New Year’s Eve with the Banker

Formidable mother unilaterally decided that we would all spend New Year’s Eve at her son’s English style residence.  Despite our individual [ and separate ] plans, we all acceded because none of us wanted to displease Formidable mother.  But we also wanted to see what her son’s [ the Banker’s ] wondrous “I am in London” house was like…

We arrived at 8:00 p.m. that evening.  Several valets uniformed in dark “barong tagalog” were on hand to signal cars, open and close car doors, and assist the guests in alighting.   The facade of the house was Palladian in style ala Inigo Jones-William Kent-Quinlan Terry.  The drive was paved with granite.  And we entered the massive front door…

OH.  It was English all right.  Expensively English, not at all “desordre anglaise” shabby English [ which was actually the real, authentic, and correct “English Look” practiced in the great houses of Britain;  but then, this was no down-at-heel English fortune, au contraire… ].  It was the way the “English Look” was done for the very rich from Mayfair to Regent’s Park all the way to Park Avenue and the Upper East Side in New York…  It was “the look” done well in Manila, for once!!!  It was not the “I want the ‘English look’ but on a shoestring potatoes budget” so often seen in Manila’s exclusive, and exclusively parsimonious, enclaves.

There was an ethereal, ineffably elegant scent inside the house.  There were perfume burners, certainly by Guerlain of Paris, for the unmistakably expensive scent of “Imperiale” wafted throughout the palatial residence.

The hall of embassy proportions was Georgian in inspiration with a grand marble staircase on the right.  The floor was conventionally European with white marble squares bordered by diamonds of black marble; Italian “pietra dura” marble inlay in a restrained neoclassical pattern lined the perimeter of the floor.    A George I silver chandelier hung from the ceiling.  A tall, tall Christmas tree decorated with antique French and German glass ornaments stood at the foot of the staircase.  And to show that it was indeed the home of a young family, the youngest son’s toys were scattered about the hall.  His toy car, inadvertently left beside the Christmas tree, was from FAO Schwarz in New York, no less.

Tall and glistening burled mahogany double doors heralded the drawing room.  The elegant atmosphere reminded me of the San Francisco living room of the Gordon Gettys and the New York living room of the Milton Petries.  The walls were upholstered in “moutarde”-colored French silk velvet, very Georges Geffroy and Victor Grandpierre.  A large, pale 18th century Samarkand rug lay over the parquet-de-Versailles.  Museum-quality 18th century English and French furniture graced the room.  The upholstered, goose-down filled furniture, from Lenygon & Morant in London, was upholstered in a variety of silk damasks.  Two English Chippendale cabinets held an assortment of French and German “objets de vertu” as well as antique Chinese ivory and jade.  And the paintings.  Oh, the paintings.  The Banker had a taste for the Italian Masters, from the Florentine Renaissance onwards.  There was a Giorgione, a Titian, a Veronese, a Tiepolo, a Guardi, a Canaletto, among so many other splendors.  *nearly faints*

Another pair of elegant double doors led from the drawing room to the dining room.  It was a room straight out of mid-eighteenth century Paris, with gilded boiseries in rococo style.  A genuine French 19th century Aubusson rug was on the floor.  We marveled at the marvelous room, for it was obvious that French stucco artisans had been brought to Third World Manila for the purpose.  But instead of the expected round table draped with classical silk velvet or silk damask and surrounded by Louis XV or Louis XVI single chairs in the classical French style ala Chateau de Montgeoffroy [ where the first real dining room in 18th century France appeared ], a comparatively simple Filipino dining suite of mahogany and carabao bone inlay took pride of place.  We were puzzled by the radical choice of furniture until we were cheerfully, and rather helplessly, told by the Banker himself that the suite had been a gift of Formidable mother early in their marriage.  Oh.  *breathless*    It had better remain there then, despite their vast array of magnificent options at Didier Aaron and Kugel, lest Formidable mother become infuriated and summon the powers of hell…  *fearful*

On another end of the drawing room were another pair of double doors that led to the library.  It was, expectedly, the quintessential English room in the quintessentially English house.

Three pairs of French doors in the drawing room led to the arcaded “loggia.”

Lining the entire length of the ground floor hallway were magnificent examples of authentic Chinese Ming Dynasty furniture purchased from the unimpeachable Robert Ellsworth in New York, a collection begun by Formidable mother.

