Well, we seem to have a 'nigger' as US presidential candidate for the "Democrats ;-)" (we, outside, who can't vote, have a certain interest in the outcome, since whenever America drops a marble, we get an earthquake).
Out of the 100 or so pumpkin seeds I sowed earlier this year, only one has survived, but it has survived with a vengeance. Every other morning I go down to the end of the garden and redirect its trail in the opposite direction, so now it's looking like a plate of vegetable spaghetti.
It flowers in the early morning, before the sun shrivels it up. Not a sign of a pumpkin fruit yet.
I was imagining lots of pumpkin curries, but all I've got is these goddamned flowers, and sweet little tendrils.
2) It has a wonderful relationship with ants, who actually plant this liana's seeds at the entrances to their nests.
However, they (ants) maintain a very close relationship to another plant, the hemi-epiphyte Poikilospermum cordifolium. Most entrances of these ants on tree trunks have some seedlings of this Poikilospermum, obviously planted by the ants that act like gardeners. Some of the plants grow very large and send roots down the trunk into the soil. As the ant colonies around those large hemi-epiphytes are currently still active, this suggests that such colonies may live for many years at the same spot, and that the association between Crematogaster (ant) and Camponotus (ant) is a very stable one. This relationship between the two ants in a common nest is termed parabiosis.....http://www.insect-plant-interactions.biozentrum.uni-%20wuerzburg.de/
And what's more, the two ant species live together in total harmony, which is fairly amazing.
The two species are a big one, and a small one, but they live together quite happily. Wish our politicians could do the same.
The Bolanons (gypsy traders) are in town, running ukay-ukay (second-hand clothes stalls), in advance of the fiesta, so I gave up and reluctantly gave some cash to Shedney to shop and buy a new bed-sheet and a few other bits.
She bought me this (it doesn't even button on the right side!). But it is light and cool, so maybe I'll make a real effort to try hard and wear it in public, for loyalty's sake.
It cost $1.50, which makes it expensive around here.
I haven't been to Cloud 9 , the famous Siargao surfing spot, for some time: (the famous wave is that little white streak on the right of the picture, which was taken at low tide) so I was disturbed to find the destruction going on around it. This used to be the main entrance to the Cloud 9 wave, flanked and shaded by coconut trees. It's bordered by two private resorts, either side, but the owners of this land have left it undeveloped. I met up with our new mayor, one Felipe Espejon, who was supervising this stuff, complained about the destruction, and was warned, very explicitly, that I should 'behave myself' if I wanted to keep on living here.
"It was only my second time out of Iraq traveling to a foreign country. It was night and from above Turkey we could see lights, like millions of colorful diamonds scattered around. When we were flying over Iraq, below we could see only a dust cloud and darkness.
Our flight to Turkey was six hours late and arrived at 3.30 a.m. I was very worried because the word “late” in Iraq means you expect to be shot. Not by terrorists, but by the Iraqi army or the Americans, unless you have a good excuse or are very lucky. When we arrived to Istanbul, my wariness vanished as I found an entirely different world there. The airport was so fancy, the Turkish people were so nice; the streets were all surrounded by red and blue and different colors of flowers.
And although it was late we could see cars in the streets and people walking nearby, and when entering the neighborhood where we were staying, I thought it was only sunset as I saw many, many people walking around and sitting in restaurants.
Returning to Iraq, our flight was also late, by four hours. I was so worried since our arrival to Baghdad was at 10.30 p.m. and that was not safe.
The streets in Baghdad after 9 p.m. are very dangerous and full of army, police and American checkpoints. Sometimes they can’t understand why you are out late and shoot, and sometimes they understand".
Saddam Hussein was a shit - we all know that, but did we really have to visit this horror on his country?
The local kayabang crabs come out of their burrows among the near-shore coconut trees every full moon, and set out on a determined march to the beach, where they get up to ... well, I really don't know what.
On the way, they go straight through anything passable, including of course, houses.
I found this one yesterday, sitting amongst my pots and pans.
They're not particularly friendly, because the local people go out with coconut frond torches, to catch them as they cross the beach.
They're quite delicious, cooked in coconut milk, as ginaatan. This is a very well-known soup in the Philippines, and the base can be used for almost anything.
Here's the base, stolen from Filipino Vegetarian Recipes - actually their recipe is for cooking saba bananas, but it's the same as used by every Filipina the length and breadth of the islands.
