Do you remember how, in the 1970s, Everybody just had to have a Water Bed???!!!
Do you remember how, in the 1970s, Everybody just had to have a Water Bed???!!!
January 25, 2008 at 5:40 pm (Angst, Domestic Travels, Foreign Travels, Humor, Random memories, The Cebuanos, The Davaoenos, The Global Crowd, The Ilonggos, The Laguna Tagalogs, The Manilenos, The Negrenses, The Pampanguenos, The Tayabenses / Quezonians, Tristesse)
“When the Going gets Tough, The Tough go Shopping.”
I have the privilege of knowing some really world-class shopaholics, and they are an amazing breed…!!!
Putting aside the bottomless resources of these people, I have observed that megashopping, however pleasurable, is still a labor-intensive activity…
Unseen Taipan. “Shopping” on the KKR / Kravis and Blackstone / Schwarzman level [ in their heyday ]. Juan de la Cruz buys clothes and shoes, He buys conglomerates and companies. Liquidity is never a problem. The most recent purchase was a large corporation based in China. He is private and low-key to the extreme. For all the money in the world [ and perhaps to deflect the kidnapers ], the family piles into one simple vehicle wherever they go in the city.
Oriental Publisher. A truly rich man, he bought a major hotel, had it completely renovated from top to bottom, but keeps it closed, reserving its use solely for his private functions. The unknown darling of the “Lladro” Porcelain Company. He does not buy single figures, or even groups of figures. He buys, quite literally, whole towns of “Lladro” figures. His Collection numbers in the thousands. But once in a while, he finds the pale colors of the porcelain quite restrained for his tastes, and has them sprayed with gold.
Emperor Kangxi. Shopping on a sublime level with Olympian taste. His kind of shopping is for multimillion-peso Filipino masterpiece paintings, magnificent antique furniture, ecclesiastical and domestic gold and silver, antique ivory. In short, Everything Filipino, the best of the best, rare, and very expensive goes to Him.
Formidable Mother. I have written so much about her that Everyone knows for certain that She is a certified megashopper. The very best stores in New York, London, and Paris, and even Hong Kong and Manila, are her playgrounds. To say She has dozens of Everything is an understatement. All sorts of precious objects, name it She has it, in multiples. As She herself said, with a puff from her solid gold tar guard: “The only things I haven’t shopped for are Men, but I think I should start sometime, don’t you think???” *LOLSZ!!!*
Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is No Great Beauty but She was born rich, married rich, divorced rich, remarried rich, and will in all probability die rich. Excellent Dress Sense. The most beautiful dresses [ needless to say the most expensive ] and the most beautiful shoes [ also the most expensive ] I have ever seen on a Filipina in Manila, barring Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos in her heyday, of course.
La Donna e Mobile. Like Sleeping Beauty, She was born rich, married rich, separated rich, and shacked up richrichrich. Dress Sense straight from the magazine ads. Looks like a walking “Chanel” magazine ad, actually. Or “Dolce & Gabbana.” Has every single thing to make one look fantastic: All the best and the most deathly expensive clothes, shoes, and bags. Frankly, A Looker.
Grand Don. He has to acquire something everyday or He will get sick. His recently-built “Little House” in the legendary family spread sprawls over 1,000 square meters but it is still not enough to contain his myriad collections of paintings, sculpture, furniture, ecclesiastical art, silver, porcelain, crystal, and high kitsch.
Talleyrand. Born to Big Money, the scholarly and erudite gentleman grew up — to quote the diplomat Valentine Lawford about Baroness Pauline de Rothschild in the Library of the Chateau Mouton — ”combining luxury with learning.” From books, he branched out to objects of historical significance, and from there to rariora that exemplifies the best of everything in the History of the Philippines.
La Duquesa. Like Grand Don, She also has to buy something everyday or She will get sick. Heaven have mercy on you if She takes a fancy on something you have, because She will summon Hell to get it!!! Has the incredible gift of Serendipity: What She wants appears out of the blue and She is able to buy, acquire, or simply grab it for herself.
