The memories of a city

As the famous writer Nick Joaquin wrote:  “Manila…  my Manila…”

Postwar, the First Lady knew that her husband’s heart was with another, more beautiful, more considerate lady.  She had a volatile temper and it led to scenes even during Malacanang palace receptions.  A snickering “de alta sociedad” was witness to banging doors and loud screams.  At times, she would adeptly lock the hapless President in his bathroom so he could not go out to see his lady love after dinner.

At the Bayview club, grand heiress sidled up to Visayan scion who was dancing with Manila patrician and asked dryly:  “Why are you dancing with that slut?”  Manila patrician retorted:  “And just who is the slut between us?”  A catfight ensued between Manila patrician and grand heiress [ ala Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter { Joan Collins } versus Krystle Carrington { Linda Evans } in the 1980s hit TV series “Dynasty” ] and became their claim to notoriety in the decades to come.

To the social Baby Boomer generation now in their early 60s, one of the most memorable wedding receptions they attended was that of a presidential grandson and an aristocratic bon vivant’s daughter in Forbes Park.  The desserts had been surreptitiously spiked with “marijuana” [top growth] and the city’s “de alta sociedad” became “high” with it.  Even the most staid members of high society found themselves dizzy or off-balance and had to sprawl on the grass or sit on the “piedra china” Chinese granite steps in the garden.  Everyone had such a great time.

At an IMF International Monetary Fund conference in Manila, the Marcos blue ladies were shocked to discover bigtime jeweler and pretty Blue Lady in a catfight in a guest bedroom.

The jealous son of a lumber magnate shot the pretty daughter of a Visayan “de buena familia.”  Mrs lumber magnate sought the protection of the First Lady so her son would not get the death sentence;  Mrs knelt in front of the First Lady at the Malacanang palace and implored her assistance.  First Lady:  “Alright.  I will help you.  But I never want to see your face again.”  Thus began the end of the family’s fabulous fortune.

During the First Lady’s “reign,” the Malacanang kitchen staff were always on their toes following her every dictate and whim.  A cursory look at the loaded buffet table at any time of the day and the inevitable question with a raised eyebrow “Yan lang ba?” [ “Is that all?” ] would send them scurrying everywhere to prepare more dishes to be served.  A second question “Nasaan yung…?” meant that they better have that item served ASAP.  The correct and only answer, no matter how difficult or impossible the request, was “It’s coming, Madame.”  The staff could not answer in the negative because that meant instant termination.  The First Lady kept a bountiful table from breakfast to midnight supper.  She required a certain number of dishes at any one time.  She required that the serving dishes always be full, no matter how many guests had eaten already.  She required that there always be fresh, not reheated, food on the buffet tables, from morning until midnight.  During her time, no guest at the Malacanang palace could say that he had not been well-fed.

At the Malacanang palace, bigtime jeweler brought her splendid jewels to sell to the First Lady.  Unfortunately, Herr doktor, whom she never liked [ the feeling was mutual ], was hanging around, as usual.  The First Lady fitted the ruby parure [ suite ] with obvious delight before a grand mirror.  When bigtime jeweler insisted that her ruby suite was from Van Cleef & Arpels, and that the clasp of the big necklace had the acronym VCA, the First Lady requested Herr doktor to confirm.  He did.  Comically.  “Ma’am, I see VCA…  VULACAN!!!”

After a while, beautiful and refined patrician lady started avoiding her erstwhile good friend grand heiress, including the latter’s willful sisters.  When asked by close friends why, she said:  “So foul-mouthed.”  Not about bad breath, but the endless cuss words.

At the funeral of an affluent Visayan grande dame known for her style and jewelry, the younger daughter was desperately tapping the glass top of her mother’s coffin:  “Mommy, Mommy!!!  Wake up!  They’re fighting me!  Mommy, Mommy!!!”  The grande dame had just passed away in the hospital when the protracted war for real estate, USD $ placements, & magnificent jewelry erupted between her children.

