A will to paradise

Even as a child, I knew I wanted to live in a certain way, in a certain style, no matter what, no matter how…

Every now and then, Lola Charing had to attend an evening affair.  Late in the afternoon in her elegant Art Deco-style, Gonzalo Puyat-furnished bedroom, preparations began.  The room was cool and the bright lights of the cobalt blue prewar Venetian chandelier cast a glamorous glow over the bedroom and the beveled mirrors on its armoire and ladies’ dresser.  Lola Charing used a select variety of perfumes [ although she had every elegant scent available ] and the room smelled strongly of them:  “Joy” de Jean Patou [ in those big, geometric Cristal Baccarat bottles ], “Nuit de Noel” by Caron [ in those oh-so-chic black glass bottles ], “Madame Rochas” by Rochas, and “Mitsouko” by Guerlain.  Lola Charing sat at her “tocador” dresser, contemplating the jewelry for the evening, most of which were purchased from Lola Gely Lopez; She was wearing a silk chemise with lace edgings [ Lola Charing NEVER wore a “duster”; directly under the chemise was her big, brown Carmelite scapular pinned with small medals as she was a member of the T.O.C.D. “Tercera Orden de las Carmelitas Descalzas” / Third Order of Discalced Carmelites ].  The hairdresser Seniang was preparing her “Kanekalon” wig; it stood on a face-shaped styrofoam stand [ which I had painted with eyebrows and lipstick with real maquillage one naughty, “yaya”-unsupervised afternoon when I was six years old 😛 ].  A long dress of printed silk had been laid out on her big bed by one of the maids.  Her nurse Clarita had prepared her French shoes and appropriate evening bag with its natural pearl or gold rosary, prayerbook, French lace handkerchiefs [ Chantilly, Alencon, Valenciennes ], mirror, pressed powder, medicines, and cash.  Her old masseuse Pinang was helping Lola to put on her stockings.    Ate Talia, always the dominant “mayordoma,” was barking out various orders to the household staff.  And Bito, the “mayordomo,” had gone down to the garage to make last-minute checks on the black Mercedes Benz and the uniformed chauffeur to make sure everything was in order for Dona Charing’s departure.

There were early evenings when Mommy and Daddy were preparing to “go out.”  The room was cold and the pretty chandelier lit.  The heady scent was a mix of ladies’ eau de toilette, hair spray, make-up, and men’s eau de cologne.  Mummy sat at her “tocador” dresser, applying make-up, often haphazardly, which resulted in a pretty but curious look [ She was naturally pretty, even without make-up ].  Daddy sat on the right side of the bed, putting on his newly-polished shoes.  It was during those times, despite those difficult Marcos years,  that they looked their best.

And there were frequent entertainments — parties — at Lola Charing’s house.  And of all the parties big and small [ but often big 😛 ], Little Toto enjoyed the preparations for the small “sitdown dinners” very much, for they were the most elegant.  The big signal was when Bito the “mayordomo” opened the silver, china, and crystal cabinets to bring out the dinnerware chosen by Lola Charing or Brother Andrew for the affair.  Several days before the dinner, the household staff would be busy polishing all the intended silverware with pink silver polish and big cotton balls while they watched afternoon and evening TV.  Three days before the affair saw the big house being washed and polished from top to bottom; the garden was arranged and clipped more neatly than usual.  In the morning of the dinner, Bito would buy other flowers from Quiapo [ then the flower hub ] and add them to his arrangements of the big roses from Lola Charing’s rose garden.  In the kitchen, Ate Garing the cook, Bito’s sister, was busy with her assistants preparing her glorious, traditional “slow food” specialties.  Ate Talia, the “mayordoma” and the resident patissier [ being a daughter of the famous chef and patissier Juan Padilla of Sulipan; he created the Menu of the Malolos Congress of 1898 ], had already crafted the exquisite desserts the day before.  After lunch, the round Tampingco-style table in the dining room or the long table in the library — depending on the number of guests — was finally laid out by Bito and assisting staff with Irish linen damask tablecloths and monogrammed napkins, English sterling silver, French china and crystal, flowers, silver and crystal epergnes, porcelain compotes, candy dishes, and name cards as indicated by a chart decided by Lola Charing or Brother Andrew.  Little Toto was intrigued by the “finger bowls”:  silver bowls on lace doilies over silver saucers [ Christofle ] with hot water and rose petals, “sampaguitas,” and small orchid blooms floating about where the guests dipped only their fingertips after the “Pastel de Pichon”  [ Pigeon Pie ] or some similar dish.  It was always the way the Arnedos and the Gonzalezes of Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga had entertained through the years, and it all left a deep impression on my young mind and heart.