NY Doctora. “A Diamond a Day keeps Boredom Away” is her motto. She is a constant presence in the jewelry stores of Manila and the jewelry salesmen are a constant presence in her home. Has “ballroom dancing” soirees in her posh apartment so she can wear her big diamonds without fear of them falling and getting lost. Takes her lucky dance instructors — the handsome, straight ones — on luxury Mediterranean, Aegean, and Caribbean cruises. But no affairs — the widow is in love only with her jewelry, Euro placements, and Manhattan properties.
Gobernadora. She likes Everything and will buy Everything.
Ms. Lean and Mean.
Old Guard Banker. Belonging to a venerable Spanish mestizo family whose vast fortune [ and arts and antiques collection ] underwent the vicissitudes of time. He buys the most beautiful and expensive Filipino colonial antiques and artifacts in an admirable effort to replace his family’s lost legacies. It is through him that the cycle of wealth has returned to the family.
Violetta Valery. Unlike the original “La Traviata” story, this Violetta Valery’s Alfredo Germont has provided handsomely for her. But how long will it last???
We live in The Casual Era. Some people call it The Era of the Flip-Flop. Most Everybody looks terrible. I, for one, will certainly not bother to distinguish the expensive “Hermes” flip-flop from the popular “Havaianas” and the affordable ”Beach Walks” worn by the mammoth crowds in the malls. Rubber slippers are rubber slippers and I say the hell with it.
Girls are invariably dressed in half-yard, make it 1/4 yard, wonders. That’s if they’re not wearing little more than Band-Aids. They should just walk around nude and get an even tan. Boys are invariably in made-for-anorexics T – shirts with Satanic designs and jeans that look as they were used for machinery wipes and target practice.
Why even dress up these days???
Even contemporary houses are casual. Obsessively so. The Current Linearity calls for One Great Room where “one can do everything.” Perhaps have sex even. Antecedents found in the “California Room” of the 1950s [ FYI, it's now fashionably pronounced "Kollifohnia" because of The Governator ]. Contemporary furniture looks like one variant of the bean bag to another. At least in the 1970s, Everything was Shamelessly Synthetic. These days there are all these blasted pretenses to being “Organic.” I don’t care if it cost ten million friggin’ bucks and is advertised in “Wallpaper” magazine, it looks like the furniture in my doctor’s waiting lounge.
Why even put up house these days???
But a long time ago, there were really reasons to dress up and to put up house. In those days, The Rich really looked rich, and Everyone Else looked, well, decent. Houses were elegant, with well-defined areas for living. One didn’t live in just one room; in fact, there were areas in a house one didn’t see everyday. There were sensible numbers of staff, without which entertaining in high style was impossible. The gentlemen worked and the ladies kept house. Yet, despite all the business concerns, One was subjected to a rigamarole of luncheons, teas, cocktails, dinners, and dances. Everybody was entertaining when they were not being entertained themselves. Even traveling abroad was elegant, Everyone was well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-heeled. It was a different time and certainly a better one. There was Elegance, and yes, even Grandeur, in Daily Life.
In fairy tales, the King and the Queen have a daughter, the Beautiful Princess, who falls in love with Prince Charming, and they marry, have wonderful children, and live happily ever after…
But Real Life is no fairy tale, and very often it is sprinkled with “spiders,” “frogs,” “snakes,” and “dragons.” “Sorcerers,” “ogres,” and “giants” too. And so it is what happens to an affluent and distinguished Old Manila family as told by one of its members in this comic but real, sometimes nightmarish, fairy tale…
Once upon a time, there was a tiny isolated Mountain Kingdom. The King was the handsomest man alive. The Queen was comely and kind. They lived in the most exquisite of Castles, overflowing with beautiful treasures that the Queen, a shopaholic, amassed with aplomb. They had twin sons: Tweedledee and Tweedlededum and four daughters: Merriweather, Flora, Fauna and the young Ursula. The King and the Queen loved to party. There was always a Ball at the Castle. All the neighboring kings, the peers of the land, and the burghers of business, loved to ride up to the kingdom. The Queen loved her pies. Her cook could not make enough of them. At one party, cook swept up a giant crusty pie filled with succulent black birds. When the hosts and their guests cut into the pie, the still-uncooked blackbirds scrambled out and bit their noses. Voila, the entire castle was cast into a deep sleep. Except of course, for little Ursula who could not find her stinky blanket, as Nurse Nancy, too, fell into deep slumber. She howled and howled and howled for a hundred years.