The powder room was a wonderfully stylish chinoiserie fantaisie with endless mirrors, French gilt-bronze fittings, embroidered Chinese silks, and all manner of rock crystal.

The aristocratic Anglophilia of the splendid residence was completely understandable.  The master of the house, after all, had read at Trinity College at Cambridge, among the most august of academic institutions, and from his youth had been friends with the banking Rothschilds and Guinnesses.  His was no ordinary education from the very beginning:  it had been carefully thought out by his technocrat father and sophisticated mother.

We were told by the staff that Formidable mother was seated at the “loggia,” a big arcaded space beyond the drawing room and the dining room.  And there she was.  Formidable mother, who was as big as her immense fortune [ think Mrs. Catherine Mingott in “Age of Innocence” ], sat on a distinguished English 18th century George III gilt armchair at a round table with all of the requisite teeny-weeny Parisian chinoiserie bamboo-style gilt chairs.  We greeted her enthusiastically but we immediately sensed that she was already exploding her own New Year fireworks…

Formidable mother was in a snit when we arrived.  She was breathing fire.  She looked regal and beautiful in a dark-colored couture gown by Valentino Garavani detailed with black lace and black jet beads [ uncharacteristic of her:  She was, in her later years, usually dressed in elegant, white Swiss fabrics ] .  Her blonde hair was elegantly and expensively coiffed by the salon of the Hotel Intercontinental.  She was wearing some of her favored, custom made [ as in made for her!!! ] Fulco di Verdura and Bulgari jewelry, which she had purchased in Rome back when she “could still run.”  The stylish mix was punctuated by some of the rarest and most expensive pieces of precolonial Filipino gold jewelry, of which she had a very important and renowned collection.  She wore her splendid jewelry with a casual, everyday air; actually, she seemed to be bored with them.  She was shod in dreadfully expensive but comfortable shoes from a Parisian shoemaker.  But she was extremely displeased — livid, actually — to see some of her relatives which her son had dutifully invited.  She hurled invectives at them like popcorn while the staff tactfully led them away…

The evening’s august guests continued arriving.  Among them, the sons of Manila’s [ and the Philippines’ ]  premiere Spanish mestizo family and also the sons of Cebu’s premiere Spanish mestizo family.  Leading bankers and technocrats.  Socially invisible heiresses.  The Paris-based sister of the Banker’s wife, who was “Madame la Baronne de **********,” and a few others, whose names were all synonymous with wealth, power, and influence.

They all proceeded to the “loggia” to greet Formidable mother, who was as grand a doyenne as any.  She knew all of them;  she knew the lowdown on all of them.  The most respectable were received with enthusiastic greetings, warm embraces, and “beso-beso” kisses on both cheeks.  The banking colleagues were greeted warmly with firm handshakes and a kiss on one cheek.  The wheeler dealers and their ambitious wives were met with curt “hellos” and lukewarm handshakes.

Mrs. Banker had not yet made an appearance to their guests.  She was still busy all around the house and specially in the kitchen, directing her staff and attending to the myriad details of the evening.  She was an heiress of an old Chinese fortune in Manila.  They literally owned blocks after blocks of the city’s old but most viable business district.  She was not a particularly beautiful woman, but she had the “X Factor”:  she could be made to look like the most glamorous woman in the city.  Because she was very rich even on her own, she had a considerable “armory”:  piles of boxes of gowns from her couturiers in Paris, rows of current Chanel suits, racks of Blahniks, Choos, and Louboutins, a mountain of Shu Uemura and Murad, and a vault full of contemporary Parisian haute bijoux:  Mouawad, Cartier, Van Cleef, and JAR.  All that, when she would rather dress in a comfortable cotton top and jeans.   She did not exactly get along with Formidable mother-in-law, or rather, Formidable mother-in-law did not exactly get along with her.  At best, they had a grudging respect for each other.

