Intramuros of Lost Memory

There are those who say that Intramuros should be preserved because of its sheer historical importance:  for hundreds of years before 1571 it was the site of the flourishing settlement of “Maynilad” ruled by the Tagalog rajahs of ancient Malay history; from 1571 – 1898 it was Manila, the colonial capital of “Las Islas Filipinas” and the seat of the Spanish Empire as well as of the Roman Catholic Church in the Far East; from 1898 – 1941 it was part of the rapidly expanding American colonial city of Manila, which at that time was one of the most progressive and beautiful cities in Asia when Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok were mere towns and backward settlements.  Filipino History happened in Intramuros, as simple as that; one wonders why some intellectually-challenged quarters of Filipino Society have such difficulty understanding that fact.

There are those who say that the dead Walled City of Intramuros is a useless remnant of Spanish colonial oppression, that the resources of the nation can be directed towards more productive economic activities that will benefit a larger percentage of the Filipino people.  Yes of course, productive economic activities that benefit our admirable, truly hardworking, and frugal government officials and politicians. 

Then there are the local politicians who want to conserve and increase the ranks of the “informal settlers” [ one of those odd new “politically-correct” terms; the term is more incorrect than the former “squatters” because it reduces our less fortunate brothers to something akin to supernatural elementals or even extraterrestrials ] in the area because of the sheer number of their votes come election time.

It is during “pointless” cultural debates like these that I frankly miss the Marcos Era.  During that time, what President Ferdinand Marcos and Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos wanted just happened.  Period.

If one opposed them, he just “disappeared” from the face of the world.

To quote a disco song from the 1970s:  “That’s the way uhuh uhuh I like it!!!  Uhuh uhuh!!!  That’s the way uhuh uhuh I like it!!!”

One has to take a stand on things.  This is mine.

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Old names, new fortunes

I recently attended the birthday luncheon of a dear friend, a gentleman of old Pampanga, held at a top hotel.  The guest list of 50 was entirely old Pampanga and surprisingly enough, entirely affluent.  There were none of the newly-prominent arriviste families who currently had the run of the province.  Although it was all casual and convivial — it was a luncheon after all — there was that undercurrent of sheer affluence and steely elegance always palpable when a certain class of old Pampanga get together.

It was interesting to note that while all the surnames were old and of exalted ancestry, some lineages stretching back to the 1700s — Hizon, Henson, Lazatin, Singian, Panlilio, de Leon, Escaler, Gonzalez, Nepomuceno, Ocampo, Paras, Salgado, Miranda, Dizon, Sandico, et. al. — their current fortunes were all relatively recently accumulated through new businesses, professions, and transactions:  banking, mining, manufacturing, shipping, logistics, exports, information technology, real estate, jewelry, etc..   None of the Pampangos present possessed the traditional agricultural fortunes of their “hacendero” forebears.  Those were definitely things of the past:  Mount Pinatubo, CARP, NPA / Communism, the 1972 agrarian reform, the Hukbalahap, and the prewar social reforms had rendered irrelevant and collectively eradicated the agricultural, feudal way of life.  Several of them of course, still possessed mostly unproductive tracts of land, controlled by expertly convoluted and intractable corporate structures.  But they were nothing more than sentimental relics of a forgotten age.  To all of those present, the past with all its glories and failures was the past, and the present was “healthier” and much more interesting with fast-paced profits and endless travels worldwide.  The descendants of old Pampanga already had new lifestyles:  while not exactly “out with the old,” the key words were “new, newer, and newest”!!!

