Of course, it will never happen again (not in that way, at least), but oh, the memories… the memories!!!
As dozens and dozens of us jocose, loquacious, costumed (not to mention bejeweled) guests were walking from the cafe pavilion towards the big pavilion in the moonlight, by the river, lit by torches, I told myself: “This is one of the magical evenings of your life, Toto, savor it for all its worth…” And indeed, it was magical: under the moonlight and the fiery torches, one could still see the sea of shimmering silks of brilliant colors, embroidery, appliquees, sequins, and the glittering gems, both genuine and faux, of this happy and privileged troupe come to honor their good friend and to enjoy the lavish feast of the senses he had laid out for them.
There was something in the air that evening: some kind of indefinable happiness, joy, and insouciance which permeated everyone and everything. Yes, the insouciance was infectious. We were all carefree that evening, free from all problems and inhibitions, merriment was the order of the night. For that one moonlit evening, Ado’s “1,000 most intimate friends” were not their usual selves: NOT taipans, taitais, dons, donas, big businessmen, big businesswomen, real estate developers, shipping titans, logistics moguls, ambassadors, diplomats, senators, congressmen, mayors, technocrats, bankers, financiers, architects, jewellers, interior designers, fashion designers, antique dealers, chefs, photographers, writers, gourmets, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, etc.. All were just well-wishing party guests out for a great time. We were laughing at ourselves, amazed at how we managed to dress in those splendid, even outlandish costumes. The ladies mock-blamed Ado: “My goodness! Only Ado can get us to do these crazy things!” while adjusting their headdresses, checking their jewelry — earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, & anklets, and inspecting their shoes. The gentlemen preened like peacocks, pleased with their handsome appearances and opulent garb, and chuckled among themselves.
Oh yes, in Manila, there are parties and there are parties. But even heedless Php millions spent, a top hotel ballroom in its entirety, Php 10,000/pax dinners, endless French grand cru wines and champagne, top live bands, an AAA guest list clad in Brioni and Chanel with suitably well-dressed yayas carrying their “it bags,” shod in G.J. Cleverley & Blahniks, and arriving in the latest Benzes & Bimmers, top party planners, Crane invitations, gold and diamond jewelry and Cristal Baccarat giveaways, do not necessarily a great/fantastic party make. I have observed that firsthand. In fact, I’ve witnessed, shellshocked, several such parties fall flat for some really unusual and weird reasons. But Ado Escudero’s 80th bash, for all its amusing, charming, and bewildering hiccups, had that all-too-elusive MAGICAL SPARK which will forever distinguish it as one of the greatest fetes every held in the Philippines.
And it was not an entirely A-List party, not at all. Ado himself was very clear about that from the start and was the first to declare it candidly. He knew it would not sit well with the several society/sassiety rags covering his bash — the usual spiel “Who are all these people???!!!” — but he didn’t care. He wanted his many, many friends, a thousand of them to be specific, at his 80th milestone celebration, regardless of economic and social stature, indeed all sublevels of class A, B, & C were present, although of course there were many of Ado’s truly affluent peers present. Truly, he is au courante: politically correct and in tune with the times. It is also why his party, despite the seeming opulence and lavishness of it all, has not merited the usual media brickbats of conspicuous consumption and social insensitivity from socialist/leftist critics and commentators. Bal populaire it certainly was not, but yes, Juan & Juana de la Cruz, a great many of them, were present at their Ka Ado Escudero’s grand 80th celebration, and they enjoyed it to the same degree — got all dressed up, ate a lot, danced merrily, and had a whale of a time — like everybody else.
I belonged to the Morocco contingent of heiress Maria Victoria “Marivic” Madrigal Vazquez (a granddaughter of Vicente Madrigal, one of the Philippines’ richest men of all time), so I had to line up with them. Her merry troupe included socialite Patty Johnson-Jalbuena, Lipa City Colleges owner and VP Glecy Mojares, Hermes & Bulgari Manila exec Nympha Javier-Valencia, senior journalist Ethel Soliven-Timbol, designer Raul Luancing, and several others. My dear friend, top costume designer Eric Pineda, dressed fantastically as Jadis, the Ice Witch from Narnia, complete with LED lights, joined the troupe. I was dressed by Eric Pineda and bejeweled by top couture jewelry designer Gerry Sunga, another dear friend, as “Suleiman the Magnificent,” Emperor of the Ottoman empire (Turkish actually, but then everybody was a delightful mishmash anyway). It was a splendid costume which drew rave reviews from practically everyone present. Before the Morocco contingent was the Bali one with heritage advocate Cora Relova and thespian Tony Marino; after Morocco was the Hawaii contingent with leading publisher Gus Vibal and his friends.
“Yaya! Where’s my mirror?”
“You look faaabulous, darling!”
“I’m hungry… I’ll eat anything… Anything!”
“You eat one bite and your costume will pop open!”
“Ferdie (driver), go to the car and get my hopia!”
“Ha ha ha! While you were having your make-up done earlier, Bobby & I went back here and had cocktails. We’re OK!”
“You know, I already gained weight since I had my costume made! The waist is tight! Argh!”
“What do you expect? You keep on eating out!”
“I couldn’t decide on what sari to wear… and what jewelry to wear… pink diamonds with the blue sari, or blue sapphires with the pink sari? yellow diamonds with the green, or emeralds with the red? Or rubies? I feel underdressed… You all look so fantastic!”
“I don’t know about you but I’m wearing all fake! I don’t care if anything falls while I’m drunk!”
“Mrs. Marcos is here!”
“Is Eden Volante with her?”
“Ay! My heels!”
“I told you to wear your wedgies, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“Oh dear, my make-up’s already running… help me to retouch!”
“Mygawd! You have the whole Rustan’s beauty section in your bag!”
“Oh no, this bag goes after the retouch, I don’t want to have to lug it around. Yaya! Carry this bag after I finish, OK? And be careful!”
“Hi Gorgeous Guy! How about dancing with me tonight?”
“How about something more than just dancing tonight, Gorgeous Girl?!”
“What about me, Gorgeous Guy??? I’m Gorgeous Gay!!!”
“Well, OK, you too…”
We all stood on the wooden bridge leading to the big pavilion awaiting our turn to be presented when fireworks announced the forthcoming arrival from upstream of Ado in his 2-storey pagoda escorted by other boats with pyrotechnics and performers. It was a sight to be remembered by his guests for all time…
It was Conrado “Ado” Escudero’s 80th birthday and he finally held his long-promised, and equally long-awaited Oriental ball, “The Carnival of the Four Continents.” It was a celebration he had anticipated since he was 70, 10 years ago…
It was the culmination, the highest point of Ado Escudero’s very giving and very social life. But certainly not the end.
Far from it.