Then one spring morning, the Queen, the King and the entire castle finally woke up. And there was a little surprise. The queen was nine months pregnant. She called her little princes and princesses and told them, “I have a little secret to tell you. While we were sleeping, I must have been stung by a spider and because of that you are now going to have another brother. I want you all to be good little children and take good care of Princey.” The King was most excited. Alas, when baby was born she was another princess. They christened her Barbarella!
Ursula was furious, “Mommy! Daddy! Why did you even have Barbarella? I want to be your favorite, always! I want to be the Star of the family! I want! I want! I want…………” “Buy me this! Buy me that! Buy me everything!” “Hush child. What do you want? Here it is. Just shut the hell up!” said the Daddy King.
So the kingdom continued to flourish. Merriweather, too, loved her pastries, and her cupcakes, and her ice cream. She couldn’t stand the Queen’s nagging, “Merriweather, dearest. Go on a diet.” “Merriweather, darling, you need a girdle!” How could she with her friend, Little Lotta, constantly tempting her with the latest: cotton candy, “Mountain Dew,” and deep fried pork covered in butter cream. So rebellious Merriweather ran off with her science teacher, Professor Gadget. Off they went to the Land of Milk and Honey. “That will teach Mommy Queen. I can live on my own. I’ll have my own house. I hate all that ‘ormolu’.” She moved to a suburb called Greenacres. “I am not going to have maids. I will have lots of children. They can do all the work.”
But Daddy King could not stand being estranged from his darling firstborn. She did remind him too much of his dearest mother. So he sent Flora to spy on her. “Flora, you need to go over and watch out for Merriweather. I worry about her. Use that time wisely. Go to Princess School. You need to learn how to properly wear your tiara.” So off she went to spy on her sister. Flora spent her time trying to keep the tiara on her head. But her thin hair just wouldn’t hold it up. Flora gave up and went home and married a chicken farmer.
And there was Fauna. “I am the most princess of all. Of all my sisters, I look most like a queen. For my alabaster skin and my halo this kingdom is not rich enough. I must find a prince better than my Daddy.” She was so determined to marry up. Or so she thought. So when Snake Charming came along in his brand new and shiny colored coat, Princess Fauna couldn’t help it, “Ohhhh, so expensive-looking. Everything is so new. Not like ours. So old. Who likes old gold? Worse, old money, it smells!!! I love shiny plastic!” And so off she went to become Mrs. Snake Charming and be just like his mother, Cruella. “My palace will be better than Mommy’s and Daddy’s. I will hire a decorator. I don’t care what the decorator does as long as he is “THE” decorator. No antiques for this girl. I want NEW. But the decorator better give me a good deal! I don’t like to pay full price. I don’t even tip.”
All the Kingdom had left were Ursula and skinny Barbarella. Poor Barbarella, her only gift in life, aside from her comely looks was her mother’s innate good sense. Ursula was none too happy that she had to share the sputtering black carriage with Barbarella and her friends. Besides, Barbarella had too many friends. And that Abyssinian, Primrose was always around, scratching at everything. “Why does she even have a cat? She hates animals!” Ursula hissed at her sister. Ursula spent all the lovely holidays sulking. She had no one to play with. Even the cousins did not want her around. “She is always screeching at us! She grabs everything! She kicks!” They all complained.
“I want to be the Star!” So off went Ursula and married the actor. “If Mommy and Daddy can’t make me a Star, I’ll go and get my own.”
