Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Thursday, October 28, 2004

Today is Ugly Pickup Truck Day.

But I strongly advise against greeting anyone with the words "Hello, Ugly Pickup Truck Owner!" Kids, do not try this at home.

almost famous
First off, I'd like to say hi to all of you who dropped by or are dropping by for the first time as a result of the article in yesterday's INQ7. Thanks for coming by, folks! I'd love to mention every one of you, but my tagboard runneth over with new names... (And just in case you're all confused about it, lemme explain that the Isle entries that appear on this blog from time to time are notes from the role-playing game I'm involved in, not chapters from my stillborn--but possibly soon to be revived!--novel.)

To my fellow bloggers: Take a look at my referrals box at the bottom of the sidebar, and you'll see that I've actually received over a hundred hits in the last 24 hours from the INQ7 site. So if any of you are at all interested in promoting your blog a bit, email my friend Joey now. He's like the Grand High Pooh-Bah at INQ7's YOU and Global Nation, but really he's just a nice guy. (He also used to be a terrible flirt, but he's married now, so possibly I shouldn't have said that. Heh.)

no guts, no glory
Today I changed our front doorknob and deadbolt all by my "girly self", as my husband would say. He was all for hiring someone to do the job ("When in doubt, throw money at the problem," is practically our family motto), but I pooh-poohed him, and therefore had to wrestle with all the hardware and figure-outing, nearly locking myself and Sage in the apartment in the process. I managed to get the task done, but honestly, one of these days, my hubris will be the death of me.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I have hubris enough to join the NaNoBloMo (National Novel Blogging Month) thing that everyone else is doing, where you write a 50,000-word novel and post it on a blog in the span of thirty days. I tried this before when I first started blogging (and before anyone else seems to have thought of it, ha!); and, well, you haven't seen my novel in any bookstores, have you? That's because I never finished it. On the other hand, I got a chance to grill my mother at length during our recent U.S. trip, so it might be a good time to take another stab at that 'autobiofictionography' of our family history. We'll see.

bibliophilia: The Queen's Fool
Just to show you how busy I'd been on our trip abroad, I only now finished the novel I'd bought to occupy me on the flight to the States. For someone who can zip through Stephen King's unabridged version of The Stand in under four hours, this is like a slow-reading record. And it's not like it wasn't a good book, mind you.

The Queen's Fool is the story of Hannah Green, a Jewish girl on the run from the Inquisition. Hannah also happens to be gifted with precognition, which quickly gets her embroiled in the intrigues of the English Queen Mary, the bastard Princess Elizabeth, and the conniving Dudley clan. Author Philippa Gregory has apparently written a number of similar alternate history novels, but this is the first one I've managed to grab hold of. The characterization is solid, the premise is interesting, and the melding of fantasy with actual historical events is very well-executed. The pace can be a tad plodding, though, so it's not what I'd call a page-turner. But if you're looking for a read that will engage your mind without necessarily consuming all your attention, this book is a good choice.

Now to get started on the forty pounds or so of books that we brought back!
Nikki bit in at 1:19 PM :: ::
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Today is Separation of Church & State Day.

Not that such a thing has really actually occurred in the Philippines, mind you.

YOU... or, actually, ME
Wow, what a great homecoming present! My old chum Joey has graciously featured me as this week's Blog Addict over at the YOU website of INQ7. I have some doubts about being on a 'website for the interactive youth', because I don't think I'm particularly youthful anymore, but if you're interested in reading my blog-related blathering, you can check it out here.

why I'm not youthful
The trip to the States was fun, but exhausting. Between the demands for attention from my mother and daughter, co-hosting a party for my stepfather, balancing the increasingly-fraying tempers of my husband and mom, and general cooking, cleaning, and child-caretaking, I was a rag by the end of week two, and looked forward to coming home to my apartment and particularly my household help after week three.

Yet when we got home, what greeted us was more stress, as we learned that Dean's cell phone had been stolen, and that our two helpers were vindictively blaming one another over the loss. We ended up having to fire one of them, and the dust has yet to settle over the affair, and my clothes have yet to unpacked. You can read more about it (the Situation, not the clothes) at Dean's blog, as I'm really too aggravated to discuss the matter further.

the difference between the first and third worlds
From observations I made during our trip:

1. In the first world, people leave things like cell phones and digital cameras on easily accessible surfaces like bar counters, and they're still there hours later. At grocery stores, they leave the carts out in the parking lot. In the third world, we can barely put out trash cans without needing to nail them down.