The First Lady and an irrepressibly elegant Blue Lady got into an argument about the First Lady’s daughter dating the son of an automotive magnate.  First Lady:  “Why are you interfering in this?  Remember…  You’re only an adopted daughter.”  Elegant Blue Lady:  “I may only be an adopted daughter, but I was not poor and never had to sleep on milk cartons like you.”  First Lady slapped elegant Blue Lady.

At times, the First Lady would hold receptions at a pavilion on the other side of the Pasig river.  But all the guests would first assemble at the Malacanang palace and then cross the river by a prettified ferry.  On one of those occasions, everyone was shocked when an elegant overweight lady, the heiress of one of Manila’s grandest, old line, “de buena familia,” clumsily slipped from the planks and fell into the murky Pasig river.  In a gesture of chivalry, her equally overweight husband, a tycoon and ladies’ man, promptly dove into the river and rescued her along with some PSG men.  It was only right because all of his big business ventures were practically bankrolled by his wife’s large inherited fortune.

At a big reception at the Coral ballroom of the Sheraton hotel, irate wife — a daughter of a prosperous market vendor — attacked her husband’s mistress — a beautiful mestiza of distinguished southern Luzon bloodlines.  They mussed up each other’s hairdo in a catfight that had them both rolling on the carpeted floor, and irate wife left in a flurry.  Nonplussed, Cool Mistress asked fellow guests at the table:  “Whooooo was that???”

To shrug off her son’s disappointing marriage to a country girl, leading uberwitty socialite sighed:  “At least, someone at home can do my nails now…”

In Paris, at the Clignancourt antiques market, Herr doktor was advising his best friend, the czar of fashion, on a Louis XVI [ Louis Seize / Louis the Sixteenth ] “lit ala Polonaise” canopy bed.  When told of the [ expectedly ] exorbitant price, czar of fashion asked Herr doktor:  “If we buy Louis XV [ Louis Quinze / Louis the Fifteenth ], maybe it’s shorter, and cheaper?”  Herr doktor bonked czar of fashion on the head, just like in cartoons.

Observing that her daughter-in-law had kept her petit bourgeois ways, leading uberwitty socialite quipped:  “Aw, you really can’t spin cotton into silk, can you?”

After a notorious bombing in the south where scores were killed and injured, medics were attending to a beautiful and elegant “de buena familia” Blue Lady who was one of those badly hurt.  When they had to remove her dress to see the extent of her injuries, she pleaded:  “My dress!  Please do not tear my dress!  It’s Chloe, from Paris!  There’s a zipper at the back…”

During the first MIFF Manila International Film Festival, the maids and the valets at the Malacanang guesthouses had a field day attending to the celebrity guests, some of whom liked to lounge naked in their guestrooms in between engagements.

When leading uberwitty socialite was told that an aging former Vice-President would be leading the Opposition to Ferdinand Marcos in the next election during the mid-1980s, she quipped:  “We don’t mind a dark horse… but what are we going to do with a dead horse???!!!”

After Herr doktor and his BFF the czar of fashion had a terrible and final falling-out, Herr doktor rechristened his erstwhile friend as “the scar of fashion in Asia.”

Jenny’s Grill (“Sizzling Sisig”)

As the super typhoon “Yolanda” whirled horrifically towards the Philippines, the Senate tried frantically to extricate itself from the Pork Barrel scam, which has infuriated the nation, and from its purported super mastermind Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles, who in turn frantically tried to evade all attempts for her to cook, nay sizzle, in her own oil…

Expectedly, the most amusing part of the interrogation was with the sarcastic, feisty, oftentimes delightfully outrageous Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

All throughout, it was a frustrating, discombobulating, exasperating, and ever-evasive litany of “Hindi po.”  (“No, sir/ma’am.”)  “Hindi ko po alam.” (“I don’t know, sir/ma’am.”)  “Matagal na po iyon.”  (“That was a long time ago, sir/ma’am.”)  “Hindi ko na po matandaan.”  (“I can no longer remember, sir/ma’am.”)  “I invoke my right against self-incrimination.”  “Attorney-Client privilege.”