Meanwhile, Tweedledee and Tweedlededum were thumping around. “Howthehell did those girls ever manage to get boys? Why do they always get them? They always get everything.” In a huff, Tweedlededum became a shaman and lived further inside the forest, and Tweedledee went out to sea, swearing, “I shall return.”
Only Barbarella and her friends were left with the reign of the castle and the company of the King and the Queen. Poor Queen. Although she enjoyed the mirth that the young girls brought to her domain, she could not shake off the dread of another long slumber. She surrounded herself with a dozen tall guards, even taller because she made them wear feathered hats. “The feathers should ward off those pesky birds. I can’t have them biting at me again. I don’t want to sleep for another 100 years. I want to enjoy my kingdom.” The Queen fretted too much that one night she decided to pack off Barbarella and the King and hide away in a distant island. “I’ll go to the Land of Milk and Honey. I’ll be nearer Merriweather. I am too scared to stay in this Mountain Kingdom. I hate birds.”
It was a new life for the decamped King and Queen, who left the Kingdom to Flora, Fauna and Snake Charming, Ursula and her actor. They lived in a treehouse in the Land of Milk and Honey with only Barbarella to clean and cook and be Snow White to their aging needs. Barbarella got so tired of her chores, “Never in my life have I had to drive the carriage! In the kingdom, we had slaves for that! Here, I don’t even have dwarfs.” And so she climbed down from the treehouse and took a nap by the flower bed. Barbarella looked so lovely in her sleep. One day, a Handsome Tennis Player in search for his lost ball came upon her. He gazed down at the sleeping Barbarella and couldn’t resist but plant a kiss on her lips.
“Shoo! Shoo! Off with you! You! You, rascal! Don’t touch my sleeping Princess! She is mine!” said the Queen. But the King protested, “Darling wife, leave him alone. Barbarella hasn’t seen a man in three years. I am afraid she may not know what one looks like. I don’t want her to be an old maid like all your aunts.” Barbarella awoke in the midst of all the commotion. She was smitten with the Handsome Tennis Player. What a hunk, in those white shorts, and those thick eyeglasses! So Cary Grant. “Oh, c’mon, Mommy! He is so cute. Just my type, the quiet intellectual. I must marry him. I don’t want to be your handmaid forever!”
This tag of war went on for months. Poor Queen lost the battle. Barbarella followed the Handsome Tennis Player to Over the Rainbow. The King and the Queen didn’t know how to climb back to their treehouse. “We’ll go find another treehouse. We have to find one near Barbarella. I don’t know what to do without her. Oh why, oh why, did that man have to ruin everything! He should be out shooting birds.” ….. and so they went to join Barbarella and Handsome Tennis Player in Over the Rainbow.
End of Part I.
A very expensive senior decorator remembers…
“It’s all quiet now in that mansard-roofed French Provincial manse at one turn of Cambridge Circle in posh North Forbes Park, but back in those halcyon days when…”
“In those days, the mid-1970s, when one was rich, one was really rich!!! We went around the world shopping on the magnate’s private Lear jet. And there was a 747 that trailed us everywhere to load the purchases!!!”
“The magnate actually had simple taste: He only liked expensive, very expensive, and terribly expensive things!!! If it wasn’t expensive, it didn’t appeal to him. There was also No Budget. So that was our peg for the whole project. A very easy peg to work with in any case!!!”
“We purchased the art over several years shuttling between New York, London, and Paris. The magnificent Picasso was purchased from a top dealer in Paris; its purchase necessitated a hefty withdrawal from one of the magnate’s Swiss bank accounts.”
“The couple had decided that they wanted three immense chandeliers for their reception hall. Three chandeliers of Bohemian crystal just like those in Malacanang’s Ceremonial Hall. So off to Vienna in Austria we went. We ordered three “Marie-Theresa” type chandeliers with crystal prisms 12″ inches long and 10″ inches wide each costing USD $ 300,000.00/xx, USD $ 900,000.00/xx for the three. When they were ready, the 747 was dispatched to bring them back to Manila.”
