Friday evening, 19 February 2010, Ilonggo lawyer and sugar baron Joe Mari brought together Marivic, Monique, Tats, Patis and Tito, co-author and publisher Mike, and I for dinner at his perfect Makati home to celebrate Mike’s new book “Estilo Ilonggo” [ “Ilonggo Style” ]…
Before dinner, we were treated to a tour of the house by Joe Mari as all of us were eager, indeed impatient, to see his new acquisitions of the recent months. Important Filipino art and antiques were all over the house.
Reigning supreme in the living room was arguably the most beautiful “Saeta” painting of pioneer Spanish-Filipino abstractionist Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo, # 66, dated 1958 which Joe Mari acquired from the collection of Zobel de Ayala protege Hector. It was particularly inspired and dazzling. The painting hung over a magnificent, ecclesiastical, 18th century/1700s molave and kamagong wood “vestuario”/vestry cabinet from an Augustinian church.
In another corner of the living room hung a “Seria Negra” [ Black and White series ] by Zobel de Ayala y Montojo from the period 1961-69.
In the lanai was another beguiling, untitled oil by Zobel de Ayala y Montojo, dated 1957, also from Hector, as well as a masterly portrait of a mestiza lady by National Artist Vicente Manansala, dated 1949.
Upstairs in the “Bulul room” filled with the best Filipino ethnic and Chinese rariori, I paid homage, as always, to the little Yuan dynasty brush washer in the shape of a bird, in underglaze red and underglaze blue, the most valuable piece in the shelves and once the coveted jewel of the Oriental porcelain collection of the late Dr. Arturo.
“I always forget to bring a big shopping bag and bubble wrap everytime I come here to Joe Mari’s!” I joked.
“Don’t forget to call the cargo truck!” the others rejoined.
In Joe Mari’s bedroom, I always enjoyed looking at the two religious paintings attributed to the master painter Justiniano Asuncion: “La Santisima Trinidad” and “La Coronacion de la Virgen.” Also the 18th century ivory-faced “San Miguel Arcangel” in a “virina” with a gold headdress set with emeralds from Butch’s collection. There was also a rare 1700s silver “atril” missal stand with etched “ysot” decorations on one altar table. Marivic and I admired a newly-acquired, low ecclesiastical cabinet of “tindalo” / “balayong” wood with a carved Augustinian seal — the kind only early collectors like Tita Bebe had — from Omeng which Tats wryly described as “Omeng dynasty.”
Dinner was the height of contemporary high Ilonggo style: a classical French diner [ ala “Taillevent,” I thought ] by chichi society chef Jessie, accompanying “Taittinger” champagne, “Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1988,” “Chateau d’Yquem 1998,” etc., mignardises from the Mandarin Oriental, served on “Bernardaud” Limoges, antique Filipino silver, and “Waterford” crystal, ravishing flowers by society florist “Mabolo,” amidst 18th century/1700s Filipino colonial silver, all set on the famous 19th century “Baboy Damo” [ “Wild Boar” ] dining table of “narra” wood and Bohol provenance, a rare treasure from society antiques doyenne Kit.
Apart from the dining table, the dining room was graced by a magnificent and completely genuine, 18th century “Batangas I” altar table of reddish/purplish “tindalo” / “balayong” wood from the once-famous collection of the late Dr. Arturo. Over it hung two early works of National Artist Victorio Edades. The room was crowned by a chandelier composed of the elements of a 19th century/1800s giltwood “andas” [ processional carriage ].
Dinner started with panfried foie gras with mixed greens [ Taittinger champagne ], followed by “creme d’asperges”/cream of asparagus soup ], then “sorbet aux framboises”/raspberry sorbet, to “magret de canard” with Calvados sauce [ Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1988 ], and finally “profiteroles au chocolat”/chocolate cream puffs [ Chateau d’Yquem 1998 ].
Joe Mari was so thoughtful that he instructed chef Jessie to have twin lemon birthday cakes for Monique [ 17 February ] and I [ 02 January ] brought in after the profiteroles with the waiters singing “Happy birthday!”…
Conversation ran the gamut of topics. Very interesting was that there was absolutely no mention of politics or the forthcoming presidential elections, nor the presidential candidates during the entire evening. Such tawdry realities were subconsciously not allowed to cloud the sheer elegance and perfection of the evening and were left out on the street.
Marivic would be leaving in a few days for a “nice” two-week trip to India organized by Maja, Irene, and Ines. The accommodations would be nice as they were only booked in choice five- and six-star hotels. Marivic had not been there since the 1970s. She, Monique, Tats, Patis, and Joe Mari exchanged notes on what to do and buy there. Patis warned that some Indian textiles were no longer of good quality.