The exchange between Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Janet Lim-Napoles rapidly and rabidly became an indictment of Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile.  In a series of totally fearless ballistic statements, Senator Santiago strongly implied that Senator (Johnny) Ponce-Enrile aka “Tanda” was the root of the PDAF scam and joined, probably inspired and copied, by Senator (Jinggoy) Estrada aka “Sexy” and Senator (Bong) Revilla aka “Pogi.”

The anti-Napoles whistleblowers also connected with certainty Atty Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Gonzales – ex-Reyes, widely-acknowledged partner and chief of staff of JPE, and Ruby Tuason, a relative of the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, to Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile.

Realizing, as with many of us observers, that Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles is a woman marked for death by her former clients and associates, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s final advice to her was very true, if not prophetic:  “Pag-isipan mo ha.  This is a friendly tip from a lawyer…  But I will give you this counsel:  Tell the truth before (sic) before the senators affected have you assassinated.  Sabihin mo na… dahil iyan ang ligtas mo.”

“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated.”

“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated.”

“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated.”

It is unlikely that Janet Lim-Napoles will escape paying the ultimate price for her misdeeds, and from her former clients and associates at that.  She holds TMI (Too Much Information) that could further destroy, indeed completely demolish, the already teetering lives of her former clients and associates.  But if she will be murdered/assassinated, she might as well drag everyone concerned with her to Hell.

(Personally, I am in total stitches over this ridiculous political comedy.  What schadenfreude as I watch these incorruptibly corrupt senators attempt to maintain their equanimity in the face of such truthful, shameful, shattering, life-changing, career-damning revelations.  Wonderful, really wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  I drool.)

Tough nut to crack, this Jenny.  She really knows how to run around the grill.

Good show, Jenny!!!  You go, gurl!!!    LOL

As the Filipino Everyman Juan de la Cruz could cuss crisply:  “PUTANG INA NINYONG LAHAT!!!”      LOLOLOL

The Culmination

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…”

LOLOLOL

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.

*unfinished*

Memory tidbit: Childhood games

We didn’t have all these techie gadgets which keep the children indoors the whole day these days.  At best, we had the standard board and card games from the USA like Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, Snakes & Ladders, Old Maid, etc..  We even had a Ouija board and enjoyed it immensely until my eldest brother said it was The Bad Guy making the glass move!!!  We played Toilet on Lola Charing’s exquisite English Regency-style “klismos” chairs by Sr JAO with the removable cushions (now museum pieces;  the Catalan Sr O made beautiful furniture for Manila’s richies;  he was married to one of the city’s richest ladies), pretending to poopoo with the corresponding noises during lunch and dinner parties, to the dismay and embarrassment of our parents.  We pretended to be gymnasts at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, aping Roumanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci who scored continuous perfect 10.0s and ruining 3 bed cushions in the process.  But even those were not enough to keep us pesky children inside the house the whole day.  We had the gardens, the streets, and the parks to play in, as well as the jaunts to the country clubs and the hotels.  We played War, throwing fallen fruits like santol, caimito, rambutan, kamias, & duhat as cannonballs across windows and fences.  We played Rape (talk about childhood violence!?) wherein I the Rapist would pull down the dress zippers at the backs of the obliging, giggling girls, “single size” for half of the zipper length and “family size” for the full zipper length (just to show how much, or how little, parental or even “yaya” supervision we had in our preteens…).  And we didn’t even know what real rape was!  Bwahahah!  We played 1973 Miss Universe, aping Margie Moran, Gloria Diaz, and Amparo Munoz, using paper cutout crowns.  Presumably like all children, we played all throughout those summers…

During my childhood days, being techie was all in the mind. Being able to operate the Bose stereo system, the Sony Betamax video player/recorder, and the Sony Walkman was enough to impress the adults and to qualify as a techie.

*unfinished*

Memory tidbit: Immaculate Sorbet

Perhaps because of the searing heat these days, I remembered the traditional “Buco Lechias” sherbet which was made in a wood-and-steel “garapinera” churn with lots of rock salt outside (to keep cold?).  As far as I knew, it was made in every good Capampangan household.  In Lola Charing’s home, it was made by the mayordomo, Benito Nuqui or “Bito” for short.  “Bito” was modernized to “Bits” in the hip 60s.  LOL.