2. In the third world, we know the difference between sushi and sashimi, and we understand that siomai has no place on the menu of a Japanese restaurant. It's all just Asian to first-worlders.

3. In the first world (or at least in Florida), five cars = traffic. Metro Manila denizens must stop snickering now before the laughter turns to hysterical tears.

4. In the third world, Nikki is a few pounds overweight. In the first world, Nikki is positively svelte because there are hordes of people whose thighs are the size of her waistline.

5. Here in the third world, it's hard to find toilet paper in public bathroom stalls because people habitually steal it. Even though it's crummy, single-ply, sandpaper-textured toilet paper, it's fair game for petty theft. In the first world, most toilet paper you encounter in public restrooms is three-ply, quilted with fanciful designs, and softer than most people's bedsheets. Yet it stays unmolested in the stalls because in their homes, people don't seem to use toilet paper. Instead, they favor a plethora of pre-moistened wipes enhanced with lotion, antibacterial formula, or aloe.

So while we may all put our pants on one leg at a time, it seems that we wipe our butts in very different ways. Perhaps what this indicates is that we third-worlders are hardasses.

And proud of it.
Nikki bit in at 9:45 AM :: ::
Sunday, October 03, 2004

...And Thanks for All the Fish

No, we're not actually leaving planet Earth (for those of you who got the Douglas Adams reference). But we are leaving terra firma, as the Alfar nuclear family (pere, mere, et fille) are flying off to visit Sagey's grandma in the States. While there, we will unfortunately be at the mercy of Mom's generously-offered but glacially slow Internet connection, so the various Alfar blogs will most likely be quiescent for some time. We will try to update (and check on y'all as well!) if time and technology permit, but if not, we'll see you in three weeks!
Nikki bit in at 9:20 PM :: ::
Friday, October 01, 2004

Isle Notes: episode eleven

the merchant Garband
the Landmarque Lushan
the Bladearm Maxwell
(a.k.a. Maximilius)
the Bladearm Burly
the Bladearm Stephen
(a.k.a. Prince Esteban Ruiz)
the capon Violet
a Coriolanus golem
the Rich Man Eliza Mara
an unnamed man
, apparently of the House of Nobles
an unnamed platinum-haired woman
the Machinist Malachi
: proprietor of a general store in Parsus
Martifar: a money-changer in Parsus
Eloise Taramel: daughter of Iris and Farin Taramel; twin to Elke; claimed daughter of Lisander; apprentice Beggarman
the Beggarman Gallagher: Eloise's teacher
the Tailor Threadbare
Elke Taramel: Eloise's twin; apprentice Tailor
Rat-Tail: one of Threadbare's minions; Tatterdemalion?
Fire-Fist: one of Threadbare's minions; Tatterdemalion?
Elspeth: Elke's three-year-old daughter
the Barber Ananias


Wizened Chald
Ador Itash: Zoilo's uncle and a distant relative of Elke and Eloise
Gellegher: Gallagher's twin
the Marshal Caterina
the Mariner Lyman
Cicatrix: Ellis's new use-name

The Temperate Cluster (possibly both a neighborhood and a political affiliation)
Ebon Rock: a bank (safety deposit box 42)
Caldera Estrella: an inn
the Noble Bank : "the bank of Craft"

Part One

Disaster is narrowly averted as the Landmarque Lushan interposes himself between the merchant Garband and the approaching fissure caused by an attacking golem. Invoking his "memories of Tirseis", Lushan uses Craft to literally alter the landscape, apparently in some sort of tangible recollection of a place he has previously visited. The fissure is halted by this means; and as the landscape reverts to normal, the three Bladearms carry the fight to the golem in spectacular fashion. It is Elana's summoning of a doorway directly beneath the golem and leading to the sea, however, that definitively removes it as a threat to the group.

It is only a momentary respite, however, as the Bladearms explain that the construct is a Coriolanus golem, which takes on seven consecutive forms of attack and must therefore be defeated multiple times. Not wishing to imperil their erstwhile companions further, the trio of Elana, Ellis, and Zoilo take their leave of the caravan half a day sooner than expected, encouraging their newfound friends to move on ahead of them.

Ellis proposes a parley with the Rich Man Mara, whom they have no doubt is the author of these recent attacks (in response to Elana's earlier accidental intrusion into Mara's home). After much heated debate, Zoilo changes Ellis's face to hide her
identity, and Elana opens a door to the Rich Man's home, with the stipulation that she will summon Ellis back once thirty minutes have passed. Ellis steps through to find Mara in a debate of her own, with a man apparently also of the House of Nobles, as well as a slightly older woman with platinum hair. Ellis makes her presence known and is promptly frozen in place through the concerted efforts of all three. She does not resist.