The Banker finally came down to meet his guests, a stylish latecomer at his own party.  He had come from another, more formal New Year’s Eve gathering and he had rushed upstairs to his baronial bedroom for a change of clothes.  He had discarded his English bespoke dinner jacket for a more casual, more avant garde, and still frightfully expensive long-sleeved shirt, pants, and shoes he had picked out in Paris on yet another business meeting just a few days ago.  He was a handsome and strapping man, and he was a fortunate combination of his Southern Tagalog father’s high intellect, incisive business acumen, and executive drive and his mother’s cosmopolitan Mediterranean-Oriental looks, high artistic tastes, and exceptional personal style.  The Banker was a “Renaissance Man” in many ways.

Conversation was at fever pitch when something seemed to have fallen, crashed rather, in the drawing room.  Formidable mother was further incensed when she saw one of her late husband’s Chinese business partners whom she never liked and never trusted;  She thought, rightly, that he was always out to put one over them, or over anybody for that matter.  She had strongly hurled the big Hermes bag which her maid carried — heavy because it contained her gold accoutrements and everything else — in his direction, inadvertently displacing one of a pair of gilt bronze Empire torcheres by Thomire on pedestals which flanked one of the drawing room doors.

Happy New Year!!!  *giggles*

After a pause, the impossibly polite crowd continued yacking as if nothing had happened.

You see, Formidable mother was really something else.  As a Sophia Loren character once said:  “I’m Italian!!!  I don’t have to make sense!!!”

We all left the Banker’s New Year’s eve party with “loot bags” filled with goodies from “Fauchon” in Paris.  Those were all sent every year from Paris in early December by Madame la Baronne de ********** for her sister, Mrs. Banker.  The Banker kept an arsenal of expensive gifts — art works, luxury gold and silver objects, vintage French wines, French comestibles, French clothing, Italian leather, etc. —  for his friends in one room of his splendid house.

It was truly a happy New Year…  The next day, a chatelaine from Bauhinia road complained to her newly arrived but fantastically rich neighbor on Intsia road that his bullets from last night’s revelry had rained on her house and nearly killed one of her beloved poodles.  The arriviste neighbor did not apologize in person, which would have been the proper thing to do, but he promptly sent a generous cheque.  His neighbor on Bauhinia road was insulted, because she was very rich herself, although of the old variety.

Such nice problems to have.


The Evenings of the 25th


Comedy Relief: Faggots

Amidst the very many parties of the season, we found ourselves in an uberchic gathering in a fabulous contemporary house composed of the Party People of the 1970s.  Already in their early to mid 50s, They were “The Perpetual Adolescents” for They were all still in the “Disco Era” as far as Everybody was concerned…

There was an extensive cocktail spread by a chichi caterer, but hardly anyone was interested in it.  The action was at the bar, where Everything from Mouton Rothschild wines to lethal Tequila and Rhum concoctions flowed generously, heedlessly, and endlessly.  And in the darkened living room, amid the most modern Italian furniture, authentic 1970s hospitality was practiced, with an array of **********…

Casually laid out on the coffee table was *******, carefully and elegantly spread on a long tray, for those with more edgy cosmopolitan sensibilities…

And so, Everyone became drunk, “stoned,” and both drunk and “stoned”…

Two of the guests were famous gay characters from the 1970s.  They were neither heirs of great fortunes nor successful professionals.  At best, they were fashion dilettantes.  Perhaps they were the toast of their set 30 years ago, but the ensuing decades had regrettably done much to lessen their looks, resources, popularity, and social desirability.  They were stragglers from an Era that, however young and vibrant in its time, had already passed into memory…

Probably because They had had too much to drink, smoke, sniff, and snort, The Two suddenly started going at each other…

“You’ve always been Fat and Undesirable…”  hissed Faggot # 1.

“You’ve always been Thin because You can’t afford to eat…”  dissed Faggot # 2.

And the Vile Exchange continued…

“You’ve always been Trying So Hard!!!”

“You’ve always been Cheap!!!”

“You’re such a social climber!!!”

“You’re impoverished!!!”

The stylishly petty quarrel reminded us so much of a scene from the the Audrey Hepburn movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” wherein Holly Golightly’s friend Mag Wildwood becomes drunk at Holly’s Party and assails her escorts the Brazilian millionaire Jose da Silva Pereira and the bald American millionaire Rusty Trawler.

“You have no talent whatsoever!!!”

“You have no appeal whatsoever!!!”

“You Never Were!!!”

“You Never Could!!!”

“You’re a ‘Has-Been’!!!”

