Friday, January 01, 2010

January 1, 2010,
For Rio, Luna, Gabgab, Noni, Padma and Anabanana

Past the old year is Janus -- January, the first month, its opening day a two-faced janissary looking back and towards a new period that has yet to unfold.

Djamangeen gar oo chagar, an Armenian saying goes. Once upon a time there was and there wasn't.

There is the first day and the last, a bud from the carcass of timber.

"Before the wig and the dress coat," wrote Pablo Neruda, "there were rivers.../ there was dampness and dense growth, the thunder as yet unnamed./ Man was dust... an eyelid/ of tremulous loam, the shape of clay --/ Tender and bloody was he, but on the grip/ of his weapon of moist flint,/ the initials of the earth were/ written."

But the "wind forgot them," wrote Neruda, "the language of water/ was buried, the keys were lost/ or flooded with silence" and though "[l]ife was not lost.../ a lamp of earth was extinguished."

But still we could see far, farther because we embraced the void and in it there were no inanimate objects.

In another age olden Ilonggos spoke of a sky so near "it could be reached with a stick" and the Bagobos say once upon a time the earth was hot ground because the sun was too close, so low even the gods were at times singed by the sun's heat.

To the Palawan, proximity with the heavenly was implied; the first people were children of sky gods who settled on earth by climbing down a balugu vine, which was later cut.

Myths abound among the ancients of days when the upper realm was still touchable sky and when divinities mingled and flourished with stewards.

And one day the breaking, a storied breach resulting in exile, separating for perpetuity the earthbound with the celestial.

Somehow ever since we've been looking for a way back, and sometimes we're successful and sometimes we don't make it. But we always try.

In the beginning there was light. And then there was sound. And that was it.

So unfolded the genesis of Copenhagen, erstwhile venue and tag of the global climate negotiations, crafted to hammer out solutions to threats of our own making, which began as hope and ended as a broken vase.

But we'll dust ourselves and put back together the shattered pieces. Because the last day is already yesterday and today is the first.

Over four decades ago humans aboard a pod hurtled away and pierced the sky, and a little after that we managed to finally land on the moon.

Cast out, beyond the planetary canopy, the intimacy of a closed biosphere was rediscovered, altering fundamentally the grammar of our thinking, and what a sight it was.

"One giant leap for mankind," said Armstrong. "Magnificent desolation," said Aldrin.

A big bright blue ball composed of stone and cloud and water, "indifferent," said the writer Eduardo Galeano, "as if it didn't feel a single tickle from the human passions that swarm on its soil."

It was a different kind of imminence. "[L]ike something out of Herodotus," said Anne Druyan, who wrote the Cosmos series with her husband Carl Sagan, "when a young king would decree an impossible task, be slain and yet within the time allotted [the] mythic decree would be fulfilled."

Sagan, the great mind who had briefed the astronauts during their training, had watched the event from a hospital bed in a dream state, almost bleeding to death after going through an operation, and he saw on television "through the haze of painkillers" the verse "he had been thinking about since he was a child."

"The thing I remember," remarked the novelist Samuel R. Delaney, recounting the moon landing, "is that the first astronaut who put his foot on the ground, his first words were 'Okay I'm at the bottom of the ladder.' Then he said the famous quote. It was a very humble statement and it tells us exactly where we actually were."

Where we actually still are.

Today we lay claim to the best feats of our species and face the greatest range of our abilities -- titans in our minds but still too oblivious of our place, of the tiny space we occupy in the few things we have divined. #

Red Constantino is the author of The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire (CFNS, 2006). Feedback welcome at Photo by redster.

1. Peter Balakian, Black Dog of Fate (Random House, 1997)
2. Pablo Neruda, Canto General (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1991)
3. Francisco R. Demetrio, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Fernando Zialcita, Roberto B. Feleo, The Soul Book (GCF Books, Quezon City: 1991)Ibid.
4. John Vidal, environment editor of the British paper The Guardian, delivered one of the better snapshots of the recently concluded international climate negotiations held in Copenhagen, Denmark. "It started," said Vidal, "with several hours of fantastically pompous speeches by world leaders pretending to be green and pretending to be concerned about the environment." There was France, and Germany, and India and China. And it was US President Barack Obama's turn at the podium, and "he came up with absolutely nothing at all." See John Vidal, "Copenhagen: Climate of denied opportunity," The Guardian-UK (video), 19 December 2009.
5. Thom Patterson, "32 years since a 'Giant leap for mankind'",, 23 July 2001.
6. Eduardo Galeano, Century of the Wind (W.W. Norton and Company, New York: 1998).
7. Claudia Dreifus, "Remembering the man on the moon," Bangkok Post, 10 July 2010.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.

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