“Of course, we bought many more chandeliers from Baccarat and Murano for the smaller rooms…”
“We bought all the antique rugs for the house in London. Some 48 of them. Several were very important pre-1875 Persian rugs. Others were 18th century Axminsters. And still others were late 18th century and early 19th century Aubusson rugs from France.”
“Many ladies swooned over the extraordinary curtains of silk damask and lace. They didn’t even know that we had actually ordered the fabulous silks from Lyons in France. And that we had gone to Saint Gallen in Switzerland for the exquisite laces.”
“The magnate had long admired ivory and mineral carvings in the residences of his elegant Chinese friends. He wanted a collection of his own. But he was very specific about wanting several, big, impressive pieces. He did not want small ones, no matter how rare or exquisite. So we went to the major Hong Kong dealers. They were able to produce the impressive pieces that he wanted and he bought them all without any hesitation. They were displayed in vitrine after vitrine in their reception hall and in the other areas of the house.”
WOWWOWWOW!!! All of that three decades before Henry Kravis, Stephen Schwarzman, and the Russian, Chinese, and Indian billionaires!!!
And they were only a vassal and a lady-in-waiting to President Ferdinand Marcos and the First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos…
Those were the days.
However, the day came when there was a reprise — milder this time — of the vengeance of Louis XIV on his Finance Minister Nicholas Fouquet, when he dared to outdo him with his Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte [ southeast of Paris at Maincy, in the Seine-et-Marne ]…
Octogenarian Premiere Jeweler, in one of her diabetic mood swings, complained to her fiftysomething Mordant Nephew that She was losing her hair…
It was about time anyway, Mordant Nephew thought naughtily. It was probably caused by all those fat-laden “Ensaimadas,” “Jamon Belota,” “Queso Manchego,” etc., etc., etc.. He himself was slightly ill with all the “Fabada,” ”Smithfield” Virginia Ham, and “Cabeza de Jabali” that were regular fare on his own table. After all, Premiere Jeweler and Mordant Nephew, like all Capampangans, liked to eat… very well!!!
At least, Mordant Nephew thought, it was a good excuse to finally have a bonnet studded with diamonds, big diamonds!!! Even Imelda Marcos didn’t have anything like that. At her late age, Premiere Jeweler could still look hip, as in “hiphop”!!!
“With all your money, Why don’t you have a wig made??? A couture wig???” Mordant Nephew suggested to his Aunt.
“I don’t want a wig!!! It’s itchy!!!” complained Premiere Jeweler.
“If you wear a wig, you could look like George Washington…” added Mordant Nephew sweetly.
“Hah???!!!” She wondered aloud. Why on earth should She want to look like “George Washington”???!!!
“Take note, I said George Washington. NOT Martha!!!” qualified Mordant Nephew.
“Puneta!!!” swore Premiere Jeweler.
There is a young painter in Manila, a contemporary surrealist if there ever is one, who is now the toast of town. Nudes, female and male, feature in all his paintings.
At a recent show of his, A Great Hostess bought a large painting of attractive female nudes in all positions.
She confided to a dear friend that that painting was “her.” Of course, it didn’t mean that She was the model. It was just how She saw herself, her Self-Image. She saw herself as those various sexy ladies in the painting.
Wishful Thinking. She should buy a Fernando Botero sculpture instead.
“I like the past. It’s sweet and familiar. The present is cold and foreign…”
Maria Fyodorovna played by Helen Hayes
written by Anatole Litvak
I don’t live in the past. But when the past was so beautiful — but not necessarily more beautiful than the present — one cannot help but look back with great sentiment and longing. And no other time of the year brings up nostalgic longings more strongly than the Christmas season.
