted. As curious kids though, we had our first taste of tuba (coconut wine) when we raided the kitchen while our mother was away. Of course, we didn't really know if what we tasted was wine or vinegar, which came from spoiled tuba! (A case of new wine becoming new acid.)

Only recently did I really learn to drink a little red wine at socials. For so long, I had kept myself as sober as an aquarium fish not so much for my religious scruples as hating what alcohol did to me. You see, I got really drunk once and only once before. Some friends got me to try gin and to my consternation I remember talking incoherently and out of turn that I vowed I would never want to encounter again that person I was that night. I hated that person. My decision must have saved me from a lot of trouble, thank God.

It seems drinkers can be classified generally into two: Those who savor wine or liquor for what good they offer and those who simply drink. The first treat the drink with respect and with self-control. They know that they deal with something which can be a good friend or a bad enemy. These are the people who can confidently blow into those blood-alcohol measuring gadgets and confidently say they can still drive. For them, the good that wine offers is no different from the good that ordinary food offers since too much of either becomes unhealthful. Finally, this kind can tell the difference between real good and bad wine -- and it follows, real good and bad time.

The other kind of drinkers looks at drink as a means toward a selfish end. They only know one good kind of wine, the one with alcohol. And the good they think of only concerns their immediate satisfaction. They know and have known of so many people whose lives were wasted by drinking too much and yet they imbibe as if they were oblivious of such knowledge. They merely want to have a "good" time which is actually bad, if they thought about it hard enough. Aside from the wasted expense on something that abuses the health, they endanger themselves and others when they drive after drinking. We know how many accidents arise from drunken driving. This fact overtakes death from smoking in plain stupidity by a hundred miles for the obvious reason that such accidents could have been totally avoided.

So, what benefit does good old wine hold for us?

Jesus obviously knew the difference between good and bad wine. Why not? He made the best wine at Cana! But here, He merely points to the common knowledge that old wine tastes better than new wine. Could He have been also referring to the fact that old habits (especially sinful ones) are hard to break because we prefer the comfort zone they offer us? Yes, we like the old ways because we are used to them and do no want to take the extra effort of changing, even if it meant a "better" life for us.

New wine definitely tastes flat when you have tasted old wine. In the same way, new habits don't attract us as much as our old habits. It takes many years for one who is used to listening to country and folk music to shift to jazz or reggae. Take it from someone who went through such an evolution and who often relapses into a folk diet like a hungry young pig. Those songs are so simple and innocent you appreciate the ritual of feeling like a child singing or listening to them. Jazz, on the other hand, makes you feel a bit mature and sophisticated. And a bit self-assured. So depending on one's mood, the music will follow suit. Although my knowledge of wine will fit the label of a wine bottle with enough space to spare, I would venture to say that this musical preference applies as well to our choice between old and new wine.

Yes, we can like both but we can only take them one at a time.

Definitely, price has a lot to do about people's drinking habits. Old wine is much more expensive. You get the same basic alcohol from both kinds, so cheaper wins for most people. In short, you get the same sort of "high". It goes also for our habits. Why should I change my ways when I am happy doing what I'm used to? Old wine tastes better! I've tried driving an automatic car but I still like the challenge of manual driving. I've tasted Greenwich but I still go for Pizza Hut. Ube ice cream is the only ice cream I scream for!

The new takes away so much from our selves. Our experiences, our memories, our very being and future get disrupted when we venture into new horizons. We become disoriented. We become wary of new surroundings because they bring on new and different feelings. With new venues and avenues come new relationships and new directions. And that runs against our normal grain. Remember the time when you visited a different religious rite for the first time? You felt lost. You wondered if God was there at all. Same with new wine; it's not that familiar to our taste.

Yet new wine is the source of old wine. Sooner or later, as we grow old, we discover what really matters in life. We come to decide once and for all the real good in life and we stick to it till the end. What new thing we might welcome today into our life will eventually get old. What new attitude we might develop today will have become a habit sometime in the future. What we begin to become today will become what we will be tomorrow.

Old wine is better because it is definitely better in taste, quality and value. The Lord knows this for sure. And He was not merely talking of wine after all! He wants us to have the best life, too. And that is why we need to get in the new wine into our system - that is, His new way into our very being -- as early as we can so that in the years to come, we can savor the old wine that it will turn into. Then we can look back with joy and comfort for our good decision today.

(Photo above: A seagull takes a rest from foraging. Taken by my son Jon, in Vancouver, Canada.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Season of Love

Hurray! It's the “season of love”. Call up the bands and all the music-loving and fun-loving Filipinos. It's time to liven up the park. Let's celebrate love. And the best way to do it is to let go of yourself. Love the one you're with. Kiss the person beside you. Drink the wine while it is warm. Live like it's the only day you will ever live.

What comes afterward is the individual's problem. The producers and endorsers have to make money first. What people do after that is not what motivates the party coordinators to call them in the first place. What people become after they have had wild fun is not really that important to business.

Love is for sale. It is as much a commodity as shampoo and toothpaste. I give you something; you pay me. You come to my party; you buy my product. You want a good time; do what I tell you.