There was a pattern to the maintenance and expansion of all that affluence, and it wasn’t exclusively Pampango.  Education was a priority, not only to further the advancement of the young, but also to maintain, expand, and upgrade their social connections.  The children were sent to the schools where the children of the other “good families” were sent.  Class lists were requested and perused by eagle-eyed parents and grandparents who identified the “suitable” friends for their children among their classmates.  That meant that they would study, play, and be foolish together as well, thus cementing upcoming business and social relationships.  At home, the boys were taught by their fathers the “masculine” chores from basic electricals to vehicle maintenance; the girls were taught by their mothers all the home arts from cooking to cleaning to entertaining in style; laziness was not tolerated under any circumstances.  The famed, pristine cleanliness of a Pampango home [ to the point of being a lifeless showcase ] was a point of pride for many good Pampango families.  Undergraduate studies were at the Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle, and for the open-minded and adventurous, the University of the Philippines.  Also for college and the now-required postgraduate studies, only the top, “Ivy League” universities in the USA would do — Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania,  also Stanford, UC Berkeley, Duke, NYU, Fordham, Georgetown, unless the children wanted to go to Europe and attend Oxford or Cambridge, the Sorbonne, or the Universidad Complutense.  Back home, marriage with another Pampango of “good family” was preferred, if only for the obvious reason that the couple’s traditionally discriminating palates would be compatible.  The business connections were appreciated but properly reserved for the future.  If they decided to marry “outside the race” to a Manileno or even an Ilonggo or a Negrense, then it was understood that the fiance / fiancee was also of “good family.”  Marriage to an “unknown” / “desconocido” was unimaginable in the light of one’s “proper” family [ read:  rich and conservative ].  Entrepreneurial business activities, even for those employed by multinational corporations, were encouraged for both the husband and the wife.  The young were always encouraged to go into business for themselves.  Children were well-fed with expensive comestibles to the point of obesity not only for health, but also to show one’s wherewithal to afford the best for their offspring.   Perhaps owing to their distant Chinese ancestry, the Pampangos were all too conscious of business and money matters.  Despite all the acknowledgments of blood relations, of affectionate regards, of graciousness, it mattered extremely what one’s businesses / corporations [ note the plural! ] and current financial standing were, because as everyone else was of the expected patrician lineage, Money — preferably big, bigger, biggest money — was the only basis for one’s social standing in the community, and with it, the respect accorded by one’s business and social peers.

And those are the values of a discreet Pampango aristocracy which has inexplicably survived to this cyber day and age… outlasting every attempt of rebellion and revolution.

The Colors of Money

“”What happened was the classical, tragic story of the marriage of a superrich, lovestruck widower and a patrician alluring widow, each with their own sets of children.”

“Although it was not a rags-to-riches story, since his parents were already rich and propertied ( his father was a prominent businessman who was appointed as an ambassador, his mother’s Chinese father had accumulated a fortune in the garbage disposal business during the late 1800s and she herself started a second, bigger fortune in the moneylending business which resulted in a permanent falling-out with her siblings ), the widower had built a shipping fortune, along with several industries, with his brother. But despite his great wealth, he had lost his wife to cancer, and was lonely. His wife had inherited substantial wealth, including a portfolio of foreign real estate, as the daughter of a great Chinese-Filipino fortune in the late 1800s. Her grandfather had been implicated in the Revolution of 1896 and had been incarcerated at Fort Santiago. His wife had secured his release by bribing the authorities with a bagful of diamonds and they fled Filipinas soon after.”

“The widow was the daughter of a rich and proud Northern Luzon family descended from a great Chinese-Filipino fortune in the late 1800s. Her Chinese ancestor had been one of the first Filipino millionaires, with an estate valued at an unbelievable +1 million in 1896. She had been married to a hacendero with vast landholdings in Western Luzon. And because hacendero’s mother was from a very rich and prominent Manila family, he owned Manila real estate as well.”

“The hacendero passed away of a heart attack, and despite his known considerable resources, had left his widow and children with surprisingly little. It came as a shock to his widow to discover that they had practically consumed his inheritance during their marriage, that they had dipped into capital, and that it was practically gone. Beautiful and faultlessly elegant, but impoverished, the widow sought the help of her many rich amigas. In time, she came to live with the kindest of them in tony La Vista, Quezon city.”

“Because they both circulated in “alta sociedad”/high society in this little city of Manila, the lonely widower soon came upon the alluring widow at various gatherings. He was lovestruck. She was looking for a second husband to support her and her children. She was barely getting on and was merely keeping up appearances in society. It was rumored in their circles that they had been each other’s first love during their youth, but it was never confirmed.”

“The alluring widow was encouraged by her children and by her rich amigas to marry the superrich widower. Memorably, her rich amiga, with whom she was staying with in La Vista, told her in Spanish: “Marry him. That way you won’t have to worry about switching on the airconditioner in your bedroom in the evenings.””