Because Lola Charing wanted her youngest son Macarito — Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez F.S.C., a La Salle brother — present during the Christmas family gathering, she moved the traditional “Noche Buena” gathering of the family in the late 1950s from the midnight of 24 December to dinner on 25 December, Christmas Day itself. So while all Filipino families held their main Christmas “Noche Buena” celebration on the midnight of 24 December, we still proceeded with our main Christmas celebration on the evening of Christmas Day itself…
I knew it was already the first week of the Christmas season because Lola Charing’s elegant dining room [ entirely furnished by Sr. Ortoll ] would be brimming with boxes of American-style fruit cakes, large “ensaimadas,” “tocino del cielo,” and other traditional Sulipeno / Pampango pastries, all made by the housekeeper and patissier-in-residence Natalia “Talia” Padilla [ whose lasting memory was having taught the Cojuangco-Murphy Sisters --- Aurora "Rory" Cojuangco-Lagdameo, Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay, and Mercedes "Ditas" Cojuangco-Teodoro --- how to make the traditional Arnedo "sans rival" right in Lola Charing's kitchen ]. In particular, I remember the generous assortments — one car full — that Lola Charing would send to her great friend Dona Charing Escudero all the way to the Villa Escudero in San Pablo, Laguna. That took place twice a year: before Dona Charing Escudero’s 25 November birthday and again before Christmas, around 08 December. Lola Charing Escudero was a kind lady who always gave generous somethings [ cash ] to the driver and to Benito the majordomo. And if we young Gonzalez grandchildren went along we received even bigger amounts from Lola Charing Escudero, enough to buy some toys at the department store!!!
I knew it was the afternoon of Christmas Day because the delicious scent of roast stuffed turkey emanated from the oven in the main kitchen. I also sensed whiffs of newly-cooked “tocino del cielo”…
All-white, hand-embroidered linens had been draped generously on all the tables. On the round table were piles of silver platters and casseroles, stacks of prewar European porcelain, and cascades of antique crystal stemware.
Lola Charing’s beloved sterling silver flatware monogrammed “RAG” [ Rosario Arnedo-Gonzalez ], with all its various interesting forks and knives for several dozen people, made its appearance on several trays on a corner table. According to Tita Naty [ Natividad Gonzalez; Mrs. Francisco David Palanca ], it had been one of Lolo Bosto’s last gifts to Lola Charing before his assassination in July 1939; she remembered her Mama Charing fleeing during the war carrying little Macarito [ Brother Andrew ] with her right hand and carrying her unwieldy box of silver flatware with her left hand.
Also, Benito “Bito” the majordomo had given us samples of the “egg nog” for the evening. Sometimes the liquor content was strong enough to souse my younger brother Adolfo and sister Rosario to sleep in the living room. I would hyperventilate for a while because of my asthma.
From dear Ate Garing the cook, we kids also enjoyed sample servings of the evening’s cold lobster salad. Yummy…
On Christmas Day, Brother Andrew usually arrived from De La Salle University at around 2:00 p.m.. He would inquire about the food with Ate Garing the cook and look over the preparations with Benito the majordomo. Satisfied that everything was going well, he retired to his bedroom upstairs for a short nap and perhaps a swim, before he personally filled up the De La Salle Brothers Christmas cards that accompanied all his gifts to the family. At 5:00 p.m., he would look for Benito so the Christmas gifts could be brought down to the Christmas tree in the living room. Like Lola Charing, Brother Andrew was traditional with his gift-giving: the ladies usually received French perfume/ eau de toilette and contemporary jewelry from Ramon Villegas’ shop; the gentlemen received French wines and Cuban cigars; the teenagers received the fashionable EDT eaux de toilette and some cash; little girls and boys received good books and some cash. Every member of the household staff received a gift and some cash. And all the household staff of the other family members that were present also received some cash.
In Lola Charing’s lifetime, there was always a shower of coins, in every party and more so during the Christmas party. At a time when even just 25 centavos could buy you something at the convenience store, Lola Charing threw thousands of pesos in coins to the family, household staff, and guests as they shrieked and squealed with delight. Lola Charing’s shower of coins was always something we grandchildren looked forward to at every family gathering.