In fact, if you want a kiss, brush your teeth first. Be a good kid. Loosen up. Even lose yourself, if you dare. Live on the edge. Fall if you want to.

Love then becomes nothing but a word. It becomes nothing but a feeling that must be expressed physically. It becomes an action that requires a parallel action or it will not be consummated. It becomes a mantra -- no, a god -- that will lead millions to offer their souls to dissipation and despair.

For what do you expect to gain when you have given nothing? The money you paid to partake of the world's glamour and glitter brought you what it could buy: fun. And fun that can be bought is of no real value. And love that can be had for a few pesos is not real love.

Love that comes only once a year is not worth calling love. The real word for it is LUST. Love you show to show off is not love. The real word for it is PRIDE.

Love requires giving that part of you that no one else can see but you and God. And because we refuse to see it, we devalue ourselves and demean our bodies.

Hence, those who follow the call of the flesh do not mind falling for it. They live for the moment when they could satisfy their carnal desires. They may not even have to be immoral; they only need to be mesmerized by the music that makes them act like zombies awakened from their aimless slumber. No better than prostitutes, they sell their bodies and souls to a god of oblivion. In their ignorance, they forget the God in heaven.

And so, those who claim they serve the true God and yet partake of this farce, are no better than the greedy merchandisers of fun themselves. Yes, they have faith -- so they say -- and worship God when they are not leading people astray. But most of the time, they serve Mammon and themselves.

This too will come to pass. People will get tired of partying. They will settle down to Holy Week's season of passion and meditation. They will search their empty souls. And find nothing. They will keep on searching... and searching.

But not for long. Summer will find them in the beaches and the dance floors cavorting and wriggling once more to the music, yet now with almost nothing to cover their bodies. And even less to cover their shameless souls.

(Not even toothpaste to freshen their parched breath bellowing from their sex-inflamed souls.)

And throughout all of these, love remains the product on display -- no, the medium of exchange.

Cupid is a cute guy to many, even to kids. However, cupidity is an ugly word. It sounds so much like stupidity.

(Photo above: A hungry monkey waits for food from travellers along the road to Subic Bay, Zambales. Sweet treats and other fancy delicacies attract even animals to seek food away from their natural habitat. Hence, it is prohibited to feed these straying monkeys. Besides, they say it's dangerous to feed them. Yes, dangerous to their health! )

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Metaphors and Life

Every time a writer sits down to cut down a great idea into workable planks of thoughts and nails them together with sharp words, the world becomes a more habitable place for himself and others. The wilderness of darkness and uncertainty slowly diminishes as he opens up the frontiers of his mind to the light of wisdom. Be it a novel that exposes the crimes of a dictator or a poem that soothes the soul with reflections of heaven in a diminutive flower, the writer's creation speaks of the unwritten volumes of life accessible only to the human spirit. Whether one is a writer or not, such intangible books are free for browsing anytime, anyplace.

Invariably, beginning writers think first of what word to use and when they find it they hammer it down without looking up alternatives. (Synonyms and antonyms are aplenty in any PC nowadays.) Some even skim a dictionary to fish out any word that will suit their fancy and from there build a sentence. Or even an entire poem or song! (I know because I have done this.) A few gems may come out of this lottery game but like any form of gambling, it may become a habit that will stunt one's artistic growth.

The writer's task then involves finding the right metaphor to package a thought. For instance, writing a song that will put flesh to that thought will involve choosing pictures that will make people hear the song as a real person and not as an abstract idea. (The latter would seem like going to a concert with the speakers off.) "I am music and I write the songs. . . .":This popular tribute to music sung by Barry Manilow has brought many souls soaring to ecstatic realization of what the "language of the soul" can do. Of course, the music provides the winged medium; no, the wind by which the fuselage of words elevates the mind to the heights of virtual flight. But even without audible tunes, poets like Shakespeare - armed only with rhyme and meter -- had always been able to pluck the heart's strings to offer the same blissful result that pure music brings.

In the general scheme of things, what we put down on paper are not the words of a particular language but the metaphors that form those words. For each word came into being by one human mind picturing a part of nature and of life and capturing that image into a useful symbol, a tool that will help any mind after that to recapture the same mental image. The lowly "kurukutok" bird got its name exactly by the way it chirps. It was as if the bird itself said, "My name is Kurukutok!" Considering the exact pitch and the timbre of its tweet, this bird could never be mistaken for an owl or a crow, birds which likewise derived their names by their unique calls. Thus, what was once nature's voice has become a metaphor, a spoken word, a part of human language.

In like manner, music takes the deeper ideas and emotions of humans and transforms them into musical metaphors - simple or complex ones - to convey those same original human conceptions to as many receptive hearts as possible. What was one person's experience in life becomes a metaphor which will hopefully ignite the same mood in another person's life. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" echoes a universal gift of worship to our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. What may seem like a melody made up of a driving succession of equally timed beats actually contains triads or three-note groups expressing a dance-like trance close to an experience of infinity or eternity. It then breaks into a restful bridge of equally spaced chordal harmonies that evokes peace and perfection, before flowing back into the literally breathtaking theme. Only a master of metaphors could create such a beautiful classic work of art.