Ellis explains in brief and partial truth the circumstances leading to Elana's unintentional materialization at Marasgate. Mara insists on speaking to the unnamed other Rich Man herself, leading to a lengthy wait in which Ellis realizes that these
three are somewhat in awe of the power Elana has displayed. They are even more taken aback when Elana opens a door again at the agreed-upon time, something she apparently should not have been able to do, given the safeguards and restrictions that have been put in place. Zoilo attempts to step through the door to fetch Ellis, only to be frozen in place himself.

Concealing herself behind Zoilo, Elana then addresses the three people at Marasgate. She and Mara make a qualified agreement to cease hostilities, and are still in the midst of negotiation when Elana, whose name Ellis refused to give out, identifies
herself as 'Eliandra'. Upon hearing the name, the platinum-haired woman blanches, and actually physically batters at Mara to let the trio go. Ellis and Zoilo back out through the doorway, which Elana closes behind them.

The crisis is not quite yet averted, as Zoilo’s Prophetic abilities presently alert him to the swift return of the Coriolanus golem, now in some sort of fireball-hurling configuration. After some initial attempts at avoidance, they soon realize that confrontation is the only option, whereupon Ellis and Zoilo move to the attack. This proves to be a near-catastrophic decision, as Ellis's unsheathing of her newly-acquired sword Wave evidently amplifies power in the vicinity to such an extent that Zoilo’s 'Mighty Snap of the Clothier' attack not only snuffs out the golem's flames but smashes into Ellis as well with devastating force.

Ellis goes down as the golem shifts into its next form. Elana rushes to defend her dazed sister, while Zoilo is somewhat alarmed as his clothing begins to rustle and move, actually lifting him off the ground in some sort of defensive function. The golem goes through two more transformations before a recovered Ellis finally decapitates it with Wave, and Zoilo orders its beheaded-but-still-moving form into quiescence with Tinker Craft.

There is still cause for concern, however, as Zoilo's hammer continues to glow red-hot in apparent reaction to the sword Wave, which itself hums with a kind of ominous resonance. They are all walking gingerly some distance apart when Zoilo and Elana, in the lead, encounter the Machinist Malachi, in the process of retrieving his defeated golem. With many a harsh word for the golem, which he returns to working order, Malachi explains that since the party (particularly Ellis, in his perception) defeated his golem, he owes them some sort of payment. Ellis, knowing that the Machinist was only ordered by Mara to attack them, is reluctant, but Elana and Zoilo soon settle on safe travel to Parsus as a suitable service for Malachi to perform.

Malachi commands the golem to arrange for this; and after some analysis of possible routes by means of a series of hurled-out gold rings, the Coriolanus golem is able to find the safest route possible through what master and golem refer to as the ongoing "obliterating wave". Malachi hands a particular large gold ring to Ellis and the two take their leave. Ellis lays the ring on the ground, where it promptly expands to a size large enough to accommodate all three of the companions. They step into the ring.

Part Two
The trio soon find themselves outside of what is presumably Parsus, a city elevated on stilts and ropes by the bank of a raging river. They experience some initial consternation upon seeing a pit apparently filled with human bodies, as well as a number of bodies hung by the neck from nearby trees. Closer examination, however, reveals the 'bodies' to be some sort of fruit; and they soon encounter a party of townsfolk exiting the town gates to dispose of similar used husks in the pit.

After some difficulty with the rope bridge, they speak to the gate guard, who will only let them in if they pay a fee of 3 copper pieces, which they cannot do since all they have are emeralds. Ellis makes an outrageously generous deal with one of the husk-bearers, trading a jewel for just three coppers, and the trio enters the town. They decide to engage in some shopping and currency trade first, learning that each emerald is worth at least 10,000 copper pieces--a huge amount in a town that appears to deal only in coppers. They also find out that the Lord Sebastian Itash of the Marchion's Little Council is visiting town; they resolve to avoid him, especially in light of the famous Itash curse.

While making a purchase at a general store, they discreetly inquire about their cousin Eloise--only to learn, to their surprise and delight, that she is right there in the store with them, doing a bit of shopping herself. She is much taken aback when they approach her, and does not quite believe their insistence that her sister is in grave peril. In fact, she seems to suspect that they are somewhat unhinged, and insists that she cannot possibly go with them to Sacrifice Rock as she is still in the midst of her training. They treat her to lunch, and she finally consents to at least let them speak to her Beggarman teacher about the possibility of her accompanying them to rescue her twin Elke.