1 tsp salt 1/4 c oil (can cut down on this) 2 c coconut milk 3-5 cloves of garlic (to your taste), chopped finely 1 small onion, finely sliced 2 fresh chillis, sliced (optional) 2 tsp dried shrimp, soaking in 2 tsp hot water 1/2 c sili leaves (or other greens that might go with this, like spinach, for example)
(If you don't understand US recipe cups and teaspoons as measures, then just use your common sense, get it right the second time, and go on from there).
The result's delicious, and when you've just caught the crab in the pan he's going to be cooked in, somehow even more so.
Tamaya, octopus are one of the favourite foods here, but in my opinion, Filipinos don't do the best by them.
The first one I ever tasted was in Cyprus, where an octopus attached itself to my bare white heel , as I was preparing to dive. My companion picked it off, bashed it on the rocks where we were sitting (to tenderise it), and told me how to cook it in slowly in red wine for a very long time (with the usual extras).
Octopus cooking is a very delicate art; it's one of my long-term projects to learn exactly how.
Blanch, raw, slow cook, rapid boil, or what?*
Somewhere along that gradient, there's a point where the meat will come out fresh, tender and tasty. That's the moment when the real cook will know he's got it just right.
I'll keep trying.
Meanwhile, consider these poor octopi, who are extremely good at doing camouflage, but have been wholly confused by being put out to expire on a chequered background.
Update 1: The answer to this is to get the first cooked point just exactly right, or stew the damned things for hours to get back to it.
Tridacna clams belong to the family that is supposed to grab your foot if you're a careless diver, and hold you trapped until whatever, which is rubbish.
There are some truly enormous ones, Tridacna gigas, which might actually do that after a bad night out on the town, but the more usual species in the Philippines, and around the Indo-Pacific, is Tridacna squamosa, the Fluted Clam.
It's usually quite large, and full of good meat, which I don't really understand. I've never come across a Tridacna teenager, or any other juvenile, although, of course, there are small(-ish) ones, that perhaps I ignore.
The ones shown in the above photo come from Surigao City market, where they are sold in the 'cheap corner'. (That's why there's some seaweed on offer at the front).
But de-shelled, the reasons for eating this shellfish become very, very obvious.
It's nutritious, of course, but I suspect it's visual qualities have a lot in common with full frontals published by the likes of Larry Flynt.
You wouldn't find this shell in ancient shell middens, because it's too damned heavy to carry back home.
All you need is something to cut the joint muscle between the two halves of the shell. That could be any old bit of stone or wood that you can pick up. Then you take home the meat, and leave the shell behind.
iuRon was the first to find one of these local ginger plants, and I wrote about them here.
I didn't realise at that time quite what a very strange plant this is.
If you look closely, you'll see a nascent bud to the left, a bud with about six yellow and red flowers open in the middle, and, to the right, what is presumably the next stage, a sort of mini-pineapple with the petals withered, and pink fruit developing. Now, we haven't been watching these plants closely enough. (I've transplanted a few to my garden, where we can keep a eye on them).
Suddenly, at the next stage, they produce fruit, about 3 metres up, on long stems.
What's going on? How, exactly, does that mini-pineapple transform itself into a ten-foot fruit-bearer?
The only answer is to camp out next to one of the mini-pineapples, and photograph it, every hour, through the night.
Ron - get your sleeping-mat ready!
Update: 24/8/08. I was completely wrong on all of this. The small pineapple does NOT suddenly transform into fruit 10 feet above it, Instead, it's a different, but related plant that happened to grow in the same place, called Alpinia haenki (or macassarensis), which is even more rare.
It does everything you can think of, except, possibly, marriage guidance, but it's almost certainly got a secret chemical that will help with that kind of problem.
One brave fellow climbs the trees and trims off the ripe coconuts, and they come crashing down like small bombs. Then they chop the whole nuts in half, and scoop out the meat with a specially-shaped knife, a lugit.
The meat is now kopras, but it has to be dried first, in a tapahan, which is really a bodged-up smokehouse, like this. The smouldering coconut husks are used for fuel, and the process takes most of a day.
I've often wondered why the operators of the tapahan don't also use the process to cold smoke a few fish or sides of pork, but perhaps they've never thought of it
Now this is how you find out the the details of the complicated and devious mind of the female fruit fly.
You feed them. With yeast that contains lots of heavy nitrogen. That isotope labels all of the female proteins.
Then you look at them after they've fucked. Anything that didn't have the heavy nitrogen was given by males. The researchers discovered some sixty-three proteins from fruit fly semen, which may suggest that the male fruit fly lacks confidence in his wife's fidelity, and is over-doing it a bit.
(Sorry to anyone who's offended by the fffour-letter word - the alliteration was just too good to resist).
Curacha dancing crabs are a speciality of Zamboanga, at the extreme right hand bottom of the Philippines.