“From the start of the mature romance, the widower’s family definitely did not like the widow, suspecting her of motives other than love, and his siblings ( with whom he was very close ) and children put up all sorts of resistance to him so he would desist from marrying her. “No, no, no!!! Please don’t, don’t, don’t marry her!!!” they begged him. However, he was adamant and pursued the romance through to the marriage which was celebrated in society circles.””

“The marriage took place in the late 1980s, with the widower’s family on one side of the church and the widow’s on the other. At the reception, the widower’s family kept to themselves on one side of the ballroom and the widow’s did the same on the other. And the twain never did meet, even in the years that followed.”

“Once married, the widow’s manifold financial problems finally came to an end. The superrich widower spoiled her and catered to all her wiles. He was always described by his colleagues in big business as a shrewd, very shrewd, businessman. No one was more shrewd than he was in Manila! But he was completely in thrall of his second wife and generously provided for her and her children. However, all of the indulgences were not lost on his silently observing siblings and increasingly resentful children.”

“Because the superrich widower had married the widow, she gained access to all of his assets and eventually became co-administrator of them. It worried his children no end because their father still controlled the very considerable assets of their deceased mother, who was very rich in her own right. One of his sons took it upon himself to guard his father’s assets from the second wife, even following them on trips abroad. But despite his watchfulness, the second wife gained access to the title, and subsequent ownership, of a very valuable property in Hong Kong that had belonged to his late mother, among other assets.”

“The second wife and her stepson eventually descended into a cold war for the assets of her superrich husband. That, when her husband hadn’t even passed away yet; in fact, despite occasional bouts of illness, he was reasonably healthy despite his late age. The stepson followed the second wife with suspicion everywhere and she became very angry with her husband whenever his son was present. Every time he followed her abroad, she demanded USD $ 10,000 cash from her husband for the offense caused her, and he always willingly obliged.”

“The superrich widower’s children and his siblings (with whom he was very close) began to wonder what hold his second wife had on him that he seemed to be funneling all that $$$ money and assets to her and her children. She was no longer beautiful, was not exactly the soul of kindness or solicitousness, nor did she have exceptional talent for business. In fact, to them she was like a witch, all looming darkness and veiled secrecy.”

“They also began to worry because the widower, hitherto healthy as a cow, had begun to fall sick more frequently, with more gravity. It would have all been explicable as old age were it not for something they accidentally discovered under his bed in the master bedroom. Under the bed was a big, darkened metal bowl piled with all sorts of ghastly items: human bones, human hair, dead plants, blackened knives and big nails, black cloth. Despite the children and their uncles and aunts being educated, rational beings, to them it smacked of witchcraft. They immediately consulted an occultist who revealed that those items were part of a spell meant to cause illness and eventual death. They became very worried, became convinced that the second wife was a practitioner of the black arts, and decided that she must be spied on to prevent her dark plans.”

“There was the time when the stepson found out that the second wife would be going to South Korea without his father, ostensibly for medical treatment. What would she be doing in South Korea alone for medical treatment, without his father, knowing how inseparable they were? (No, “Hallyu” the Korean Hollywood wave had not come yet, “Koreanovelas” had not yet become popular in the Philippines, and she was no “Koreanovela” fan.) The stepson followed her to Seoul, going as far as to wait in a coffee shop outside her hotel the whole day just to track her activities. The morning after her arrival, she alone took a hotel limousine to a remote place 2 hours away from Seoul to a big, sprawling albeit strange, windowless building that could be taken for a temple because it was so quiet, except for the fact that no one entered or emerged from it, except for the second wife. The stepson practically waited the whole day for her to leave, and she did so just before nightfall to return to Seoul.”

“Back in Seoul, the stepson lost no time in contacting his Korean business contacts and inquired about that place 2 hours away from Seoul, about that big, sprawling albeit strange, windowless building. They told him that it was a place known to Koreans where dark spells could be cast against one’s enemies and opponents effectively. The stepson froze in his tracks at the realization that the second wife was indeed practicing the black arts. On his father. And perhaps, on all of them.”

“Back in Manila, the stepson told his siblings and his uncles and aunts of his alarming discovery in South Korea. They were all justifiably worried. But they all conceded that they couldn’t do anything about the situation. The widower would not listen to one bad word about his second wife, whom he loved dearly, nor even about her children, not even from his children nor his siblings.”

