The late 1970s were something else… and All of It could be encapsulated in one word: Disco!!!
An esteemed Spanish mestizo friend showed us through their elegant family home furnished with priceless Filipino old masters and magnificent antique furniture.
It was an absolute delight because there was exceptional beauty wherever we turned… There was an exquisite 1925 “Fiesta” scene and a 1945 “Burning of Intramuros” by Fernando Amorsolo. There was an elegant, Sargent-ish portrait of our host’s great grandmother by Juan Luna. There was a painting by the Spaniard Joaquin Sorolla and two by the Spaniard Ignacio Zuloaga. There were several portraits of the family painted by Fernando Amorsolo in the early 1930s. A memorable 1923 Fabian de la Rosa country scene. A hallway filled with “bocetos” studies by Felix Resurreccion-Hidalgo, Juan Luna, Felix Martinez, Telesforo Sucgang, Fabian de la Rosa, and Fernando Amorsolo.
Here and there were some very beautiful examples of late 19th century Filipino colonial furniture, of the type collected by the gentry.
Because I was taking too long in viewing the lovely paintings, our esteemed Spanish mestizo friend and my good friend proceeded to the vast living room, distinguished by its several arrangements of en suite furniture by the legendary Jose Antonio Ortoll, for a very elegant “merienda” afternoon tea. Laid out on a graceful tea table was an English Victorian sterling silver coffee service. Silver and crystal compotes held an assortment of small cakes, cookies, breads, and sandwiches. The beautiful porcelain was all old Royal Worcester. On a small table was a tray with four carafes of freshly-squeezed juices. From a side table filled with crystal decanters and other bottles came the ever present afternoon “jerez” sherry from Gonzalez Byass. The exquisite, starched linens were all of handmade Brussels-style lace. A well-groomed maid, in a noticeably well-cut uniform with good shoes, stood unobtrusively at one corner to attend to the master of the house as he hosted his guests. Just from the way she stood properly, it was obvious that she had been trained at the “Punlaan” school of the Opus Dei.
I made one wrong turn and found myself at the entrance of the masters’ bedroom. I cringed and walked in reverse quickly because it was never proper to peer into anyone’s bedroom unless one has specifically requested it from the host. As Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy said: “Gentlemen, even at the age of three, one’s bedroom is private.”
The venerable, 75 year old mother of our esteemed Spanish mestizo friend — a doyenne of Manila high society — was on the bed, wearing a “duster” with “Looney Tunes” characters [ a sheath, usually of printed material, worn at home by Filipinas ]. Her head was filled with pink curlers. Her pink feet were raised on four pillows and her legs and feet were covered with “Salonpas” [ Japanese medicated patches ]. She was chewing gum and she was reading — NOT “Town & Country,” “Paris-Match,” “Hola!”, nor even the local society rags — but a local “CHISMIS” [ "GOSSIP" ] magazine with some hot young starlet and stud on the cover. There was quite a pile of new local showbiz magazines beside her, surely purveyed by her many maids. And on the big TV: Boy Abunda and Cristy Fermin: “THE BUZZ”!!!
It was good that she did not see me, for she was fixated on Kris Aquino’s lachrymose revelations…
It certainly was different from all the Spanish mestizo elegance that I had fantasized all along!!! Bwahahahahah!!!
If you are not Pampango / Kapampangan / Capampangan, meaning to say that you are a native of Pampanga province in the Philippines, then I suggest that you do not read this because you will NOT get the joke.
During a nationwide election, a mayoralty candidate was gunned down in Tarlac province, adjacent to Pampanga, where there are still many native Kapampangans.
His distraught best friend had to call the deceased’s eldest brother in the United States, in San Francisco, to inform him of the assassination.
Expectedly, Eldest Brother became very emotional. He cried out: “HAHN-HAI POR HAHN-HAI!!! HAH TOOT POR HAH TOOT!!!”
Best friend was befuddled. It seemed Eldest Brother was crying out “ANAY” [ Termites ] and “ATUT” [ Farts]…
Eldest Brother cried out again, like Moses crying out in the desert: “HAHN-HAI POR HAHN-HAI!!! HAH TOOT POR HAH TOOT!!!”
Best Friend, although devastated by his dearest friend’s murder, started laughing to himself, wondering why Eldest Brother kept on crying out “ANAY” [ Termites ] and “ATUT” [ Farts ]. What did Termites and Farts have to do with Younger Brother’s Murder???!!!
Eldest Brother cried out again, this time like Conan the Barbarian: “HAHN-HAI POR HAHN-HAI!!! HAH TOOT POR HAH TOOT!!!” *growls like a lion*
Suddenly, Best Friend realized something…
OOOHHH!!! AAAHHH!!! BWAHAHAHAHAH!!!
Eldest Brother had been saying all along: “AN EYE FOR AN EYE!!! A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH!!!” But it was almost incomprehensible because He was saying it in that peculiar Kapampangan way: of prefixing an “h” where there is no “h” and omitting an “h” when it’s really there; of interchanging “f” and “p”; of interchanging “b” and “v”; etc., etc., etc..
A lady whom we will call Ate Bining was coming back to the Philippines after 20 long and difficult years in the United States. Day and Night, She slaved to eke out a living, doing Everything and Anything to earn Money.
Excited as She was, Ate Bining bought all the Fall clothes on sale that she could because She knew that these would be much appreciated by her family back in the Philippines.