The first time I ate them, there, I found myself sitting at the next table to Nur Misuari, the politician then in charge of the Muslim provinces (ARMM) of Mindanao, and they were delicious (no, not the politician and his cronies, but the crabs).
Since then, of course, Muslims have gone very much out of fashion.
Nur Misuari's done a bit of jail time since, but then so should anyone who sets out to be a politician; a little bit of waterboarding wouldn't go amiss.
But we also have curachas here, in Siargao, where they are known as kanduyon or ladan.
They are good to eat, because almost all the useful stuff is in the main shell, so you don't need to fuss about too much.
They're called dancing crabs, because they sit upright in the water, on their back legs, and ponce about, like a bunch of poofs at a party.
Notice their claws; they're not a lot of use, being angled in the wrong way, quite against heavy usage. they merely use them for posing.
If these things were created, then the Great Creator made more than a few design mistakes. Thank God, He won't be held accountable.
But Thank God, He made them tasty. You can find some better photos than mine here.
For the first time, I got up off my bum, and went myself with my crew (Ron & Shedney), to find some new and exotic ginger plants reasonably nearby. We went to Victor's Flying Fox Bar, built, like only a total crazy could do, out in the boonies, opposite a perfect jungle mountain, where the flying foxes do a grand fly-past every evening, dead on time at 2.5 minutes past dusk.
We walked along the edge of the mountain, and we did find a couple of new ginger plants (which I'm waiting to have identified). But, more than that, we found some other strange plants that I don't have much of a clue about: This is wild ubi, a purple yam, that, domesticated, is a great favourite here in the Philippines. It's even a top flavour for ice cream. Purple ice cream? It's delicious. Only in the Philippines.
And we found these, abandoned: Puso banana buds, but only the stripped skins, the buds taken off to make into a fabulous salad.
And then this one, known locally as padjaw. It's an aroid, but I don't know much more about it, and I don't know why it grows 'pretend peppers'.
It seems, according to John Mood, a 20-year expert on ginger (Zingiber) plant taxonomy, that we may just have a new species on our hands.
Here, it's called kayaskason, and it's very common. John asked me to preserve the leaves and inflorescence (a la herbarium, pressed between newspaper sheets). This is a bit difficult, because we don't get newspapers hereabouts, and the big fruits don't really press very well. However, I'll do my best.
I proposed, very strongly, based on the first specimens that Ron brought to me, that the damned plant didn't have flowers.
But it does.
Here's a picture of one, a bud popped into a vase of water at 5pm and open and greedy at 7pm.
I'm not a botanist, so I really didn't know that my photo was upside down.
It looked extraordinarily like the face of one of the local horseshoe bats. Even down to the two very small 'eyes' either side of its 'nose'.
Now, if I was a bat, I'd visit this flower, and land on the strong stem just behind it. Then I'd bend over, and find I was facing the thing upside down. I would be doing 69 face to face with a friend from another biological kingdom.
Probably, I'd lap up all the ants crawling around the nectar, and then lap up some of the delectable stuff for myself.
Every morning at 5am, as the sun rises, reluctantly, Bebot's wife makes bread rolls, and they're wonderful.
They're not the usual Philippines pan-de-sal, that are altogether too sweet and mushy. These are almost genuine, unsugared, bread rolls.
I buy them for breakfast (for dunking in coffee or Milo) or even, sometimes, as a special 'English' treat (sliced hot with plenty of butter and a bit of Marmite).
The oven is very high-tech. It's a galvanised iron box, with a folded corrugated-iron roof folding over. This one even has a heat shield at the front. It's fired by a pile of smouldering coconut husks on top. Bebot's wife manipulates the bread rolls with something like a bugsay (paddle), with which she whips them around like a flock of sheep.
But the main problem is that no-one in the Philippines has ever learned to make bread properly. They use soft flour; they don't mature their yeast, etc. There is nothing here remotely resembling the fresh early morning French baguette; they learned bread-making from the Spanish, who haven't a clue.
And that's a big disappointment; I would love to eat a fresh hot baguette every morning. Maybe I'll get out there one morning and start preaching. I love fresh morning-cooked bread.
The kids here find these spiders around the place. Then they set pairs of spiders to fight along a piece of silhig (that piece of the centre of a coconut leaf, that are normally used to make brooms here).
This is a huge thing amongst the local children (who haven't got many shop-bought toys, so they have to use their imagination in ways that spoiled Western brats could never do).
They keep their champions jealously, in empty match boxes, and even trade them amongst their friends. One good spider can be worth seven pieces of candy.