“But as always, with all things in life, the second wife eventually passed away in the late 2000s. She was visiting her children and their families in Brussels for the Christmas holidays and she, predictably enough as with all old people, contracted pneumonia. Her medical condition consistently turned from bad to worse to worst. Soon it was all over. She passed away before Christmas.”

“The superrich husband was informed by his stepchildren of his second wife’s rapidly deteriorating health in faraway Brussels and he wanted to fly there immediately to be with her. They begged him to come ASAP repeatedly, every day. But his children and his siblings protested vehemently: “No, no, no!!! It’s very cold there now and you too will catch pneumonia!!! And die!!! You must not go!!!” While he realized the great health risks of heading to Brussels, he was very distraught at the thought that he could not be with the second wife he loved dearly, who was dying in a faraway land. Tormented by his helplessness, he wept profusely during those days.”

“On the other hand, when the superrich husband’s children and his siblings learned of the second wife’s deteriorating health condition in faraway Brussels, with every downward spiraling twist and turn, they became elated and cheered among themselves: “At last!!! At last!!! We shall be rid of her!!!” They knew that they would soon be rid of her and everything questionable she stood for in their lives. Including her children whom they never liked as well, in fact, they never accepted them as one of their own.”

Right after the second wife passed away, her daughter placed a frantic call from Brussels to Manila, to the deceased’s 2 best friends, and urgently requested them to get hold of crucial, very important documents her mother kept in the safe of the master bedroom, and to get them at any way and at any cost.

The morning after the second wife had passed away in Brussels, despite the several calls from her children announcing her demise, the siblings and children of superrich husband decided to defer informing him of the event, to avoid upsetting him early in the day. He took his breakfast with his siblings and his children in the spacious lanai as always. Along came the 2 friends of his second wife who didn’t inform him of the sad news either. He invited them to breakfast and the conversation was pleasant as always, as if his second wife was there.

After the meal, he excused himself as he had to go to the office, as always. The 2 friends remained behind. Being regular guests of “senora” (second wife) at the house, the household staff did not think of anything unusual, much less suspect, when the 2 demure ladies entered the master bedroom by themselves. There, following instructions of second wife’s daughter, they tried to open the small, wall safe behind the Fernando Amorsolo “Burning of Manila” but could not. Since they couldn’t open it, the 2 women sneaked in their drivers simply yanked the safe out of the wall and carried it to their car. Mission accomplished.

*unfinished*

It’s about the money.  It’s always about the money.

Can’t take it with you

Old Lady Senator — one of the very richest ladies in Manila — finally passed away after many years of seclusion.  We were informed by her sisters-in-law — first cousins of my father — through a text message that she lay in state at her late younger sister’s residence in North Forbes Park.

Wishing to avoid the expected ubersocial crush in the evening since the funeral would be the next day, I chose to pay my respects in the mid-afternoon.  It was a pleasant and breezy sunny afternoon, the gates of the house were open, and there were a few cars parked outside.

Apparently, other people also chose to pay their respects in the quiet mid-afternoon…  I followed in the heels of Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.

# 77  Cambridge Circle, North Forbes Park was a palatial residence [ by Filipino standards, at least ], and there was simply no other way to describe it. It was designed by Architect Gabriel “Gabby” Formoso and was finished in 1978; the interior design and decoration — a prime example of classical, aristocratic Filipino taste — was by Fernando “Pandot” Ocampo Jr..  It was a house of embassy proportions; a place where one could truly entertain in high style.  I had been there a few times, yet I was still charmed with every visit.  It was, for me,  traditional Filipino living at its most elegant and most cosmopolitan, for it was supported by an immense fortune that spanned the globe.  One ascended a short flight of marble steps into a foyer / courtyard with columns and a fountain.  On the left side were the double doors to the living room / drawing room.  It was an elegant, rectangular room with a 12 foot high ceiling and covered in jade green fabric:  it was crowned by a chandelier of Baccarat crystal [ with individual shades in the Edwardian manner ] and furnished with gilded French furniture and Persian rugs, punctuated with antique French, English, German, and Chinese porcelains.  A portrait of the glamorous chatelaine in her youth by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo and paintings by old masters Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo hung at the farthest wall.  Although the room had been photographed several times, its remarkable tone of hushed luxury and high formality, albeit a tad sepulchral, had never been captured on film.