But at the LAX Los Angeles International Airport, She was told at the Northwest Airlines counter that her baggage was grossly overweight. An Economy Class passenger is only allowed two baggages weighing 70 lbs. each totaling 140 lbs.. Ate Bining had two baggages weighing 120 lbs. each totaling 240 lbs.. The staff at the airline counter told her to remove some of the things — 100 lbs. exactly — so that She could check-in her baggage.
Ate Bining was not fazed. She opened her luggage and removed the many clothes she had bought so that She could meet the weight requirement of her Economy Class ticket.
And so there was a pile of Fall clothes in front of the airline counter.
Ate Bining thought of all her relatives in the Philippines and the Fall clothes on sale that She had bought for them… And then She realized that while there was a baggage weight requirement, there didn’t seem to be a weight requirement for passengers … ???!!!
Slowly, Ate Bining started putting on the Fall clothes that were piled on the floor. One after the other in fluid succession. Until She had worn all of them.
She was as big as “Santa Claus”!!! But She didn’t care. All She thought of were her family in Manila.
And that is how Ate Bining rode on the flight all the way to Manila…!!!
Truly, the Filipino is unbeatable!!!
In the early 1960s, a rich Spanish mestizo businessman shacked up with the recently-separated pretty heiress of a grand Cebu family.
In Hong Kong, at Lane Crawford, the lady insisted that they purchase two entire suites of expensive Louis Vuitton luggage, costing a small fortune but something the gentleman could easily afford, for his and her use.
The gentleman said: “Honey, why don’t we just buy the lookalikes there at Stanley Market??? I have a lot of money, you have a lot of money, Nobody will ever know that they’re not the real things…”
And the lady blurted out: “I WILL KNOW!!! I WILL FEEL IT!!! I AM THE ‘REAL THING’ AND I WILL ONLY USE THE ‘REAL THINGS’!!!”
The gentleman promptly purchased the two entire suites of Louis Vuitton luggage.
The lady told the gentleman that she would buy more of her leather goods at Hermes in Paris.
The gentleman just nodded: “Anything you want, dear.”
One quiet Sunday afternoon, while enjoying my garden — ablaze with pellucid sunlight — and memories of Lola Charing’s rose garden flooding my memory, it just occurred to me that the world I knew as a child had, indeed, completely disappeared. Yes, by all appearances, and only by appearances, Life seems to have continued as always. I am thankful that my immediate family has been largely spared of the cataclysmic changes — often financial — which have affected the other branches of our family and those of others as well. Not that All is Sweetness and Light between us siblings; on the contrary, It is mostly Angst and Distrust, but at least it is tolerable and we have a functioning rapprochement. It really is so different now. And if I am to predict the future based on the recent past, it will be even more different. Not that Change, specially for the better, is bad, but One does rue the vicissitudes of time, the passing of the seasons: the departures of loved ones, the transfers of dwellings, the changes in routines, the losses of familiar objects, and everything else…
No, this isn’t about Sylvester’s disco song from 1979 nor is it about Jimmy Somerville’s techno interpretation from the late 1980s…
It’s about love affairs and how they lift — aside from one’s sexual organs — one’s sagging spirits and even one’s ego…
Her equally rich husband, who had lost interest in her soon after their marriage in the late 1930s, had passed away in the mid 1980s. I remember his Wake at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park because I accompanied my distinguished uncle who came to pay his respects, as the deceased was the eldest brother of the husband of a first cousin with whom he was very close. The Wake had a lot of “tone”: distinguished-looking corpulent gentlemen in polo barongs and coiffed and perfumed plump matrons arrayed in genuine South Sea pearls made up the crowd [ tons of Chinese cultured pearls sold by Muslims were not available in Greenhills yet ]. It was plainly obvious that the deceased was “A Somebody.”
The plump Widow was somber, seated in the front pew, dripping with enormous black pearls, swathed in an enveloping black silk “manton de manila” shawl. Tiny embroidered slippers. She was, as my uncle described: “half dead.” Or was she simply in reverie? She was surrounded by a battalion of ”amigas” lady friends who were chatting merrily and fanning endlessly. On one side was a platoon of young nurses, who were also chatting merrily and eating endlessly.
My uncle and I greeted the plump Widow. A tired smile. She summoned a senior aide and gave instructions that we were to be seated with her brothers ”Senorito ****” and “Senorito *****” and that her aide should serve us drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Her ebullient younger sister, fanning furiously, approached and greeted my uncle effusively. The lady was dressed for a party in a Christian Lacroix-like confection in black silk gazar. Manolo Blahnik stilettos. On her ears were large Arabian pearls from an international jeweller; I was dazzled by the enormous emerald cut diamond ring, perhaps 50 carats, on her raised hand holding the wine stem.
And that was my enduring vision of The Widow: “half dead,” hair pulled back in a bun [ by the maid, not by a coiffeuse ], no make-up, black pearls, black “manton de manila” shawl…
Some years later…
I have all kinds of friends from all kinds of backgrounds.
I have friends who come from the most venerable families and are fortunate enough to have inherited the vast resources to match their august surnames. Surprisingly enough, for all the lineage, culture, and assets, they are mostly the ones who live simply, in that peculiar, understated way no one outside their circle would understand. “Lifestyle editors” would find them a disappointment.
Then there are those friends whose parents have recently made enormous amounts of money and they do live “The Lifestyle” — Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan & Co. style — that is trumpeted by the glossy magazines. But apart from The Big Money, I do wonder if anything else will make them tick???
And I have always wondered what the essential differences are…