To paraphrase an old adage:  “You can take me out of Lola Charing’s house, but you can’t take Lola Charing’s house out of me.”

But things inevitably change… however slowly, however unnoticeably.  I still have everything — the silver, china, crystal, linen, cuisine, staff, and even the wherewithal — required to entertain splendidly, but I no longer have the reasons to do so.  Lola Charing had the happy, united family, the loving and sincere friends, the faith and optimism despite the heavy trials, the Christian piety, the charities, the noble purpose in her life.  I have just the opposite:  a fractious family ruled by ambition and self-preservation [ the humanity of it all!!! ], longtime “friends” and “acquaintances” who betray me, increasing pessimism with every passing “desastre,” a looming agnosticism [ hopefully not atheism ],  “sin verguenza” shameless employees who use, lie, cheat, and steal, and finally, an overall lostness in life.

My father was like that.  I never, ever thought I would be like him in that way.

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10 Comments

  1. zippo said,

    September 29, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Larry,

    Cheers to the Old La Salle Taft Grade School. I was a product of the school myself. I’ll bet you’d be glad to know that Miss Josefina Alburo is still around and is still working for La Salle.

    Z 🙂

  2. September 29, 2008 at 1:27 am

    My sweet Toto,

    My great memory of Brother Andrew was the speech lessons he had La Salle Taft grade schoolers develop. I remember I was Grade 5 and he would wheel in the old kind of tape recorder with reels. I owe my great intonation and enunciation to his great, wonderful voice. He would say phrases or sentences with the famous ending ” Now, repeat after me……….. ” His voice still resides in my mind.

  3. toto gonzalez said,

    September 27, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Jay:

    I transferred your interesting comment about Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio to the blog post “The Moral Alternative” where it belongs. You should get responses to your query soon…

    Thank you very much!!!

    Toto Gonzalez

  4. September 27, 2008 at 8:00 am

    ynchaustti:

    Oh, Lola Charing’s house. It was designed by the architect Juan Nakpil and finished in 1951. My uncle, Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez, FSC, of De La Salle University [ youngest sibling of my father ] inherited it when She passed away in May 1977. In a fit of the usual family madness, He sold it in May 2003 for less than the going price to a Chinese developer and gave all the proceeds to Charity [ not a cent to family 😛 ]. Brother Andrew passed away in January 2006.

    Toto Gonzalez

  5. ynchaustti said,

    September 26, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I don’t want to sound insensitive, but what happened to the old house? Is it still standing?

  6. Garganta Inflamada said,

    September 26, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Did you Manilenos get ‘Will and Grace”?

    If so, then, cher Toto, you should, like ‘Karen Walker’, the ditzy Park Avenue matron character played by Megan Mullaly, go about performing your charitable deeds incognita, when Karen assumed her ‘Anastasia Beaverhausen’ guise, large Holly Golightly-shades and all, in competition with the Joan Collins character’s alter-guise.

    Did that make sense? 🙂

  7. Babblefish said,

    September 26, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Maybe a change in religion might help? Did wonders for me. : )

  8. September 26, 2008 at 4:06 am

    steve:

    Thank you for your advice. I have not been remiss with the various charities of the family but I will take things a step further.

    Toto Gonzalez

  9. steve betts said,

    September 25, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Lostness…in spite of the opulence, rich history, education,the family, the religion, the wealth, the fame. Where does it all bring us?

    You just need an afternoon taking care of the kids at the Caritas orphanage, at the Elsi Gaches village (if its still there), or the children’s/terminal patients’ charity ward in PGH or the East Medical Hospital emergency area or the Fabella Hospital waiting area, Toto. A quick drive around the Baseco compound, or the PNR station in Bicutan can do wonders for your compass as it did for mine (though i do not have those things in the opening line).

    Don’t lose the humor, keep grounded and be thankful for the little things…
    focus on your triumphs…and on the things/people that count…and finally go out of your way to share little things like your talent expecting nothing in return…

  10. September 24, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Larry:

    I transferred your interesting comment about the handsome, model, Hizon brothers to the blog post “Old names, new fortunes” where it belongs.

    Thank you very much!!!

    Toto Gonzalez


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