A uniformed valet / steward ushered me inside the house.  The foyer / courtyard was lined with funeral wreaths sent by the most prominent Filipinos, ordered from the city’s most expensive and most elegant florists; I instantly recognized two from Margarita Fores’ “Fiori di M.”  I turned to the left and entered the living room, where people were speaking in murmurs.  I greeted one of the nieces and paused to see if there was anybody else I knew in the room.  At the far end of the room, below the deceased chatelaine’s glamorous Fernando Amorsolo portrait, the elegant, dark casket of the elder sister was closed, draped with a flag;  it was flanked, somewhat oddly, by two uniformed lady guards, perhaps sent from the Senate.  Rows of European-style gilded salon chairs were arranged in front of the casket.  Seated in the front row, to the right, were the only daughter of the deceased, a lawyer by profession, and her banker husband.  So I made my way to the front, passing the right side of the room.

“Our prayers… It happened quickly, didn’t it?”

“Well… yes.  She had pneumonia.  But she had already been ill the past six months.  Even when her sister passed…”

…………

The living room doors opened to an airconditioned, black grills and glass-enclosed, tennis court-size “lanai” with “machuca” tile flooring.

The expert staff of “Le Souffle,” arguably Manila’s best and most expensive restaurant, was busy setting up round tables for an expected crowd of 200 visitors on that last evening of the wake.  The buffet stations, still in preparation, already looked promising.

The large “lanai” faced an undulating, immaculate lawn with impeccably maintained plant borders.  The beautiful garden looked like the work of a premiere landscape artist like I.P. Santos, Shirley Brinas-Sanders, Ponce Veridiano, et. al..  That strip of lawn and its borders gave the impression that there was more to the garden than was immediately visible from the “lanai,” and it really was…

It truly was the clan’s preeminent residence, the place where they were “more Madrigal,” more themselves than anywhere else.  Sadly, its original chatelaine — the fire-breathing dragon lady who gave life and style to the whole establishment — had already passed months ago.

And as I took one last look at that family’s ineffable splendor, I reflected:  “Quo vadis?  Where to?  For all the wealth, for all the style, for all the lives so grandly lived, all shared the same ending as for those with no wealth, no style, and lives so desperately and meaninglessly lived…”  Or so I thought, in an existentialist manner.  I hoped I was mistaken.

Can’t take it with you.  No matter what.

[ It was only proper to pay my respects for four reasons:  1 ]  She was very nice to my late Lola Charing: her thoughtful gifts through the years were valued by my grandmother;  2 ]  She was married to the [ then ] most accomplished paternal first cousin of my father after she was widowed; he was very close to my widowed Lola Charing and successfully waged crucial legal battles on her behalf in the early 1950s;  3 ]   her only daughter is a paternal second cousin and a “madrina” of my sister at her wedding; 4 ]  her only son by her first husband is a fun friend in antique collecting circles and is definitely one of the coolest guys around. ]

Parallel Universe

Bacolod Bash

I was born too late [ January 1967 ] to have attended those famed “Kahirup” and “Mancomunidad Pampanguena” balls but what I experienced last Wednesday evening, 10 September 2008, in Talisay city, Negros Occidental, must have come very close, in essence, to those legendary occasions.  If I remember correctly, “Kahirup” in “Hiligaynon” [ the dialect of the Ilonggo people of Iloilo and the Negrense of Negros Occidental ] means “togetherness,” and absolutely wonderful togetherness it was that magical evening…

The Lizares-Alunan clan and their friends had gathered that evening for the formal ceremonies opening their legendary ancestral house “Balay ni Tana Dicang” [ “The House of Capitana Dicang” ] as a museum and cultural center, not only for their hometown of Talisay [ city ], but for the whole of Negros Occidental.  The “Balay ni Tana Dicang” is the stately 1880 “bahay-na-bato” of Efigenio “Eniong” Lizares y Treyes and Enrica “Dicang” Alunan y Labayen built of “coquina” coral stone and various hardwoods.  The Lizares-Alunan family was a principal player during the decades-long “sugar boom” — the “golden age” of Negros Occidental when endless, lucrative sugar exports created the vast fortunes of several enterprising families.  The house is a remarkable and fortunate survival from 1880 because of the continuing fortunes of the Lizares-Alunan descendants.