Eloise leads the trio to her master's home, where they are shocked to discover that her teacher, the Beggarman Gallagher, bears a startling resemblance to the Bastard Roman. They soon realize that he is, in fact, Roman's child, Eloise's husband, and the Beggar King of Parsus himself. Further, they learn that he rescued Eloise from the ungentle hands of the other Beggar King, his twin Gellegher, with whose rival city Parsus is currently at war. Gallagher also reveals that Mara's real name is Eliza, leading the trio to speculate that she is yet another member of their extended family, possibly in direct line of descent from her namesake, the Dowager.

Gallagher is considerably more accepting of their story than Eloise was--due in no small part to judicious and expert use of the Beggarman's Craft to verify their words. (It becomes fairly clear to the trio that, contrary to what they had believed, Beggarmen can choose the Crafts they have access to, and are not limited to just one Craft a day either!) However, the trio refrain from telling him the entire truth, particularly that, as a son of the Bastard, he is technically married to his first cousin.

They are completely straightforward regarding Elke's peril at the hands of her master, Threadbare. Gallagher reiterates Eloise's assertion that she is not yet ready to face such adversity, but volunteers to go in her place instead. Eloise then
demands to accompany the party, but is easily dissuaded by Elana's use of her Orator skills--eliciting a mild but firm warning from Gallagher not to do it again.

Gallagher has his people unearth his wondrous flying ship from its hiding place beneath the river. They travel swiftly to Threadbare's location at Sacrifice Rock, where Gallagher challenges the Tailor for possession of Elke. Threadbare attempts to
decline, but finally resorts to setting forth three champions to battle Gallagher's three champions (Elana, Zoilo, and Ellis) before having to face Gallagher himself.

Elana (introduced by Gallagher as 'Purse') makes quick work of the champion Rat-Tail, using her Oratorical abilities to lay him low. Zoilo ('Hammer') likewise dispatches the champion Fire-Fist, finishing with a Mighty Snap of the Clothier that
evokes a cheer of awe and approval from the assembled minions. Ellis ('Scar') has a more difficult time, nearly falling twice and having to pull out every trick in her limited repertoire to defeat Elke herself.

Upon Elke's defeat, Threadbare hastily concedes the battle and angrily cries for Gallagher and his companions to go. They set off for Parsus in the flying ship, bearing the unconscious Elke with them. When they land in Parsus, Gallagher tells the trio that he will cut the bonds between Elke and Threadbare come five o’clock in the morning. Zoilo receives a prophecy that he, the Corezze twins, and Elke will be facing off against Threadbare hours before that, at two in the morning, to which Gallagher replies that he knows Threadbare will attack, so they had best be prepared.

Part Three
At Parsus, Elke awakens in a surprisingly calm state. Upon listening to the trio's hasty recounting of the current state of affairs, she agrees to join them on the condition that they help her recover Elspeth, her daughter by Threadbare. Elke reveals that, by use of something called 'the Tapestry', she has actually been training under Threadbare for five years, during which time he has raped her and she has born a child.

At Elke's insistence, the quartet decides to return to Threadbare's lair, to steal Elspeth while Threadbare is occupied preparing for his own attack on Parsus. They find Elspeth fairly quickly, at which point Elke quickly runs off to challenge Threadbare herself. Zoilo's abilities kick in again, and he realizes that Elke will lose, and that furthermore, she knows she will lose.

The trio realizes that Elke intends to sacrifice her life in order to sever Threadbare's link to the baby. Elana quickly summons their friend Tarlun's friend, the Barber Ananias, asking Anaias to sever the links that bind Elspeth and Threadbare, as well as Elke and Threadbare. He does so, causing the child to cry out.

Elke, apparently sensing her daughter's distress, rushes back and instinctively attacks Ananias, killing him instantly. Threadbare is hot on her heels, but Elana manages to subdue the off-guard Tailor, forcing him to let them leave with the resentful words, "I’ll remember the three of you."

The quartet from Isle returns to Parsus, the original trio angry and heartsick over Ananias's fate and Elke's deceitful-but-understandable ruse. They opt to retire before discussing the matter further, fearing the destruction of their fragile, burgeoning alliance.
Nikki bit in at 11:18 AM :: ::
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