“You’re the Ultimate ‘Has-Been’!!!  You were Never Even There!!!”

Well, They certainly described themselves best…!!!

Bwahahahahah!!!   😛   😛   😛

The Rich are Different

It wasn’t exactly The International Yacht Club at Antibes, but it would have to do anyway. 


“La Inmaculada Concepcion”


Nuptial Splendor

Last night, We attended an unbelievably beautiful wedding at a “hacienda” outside Manila.  For an evening, We were spared of all the unpleasant realities of life in the Philippines which, hopelessly enough, cannot really get its act together. 

The bride was the daughter of a prominent stockbroker and investment banker and an heiress to a jewelry and real estate fortune.  The bridegroom was the son of a retired [ American ] Citibank executive and an heiress to a vast plantation.

The Wedding Ceremony at the Chapel of the “hacienda” was straight out of a Luchino Visconti movie.  All was Splendor and Magnificence.  Before an altar presided by life size ivory “santos” and sheathed in antique panels of chased solid silver, The Couple was surrounded by large candles in antique church silver candelabra [ from The Family Collection ] and cascades of white orchids.  The bride wore a strapless gown by an American designer, the groom wore a specially designed “barong tagalog.”  Several priests celebrated The Wedding Mass.  A grand choir sang beautifully during The Mass as a full symphony orchestra played.  Elegant sprays of various exotic white orchids decorated the chapel.  The assemblage — the aristocracy of the day — was as soignee as the setting.  The ladies were beautifully made up and coiffed, wore costly couture gowns of rare fabrics, and glittered in splendid jewels; the gentlemen were attired formally in expensive and exclusively designed “barong tagalog.”  Expensive French perfumes and eaux de toilette punctuated the air.  Actually, the congregation would have expired from the splendorous surfeit were it not for the efficient airconditioning system.

After the requisite pictures at the altar, the families of the bride and the groom and their guests showered the couple with flowers as they left The Chapel.  Hundreds of live butterflies were released along with a pair of white doves.  The Couple rode in an elegant antique black carriage [ from The Family Collection; the kind used for blue ribbon driving in England ] drawn by four splendid horses.  A merry procession to The Manor commenced led by a band, little girls in angel costumes, dancing couples in Filipino attire, and men carrying lanterns, banners, fiesta decorations, and woven arches, The Newlyweds, and their guests riding carriages used in the farm, and another band.     

The approach to The Manor was utterly magical.  A very great number of Tivoli lights generously draped all of the trees fronting, around, and at the back of The Manor.  Actually, the vast grounds, the gardens, the fountains, the statuary, and The Manor itself were gorgeously lit by floodlights on all angles.  One quite literally forgot that he was in the Philippines…


A dinner in Old San Miguel District

Yesterday evening, I found this journal entry of 30 May 2000, Tuesday, 1400 hours:

“”I had a marvelous evening last night.  Joey [ Panlilio ] hosted a birthday dinner for Cora Alvina at Suzette Legarda Montinola’s ‘La Cocina de Tita Moning’ in the PreWar Legarda-Hernandez residence at # 315 San Rafael Street, San Miguel District, Manila.  Also present were Toti and Dorla Villalon, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Becky [ Quema ] de los Reyes, Ino Manalo [ quite a revelation! ], Boni Pimentel, Boy Villegas, and Sonny Tinio [ surprise, surprise, surprise!!! ].  It was a lovely, lovely dinner…”

“I was the last to arrive at 7:45 p.m..  The house had so much atmosphere — ‘Stimmung’!!!  As Joey mentioned beforehand, it reminded me very much of our own family home in Quezon City:  imposing architecture, a nice garden, lights all around.  One entered through a porte-cochere  to a foyer with a stairway, a clinic on the left and a library to the right.  On the second floor, a small vestibule with an imposing Venetian mirror led to the ‘Sala’ [ living room ] on the left and to the ‘Comedor’ [ dining room ]on the right.”