Our dear friend, Adrian “Adjie” Lizares, has long been the indefatigable engine of the project, and it was mostly because of him that a whole contingent of cultural “movers and shakers” from Manila flew to Negros Occidental for the occasion.

Heading the Manila contingent was heiress-businesswoman-arts patroness Maria Victoria “Marivic” Madrigal Vazquez.  Also there were businessman-top Filipiniana collector Richard Barnes Lopez and his beautiful wife Sandra de la Rama Batestuzzi-Lopez; Filipiniana designer Beatriz “Patis” Pamintuan-Tesoro and her husband Atty. Jose Claro “Tito” Tesoro;  publisher Josephine “Opat” Labrador-Hermano;  artist Victor Magsaysay;  artist, director, and bon vivant Placido “Don” Artadi Escudero Jr., famous trompe l’oeil artist Susana “Tats” Rejante-Manahan, top production designer Gino Gonzales, and I [ we traveled together ];  heiress-businesswoman-philanthropist Maria Teresa “Tess” Zamora Lopez and the magnificent Museo De La Salle’s creator and major benefactor Jose Ma. Ricardo “Joey” Panlilio;  low-key heiress-businesswoman Jenny Fernandez de los Reyes;  gallery owner Albert Avellana;  “Town & Country” Philippines’ art director Manny Chaves and his son Joey; et. al..

The lone representative of what I like to call “the other grand Talisay clan,” the Lacson-Araneta [ descendants of Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma and Rosario Araneta y Emilia { Cabunsol } ], was Carmen “Nena” Claparols Rossello, who came in a Muslim-inspired outfit which she told us the next day was somehow a reference to her part-Muslim ancestry as her Claparols-Lacson great-grandmother, Rosario Araneta y Emilia [ Cabunsol ], was descended from the old, royal Islamic Kabunsuan line of Mindanao.  Her popular philanthropist first cousin, Anna Claparols Balcells, was unable to attend.

The popular and goodlooking Gastons of Manapla town were there in full force:  Monsignor Guillermo “GG” Gaston, nephews Joey and Jomi, and Joey’s wife Ina.  The splendid Gaston ancestral home in Silay City has become the “Balay Negrense” museum; the family has long preferred to reside at their Hacienda Santa Rosalia in Manapla town, where they built an elegant “casa hacienda” in the 1930s, a residence that has gained lasting popularity as the “house” in the landmark 1982 movie “Oro, Plata, Mata” of director Peque Gallaga.  The Gaston table is justly renowned and both Joey and Jomi are restaurateurs:  Bacolod’s “Trattoria Uma” and “Cafe Uma” are theirs.

All the guests were charmed by the hundreds of big, beautiful hibiscus flowers [ of imported varieties ] liberally but elegantly strewn on the various tables of the house.  To the avid gardeners / plant collectors among the guests [ I being one of them ], it was a mystery to see the various hibiscus flowers in full bloom detached from their plants, because they tended to shrivel once cut; hibiscus do not make good cut flowers.  The flowers came from the splendid garden of the renowned horticulturist Francis Wong Te.  The blooms had been picked early in the morning, refrigerated the whole day, and only strewn on the various tables an hour before the affair.  The effect was so elegant and yet so understated.  In the “comedor” dining room, unusual plants with small pretty flowers and long tendrils on the antique pedestals elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from the plant aficionados like Marivic Vazquez, Patis Tesoro, Tats Manahan, Don Escudero, Gino Gonzales, and I, also Tess Lopez, Joey Panlilio, Manny Chaves and his son Joey, and several others.  We were told that the plant was popularly called “bin Laden”!!!  “bin Laden”???!!!  Francis Wong Te later told Patis the scientific name of the plant.  All the aficionados then wanted to make a beeline to Francis’ garden the next day to avail of the pretty and really unusual plant:  “I want one!!!”  “I want one too!!!”  “Me too!!!”