And so it is with visual arts, performing arts, fashion, architecture, engineering and many creative fields of human activity. Metaphors have come to mean any concept that can be defined by a word, a chair, a poem, a song, a book, a painting, a dress, a dance, a building, a family, a company or a nation.

But just like in any language, "miscommunications" may occur in any of these areas. Uncle Sam is often stereotyped as a flamboyant and arrogant persona but for those who have come to meet lowly and hardworking Americans such an oversimplified image becomes ammunition only for American bashers. What to a patriotic American is a historical icon of unity and strength may be a caricature of first world dominance to others. In such a case, people choose the meaning they want to put into certain metaphors.

In political affairs, unlike in pristine nature and pure emotions, meanings get lost in the complex and confusing volleys of unbridled passions. Art and culture no longer serve as the soother or slayer of inordinate desires. They become instruments of deception and subjugation. Minds and lives are enslaved by concepts to serve the needs and whims of a greedy few. Wealth has become the almighty metaphor worshiped by the elite and the masses. With it, many utilize the power it creates to dehumanize humans and to denaturize nature. With it many more have been deluded to pursue its pleasures and comforts. Wealth divides the globe into the first, the second and the third world. And where you reside determines the way you react to the world at large. Or to yourself. You are a metaphor for what we have made of this world. Or what you make of your own world.

And so the human spirit learns to cope with life by struggling to be free from the burdens and aches of the human body. Literature, music, arts and prayer all feed the soul just as much as adobo, fried chicken, escargot and macaroni feed the body. The reality of the invisible becomes palpable through the undying character of the soul while the unreality of the visible is exhibited in the fleetingness of the body. At a time when a book or a classical music CD can cost as much as a family's weekly grocery, guess which would be at the top of the budget list? And yet many a rich person who splurges on "culture" does not think of how the spirit may be enriched by sharing directly material blessings to those in need. And many a starving person who despairs of life simply has disdain for the wealthy. Why? Because the culture that should ennoble humans does not do so and is not able to do so. Why? Because those who have do not really have and those who do not have still keep on hoping to have that which if they had would not benefit them.

In short, in a world hungry for things and for ideas, those who are not satisfied with the essential will always want to gain more. And those who do not have the essential will keep finding ways to get it. The clash of these two has determined the real condition of life in this world.

How then can we find meaning in life? There is no other metaphor for life other than your life itself. Its meaning is what you have put into your life.

(Photo above: This view inside a spacious mall may seem like looking up or down and not as it should be, looking at eye level. The tilted camera and receding lines provide the confusing perspective.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

What Christ Would Have Wanted to See

These may not make it to the movies, but the following alternative Bible scenes might help awaken our dormant spiritual lives:

1. The story of the storm: Christ calmed the storm.

What if this happened: Instead of panicking, the apostles would follow Christ's example and lay down beside Jesus and went to sleep. It's a comical thought but I believe that's what Jesus was trying to show them. If I can sleep through a storm, why can't you? If they had done that, Christ would have had no need to calm the storm outside because the storms within us are subject to the power of our faith in God.

2. The story of Peter walking on water: Peter alone walked but faltered, scaring the rest from trying the feat.

What if Peter did not doubt? The rest of the disciples would have come down and played on the water like kids splashing among the waves. What a sight it would have made to Jesus, His followers really following Him. I believe He had expected not only Peter but all of them to try walking on water but the waves kept them from venturing down the boat. Again, their faith could not go beyond what they were seeing with their own eyes -- Jesus walking on water. In fact, their eyes -- like Peter -- were on the big waves. That's the problem with fishermen, they know what waves can do and so they fear. We know what the world can do with us and so we allow the world to prevent us from working for the Lord in spite of the world.

3. The walk to Calvary: Christ carried His cross alone.

What if the apostles had the boldness to declare Jesus as their Master, they would have walked with Him on the way to Calvary. Each one of them would have taken turns at helping Him carry the cross. Why, Simon of Cyrene could have been Simon Peter!

Question: Do we learn only because we see our mistakes? Do we need to go through a painful process of shame before God for us to be awakened to our duties? What kind of people are we that we have to take tiny steps at a time before we can run with wild abandon in our journey with God? In our timidity we behave like rats nibbling when we can be lions devouring big bites at life.

Why is faith in God such an utterly difficult thing to develop? Who can say he or she has faith enough to stand before God and be justified? Only those who have walked with Jesus on the water. Only those who have ridden the boat with Jesus during a storm. Only those who have walked the streets of Jerusalem from the judgment hall to Calvary. In short, only those who walk daily with Jesus in their hearts.

God rebukes us like we were His children. He does so out of love and not out of plain impatience or pure anger. The rod of discipline applies to incorrigible kids as well as to intractable adults. The Apostles also started out as bungling disciples. We can learn a lot by following how they eventually followed Jesus.

Suffer pain now and reap lasting victory in life.

(Photo above: A huge cargo ship seems to drop below the horizon as if sinking in the diamond-littered Subic Bay in Zambales. Note the small banca below the ship.)