Monique the EIC had just been to the Amanbagh resort in Rajasthan along with six of her “Town & Country” Philippines magazine officers upon the invitation of the Amanresorts management. It was a very beautiful resort, as all Aman resorts are, and they all had a really nice time.
Marivic and Joe Mari told us to join them in Paris midyear for their yearly visit. They usually stayed at the Le Meurice hotel. But one of us had found the hotel spooky on a visit two years ago. “The bathrooms are nice.” Marivic recalled. Marivic and Joe Mari said that their daily schedules in Paris were leisurely, with waking time at 11:00 a.m., meet for lunch, free afternoon for one’s activities, meet for dinner. The two had the “sweet tooth” and were habitues of the “Laduree” and “Hediard” patisseries. Marivic was, by her own admission, also a “chocoholic” who loved dark, bitter chocolate and she enjoyed the best Parisian chocolatiers like “Michel Cluizel,” “Patrick Roger,” “Pierre Herme,” “Christian Constant,” “La Maison du Chocolat,” et. al..
Marivic and Joe Mari gushed about “Berthillon,” the famous “glace”/ice cream and “sorbet” shop.
Beating me to it, Patis complimented the proper and generous size of Joe Mari’s faultlessly elegant linen dinner napkins. Their only embellishments were simple “calado” work one inch before their hems. He was with Marivic when he had ordered them from the nuns in Santa Barbara, Iloilo. Patis correctly described the process as “faggoting.” The rest of us snickered at such an “appropriate” process…
Somehow, the talk drifted to depression and we were surprised at how it had affected all of us at various points in our lives.
Marivic and Patis were shocked when I informed them of the sudden passing of Ampy, Panchito’s first wife, at Makati Med just that mid-afternoon.
“You can actually become depressed when you have everything. There is no challenge anymore.” Tito explained.
Curiously enough, the city’s social mountaineers, successful and otherwise, became the next objects of temporary fascination…
The famous, antique “Baboy Damo” dining table rocked with laughter as one of the ladies retold a long-ago story of a prosperous businessman, his wife, and the day a patrician and super groovy Spanish mestiza lady visited them in their newly-purchased posh address to discuss jewelry… The businessman had opened the front door for the lady, dressed casually in a T-shirt, cargo shorts, and flipflops. Frankly unimpressed and mistaking him for a houseboy, the lady asked imperiously in her Hispanized English: “Nasaan ang senora mo???” [ Where is your Ma’am???” ]
The talk then turned, logically enough, to mistresses, philandering husbands, separations, and coosome-twosome sightings. Three of the ladies with drifted husbands raised their hands acknowledging their experiences.
“What I don’t like are women who grab other women’s husbands…” one of the ladies complained.
We also discussed medical insurance. Marivic recommended “Omni” because she had been pleasantly surprised when the entire bill of an executive check-up at the Stanford university hospital had been undertaken by them.
*LOLSZ!!!* Joe Mari and Tats had made a pact long ago that they would never, ever get their senior citizen cards!!! Forever young!!! On the other hand, one of us said that she wanted one because she liked the 20 % discount on medicines as her weekly/monthly medicine bills were considerable.
“But those Binay frills… you won’t be able to watch all the movies you want at Rockwell for free!!!” I reminded Tats.
“So what??? I’ll buy my own movie tickets!!!” she countered.
I ate and drank too much, as always [ I am a Gonzalez and an Arnedo de Sulipan, after all ]. Marivic offered me a portion of her “magret de canard.” Patis offered me a profiterole. Always the observant, solicitous, and indulgent host, Joe Mari promptly instructed the waiters to bring me another plate of “profiteroles au chocolat”…
“My God, it’s as if you don’t have diabetes!” Patis observed.
Mike was the first to leave after having coffee, followed half an hour later by Tito and Patis. Marivic, Monique, Tats, and I stayed with Joe Mari until a little past midnight…
After all the other guests had left, I spent a few more minutes with Joe Mari discussing Filipino art and antiques and closely peering at the various splendors of his collection.
I admired Joe Mari’s gold “garuda” pin, one of the glories of Filipino precolonial gold. And I wondered what great pre-Spanish civilization in our islands produced these magnificent and highly sophisticated splendors…
If only all the evenings of my life could be as enchanting and magical as tonight’s… 🙂 🙂 🙂
Perfection, plain and simple. And the key element was Joe Mari himself.