There was a very open bar, true to the Negrense tradition of hospitality.  All kinds of wines and spirits flowed throughout the evening.  The guests were told that there were many more bottles of wine waiting to be consumed… courtesy of a family friend.

The interesting menu was created by George Lizares and catered by his cousin Mia Lizares.  It featured fascinating and delicious hors d’oeuvres with the most inventive combinations but nonetheless Negrense in inspiration.  The guests raved over their newly-discovered favorites and consumed them with gusto.  The many waiters served endless platters of the crowd favorites throughout the evening, and these were eagerly taken by the merry guests just as soon as they were served.  I, for one, took too much of this and too much of that [ too much of everything, in fact!!! ], and Manny Chaves and his son Joey snickered at the sight of me precariously descending the “escalera principal” principal stairway with my protruding “Egyptian belly.”

The several “lechon” were absolutely delicious and remarkable for their natural farm freshness [ they simply didn’t taste like the usual, veterinarian-bred, Manila “lechon” ].  They were young so the rinds were crisp and the fats would separate easily from them.  I liked it so much I must have consumed a third of the rind of a “lechon” [ hellooooo to cholesterol and hypertension!!! ].  Friends then quipped that a tall and elegant Pampangueno guest, a renowned “lechon” aficionado, must have consumed half of the rind of a “lechon”!!!

Conviviality was the mark of the evening.  Everyone was in good spirits.  Many members of the Lizares-Alunan clan and their friends from neighboring Bacolod, Talisay, and Silay, as well as the Manilenos, chose to sit at the round tables set to the right of the house.  The artistically inclined huddled in the various “entresuelo” ground floor rooms near the newly-installed art gallery.  Family and friends posed for photographs casually seated at the “escalera principal” main staircase.  Other family members and their friends congregated in the commodious “comedor” dining room with its “vajilleras” glass-fronted cabinets filled with antique china and crystal.  The young members of the clan and their friends gathered in the “sala” living room occupying the elegant 1880s Ah Tay-style settees and armchairs surrounding a grooved marble top table.  There were such beautiful and soignee people in that soiree, in that elegant house that one perfect evening…

It was also on that evening that I was finally able to discern, for myself, the difference between the Negrense temperament from that of their traditional rivals up north in Luzon:  the Pampanguenos, the “race” to which I belong.  In contrast to the Pampanguenos, the Negrenses are kind, cordial, accommodating, optimistic, very generous, and certified masters of “arts de vivre.”   The Pampanguenos in general are proud, with a superiority complex [ “Of course, we’re far better than those Ilonggos and Negrenses!!!” is the usual line 😛 ], calculating, shrewd, pessimistic, oddly austere and inelegant, even crusty, despite considerable wealth, and surprisingly frugal except on food.  The Ilonggo temperament — that other proud “race” which insists on distinguishing itself from the Negrense — on the other hand, falls in between the Pampangueno and Negrense ones.  The epiphany was startling.

Yes, there is admittedly a certain Negrense charm found in both the ladies and the gentlemen.  In general, the ladies are exquisite, graceful, and beautiful.  The gentlemen are cordial, courtly [ and oftentimes lordly ], worldly, and handsome.  Despite the obvious sophistication, there is a charming ingenuousness.  Their social graces are effortless, as if they were reared from birth to preside and revel in elegant gatherings…

Of the “Balay ni Tana Dicang” project, prime mover Adrian “Adjie” Lizares said:  “The family of course is big and many individuals have their own opinion on the big house.  To some it is a burden without responsibility, to others a white elephant, to many it is something to be very proud of, and that is the sentiment I wish to cultivate, I choose to reject the negative ideas seeing there is no future taking things down that path — so it is a culture of positivism that we wish to inculcate — the practical problems and issues to be dealt with in black and white.  Then we can always move ahead…”

Yes, after all those forgotten decades, the “Kahirup” spirit of the Negrenses, in its truest, most socially responsible, and most politically correct form, is alive and well.

The lesson has been learned:  the renewed “Kahirup” spirit has been taken to a higher, nobler, unimpeachable level.

[ Many thanks to our dear friend Adrian “Adjie” Lizares, without whom that experience of a lifetime simply wouldn’t have happened…   🙂 ]

Questions of a lapsing Catholic