Then I think back to my own youth; we used to have conkers (horse-chestnuts) that we collected in the local woods. You strung the conker and slung it against your opponent's. If that broke, you won.
This is a coconut in the process of sprouting. It's sent out a small shoot through one of the three 'eyes' at the top of the coconut shell, and soon it will send out some roots through another one.
The roots will go down, while the shoot stays up, so the shell will remain on the ground but keel over, as the roots take hold.
The bubble, buwa, is the conversion of the water and flesh inside the coconut shell into an embryo of the future coconut tree. Amazing how alike this process is to mammal reproduction, where the womb holds and feeds the embryo.
This one is well on the way, so the bubble has almost filled the hard shell, while the roots haven't got going just yet. Much of the coconut flesh is still there. Give it time.
Now, if you can catch a coconut that hasn't quite reached this stage (where the bubble gets a little bit spongy) then you get this, and it's delicious.
It tastes like a sort of coconut marshmallow, juicy, fresh and sweet.
Ever since I first visited Paris, at the age of sixteen, I've had the ambition to be a Rejected Artist. I wanted to live in a garret in Paris or Soho, paint works of genius like Vincent Van Gogh, then come back from Heaven to see what nice things people said about my stuff long after I'd gone.
Well, here's a rejected artist; Percy Wyndham-Lewis, standing outside the Royal Academy in London, in 1938.
Note: - the cigar - the well-made suit (but the awful faux-pas of leaving all three buttons done up) - the silk scarf - the patent leather shoes - and worst of all, the spats on those shoes
And here's the reason for his rejection (only from the RA Summer Exhibition) - his portrait of T S Eliot, one of the most boring and inconsequential poets of all time.
The painting is good: - the top half plagiarises a few clues from Gauguin (or some Vorticists) - the middle part is a good portrait, in spite of a useless lot of effort to be Cubist.
But the bottom part? Well, it takes a lot of artistry to paint a famous poet with transparent trousers.
Is this an iconographic signal? Were Wyndham-Lewis and Eliot a little bit more than male friends?
Now here is what Wyndham-Lewis was trying to emulate: something like this Juan Gris cubist portrait of Pablo Picasso, painted 30 years before.
Take a very close look at this. Cubism was supposed to be a new way of looking at things; putting three dimensions, and the different facets of them, into two.
And here's why; my own 'cubist' portrait of Percy Wyndham-Lewis (complete with arrogant cigar) executed in about 10 minutes, using the Paint.Net program.
You won't recognise Wyndham-Lewis, but then you won't recognise the young Pablo Picasso in John Grey's portrait, either.
I first wrote about pano'on just a week ago, and things have developed rapidly. First I contacted Brandon McHenry, who identified my Dischidia or talikubo for me. He, in turn, suggested that pano'on was not a bromeliad at all, nor a relative of maize, but a relative of ginger, which was a total surprise to me.
Brandon also introduced me to John Mood, a world authority on ginger taxonomy, who confirmed the plant was probably Hornstedtia conoidea, which also grows in Borneo.
Well, I hadn't seen much more of the plant than a few ripening buds and a few leaves, which had made me think it was this: Zingiber mioga - Japanese Wild Ginger, which is commercially-grown in Japan (and now in New Zealand) for its young buds, which are a great delicacy.
Well, this really got me thinking. If New Zealand farmers are canny enough to grow this stuff for export to Japan, why shouldn't we do the same here in Siargao? Looked easy to me; it's a perennial, so you plonk it in the ground, and pick a bit idly from time to time.
But if you look at the botanical drawing, you'll see that mioga has a white flower, whereas our pano'on's flowers turn out to have a brilliant deep red flower (top right). And the local people don't eat the buds, although they do eat the unripe berry pods (and so do rats and other forest rodents - we didn't find a single young bud on the specimens Ron brought back, from his second expedition on Thursday).
Ron also mentioned another ginger relative, locally known as kayaskason, which also has edible berries, growing at the top of a long stem, so I asked him to get some of those as well, plus anything else he could find. He came up trumps. Kayaskason turns out to be a species of Alpinia, or even a natural hybrid, and extremely rare. It seems strange that it is common enough here for the local people to give it a name.
Well, that's exciting enough, but this photo shows only the unripe seed pods. We've planted it in the garden, but I don't think I can wait for the flowers to come out, so I guess we'll have to go and get some, to finally find out what it is.
But the third wild ginger that Ron brought back turns out to be a little honey. You can see in this photo the yellow flowers and pink fruit. Here's another photo of the pink fruit.
This one, apparently, is an Etlingera fimbriobracteata.
Now that I know these marvels are to be found in the forests around here, I'll be looking out for them.