“The square ‘Sala’ was painted a light blue-green, a very European, nay very English color.  An imposing Spanish chandelier hung from the ceiling.  On the main wall, opposite the windows, hung a large painting by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo [ !!! ] of a  lovely young woman [ in what looked like night clothes ] dated 1901.  Gorgeous!!!  On a wall adjacent to the window was a folder-size painting by Juan Luna [ !!! ] of a lady in a black dress.  She seemed to be scratching her back while the young lady [ of Hidalgo ] did not seem to have taken a bath yet.  When I mentioned this irreverently to Sonny Tinio, he gave me a ten-ton glare — so typical of him!!!”

“The ‘Comedor’ had a long dining table with Art Deco-style Puyat dining chairs.  There were two round tables on one side, one of them marble-topped.  There were three cabinets:  one contained silverware, another one contained silver and porcelain [ remarkable was a Meissen covered dish with a putto on the lid, its arm broken ], and a third contained only crystal.  Beautiful Meissen plates in dark blue and gold with flowers from the ancestral porcelain service of the Tuason-Legarda-Prieto-Valdes Clan hung on the walls.  The table was elegantly set with PreWar Heacock chinaware, Art Deco-style sterling silver flatware,  and 1930s green American glassware, all on an exquisite tablecloth of tatting lace, laden with fresh flowers.”

“The menu consisted of Pumpkin Soup, Baked Lapu-Lapu with an Avocado Salad, homemade Mango Sherbet, ‘Lengua en Salsa Blanca,’ ‘Arroz ala Valenciana,’ Mixed Greens Salad, Cheese and Fruit platter, the justly famous Bread Pudding of ‘Tita Moning,’ to coffee, tea, and candy.  It was a delicious meal with all the flavors, scents, and nuances of home…”

“Conversation was lively, what with the utterly fascinating group.  Sometimes funny, sometimes bitchy, but always fascinating…!!!””

Closing Ranks

A young member of one of Manila’s most important families is in big trouble.

Watch as Manila’s most influential families close ranks to protect their own.

That was always how it was, still is, and always will be forever and ever…  Amen.

Comedy Relief: “Azotea” with a view


LGBT, Espiritu style

We had our own version of the lesbian-oriented movie “Imagine Me and You” [ starring Piper Perabo, Lena Headley, and Matthew Goode ] about 100 years ago…

My Espiritu great great grandfather Pedro Armayan Espiritu y Macam [ + 1905 ] married three times.  His first wife was Maxima Santa Rita, whom he derisively described in his Last Will and Testament as having had no money.  His second wife was the heiress Dorotea Arnedo Cruz, with whom he had a daughter, Francisca Armayan Espiritu y Arnedo Cruz.  His third wife was his housekeeper, Ysabel Dungo y Nocom, under whose voluminous skirt he hid [ and promptly smelled her arousing pheromones!!! ] when the Spanish authorities had come to arrest him on suspicion of sedition in 1872.  They had six children:  Eulogio, Maria [ my great grandmother, the dotty “Maruja” married to Pampanga Governor Macario Arnedo y Sioco ], Dalmacia, Gregorio, Aurea, and Ysidora.

My great grandaunt Aurea “Ondeng” Espiritu y Dungo [ + 1926 ] and her second cousin Leonarda “Anday” Macam [ of Calumpit ] were very close.  As in extremely close.  Much too close, actually…

Leonarda “Anday” had left her home in Calumpit town to join her second cousin Aurea “Ondeng” at the Espiritu mansion in Sitio Alauli, Barrio San Vicente, Apalit, Pampanga.  They lived together contentedly.

They were “beaut” [ pronounced “bee-yoot”; wheretheh*ll that term came from I don’t know ], or what is known in contemporary terms as “on.”

When Aurea “Ondeng” died at the young age of 42 [ most probably because she did not have great sex with a man yet ], she left her jarful of gold and diamond jewelry to her “beaut” Leonarda “Anday.”

“Anday” was disconsolate.   She composed a poem written in brass letters that was mounted on “Ondeng’s” gravestone at the Espiritu Mausoleum at the Apalit Catholic Cemetery.  Unfortunately through the decades, the elements have dismembered the brass letters of the poem and all one can see now is “Ondeng!  Ondeng!” of the original “mushy” sentimental verses…  Oh well…

“Anday” died just a few years later to join her beloved “Ondeng.”

Wasn’t that Romantic???!!!

It just shows how We’re always at the forefront of things, even Sexual Ones.

Bwahahah!!!   😛   😛   😛

*LGBT = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community

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