I was a preteen in the late 70s (born 1967).  Lola Charing had passed on in mid-1977 and my uncle Brother Andrew FSC of De La Salle University became the principal figure in the family.  Brother Andrew had the most luxurious and demanding gustatory tastes.  In one of those phases, he became obsessed with producing an excellent “Buco Lechias” sherbet.  He insisted that the “Buco Lechias” sherbet of his childhood (late 40s) at Lola Titay’s (the Arnedo ancestral house in  Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga) had the WHITEST lychee fruit flesh, not the pale pink ones in the cans currently available.  Of course, the flesh of the lychees in the “Buco Lechias” sherbet at the Arnedo house was white, because Lola Titay and her younger sister Lola Ines used only fresh lychees bought all the way in Binondo.  So he sent Bito to Binondo/Chinatown to look for the whitest lychee fruit flesh.  Well, what did he expect?  It was the Marcos years and there were tight import controls.  No whitest lychees.  Just cans and cans of lychees with pinkish fruit flesh.  Bito returned with the palest pink lychee fruit flesh.  No can do.  Bito was scolded.  Bito was sent back to Binondo/Chinatown and — nobody knew how he did it — but he returned with the whitest lychee fruit flesh!!!  Brother Andrew finally had his excellent “Buco Lechias” sherbet with the whitest lychee fruit flesh.  Brother Andrew was satisfied, at least for that Sunday.

I remembered that at Lola Charing’s house sherbet and ice cream were served on etched crystal stems on porcelain saucers for everyday.  During beautiful lunches and dinners, sherbets and ice cream appeared on chic, Art Deco Christofle footed bowls on Brussels lace doilies on matching Christofle saucers.  Of course, I know all about the metallic taste that silver imparts to food, but I’ll use beautiful silver anytime.

The sherbet/ice cream phase did not end there.  Brother Andrew wanted a “Calamansi” sherbet.  He wanted it tart and dry, something like lime mixed with champagne brut.  Not sweet at all (Brother Andrew intensely disliked sweetish food that was not meant to be sweet, like spaghetti).  Odd, but “Calamansi” tended to sweeten slightly in sherbet form.  No can do.  It took Bito several tries to produce that tart and dry “Calamansi” sherbet, but he did, even if he couldn’t tell the difference.  Brother Andrew was satisfied, at least for that Sunday.

Now in 2013, I wonder why it didn’t occur to Brother Andrew to have a “Dayap” sherbet, when in fact fragrant “dayap” lime (“dalayap” in Capampangan) was used extensively — on practically everything — in our Capampangan/Sulipan cooking?

The best version of “Buco Lechias” sherbet that I’ve had in recent years — exquisitely and expertly tinged with “dayap” lime rind with a hint of French cordial — was served at dinner by my dear friend Albert Salgado Paloma, who is an equal (perhaps even a superior) to Brother Andrew’s luxurious and demanding gustatory tastes.  Worldly and elegant Albert thinks nothing of marinating Italian veal shanks in a very expensive French grand cru for his “Ossobuco” and of marinating goat meat in a very expensive French X.O. cognac for his “Caldereta de Cabrito.”  For Albert, luxurious excess is the only culinary way to go.  Truly Capampangan.

Back to Brother Andrew, the sherbet/ice cream phase did not end there.  He wanted the “Mantecado” ice cream of his childhood at Lola Titay’s (the Arnedo ancestral house in Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga).  Mind you, it was not the commercial, vanilla-flavored “Mantecado” ice cream you can buy at the megasupermarkets now.  Brother Andrew’s inherited idea of “Mantecado” ice cream was of thick carabao’s milk, full of egg yolks, and “dayap” lime rind shavings.  It was golden yellow with sprinklings of grass green.  It looked so chic!  If Hermes and Chanel made ice cream, that would definitely be it.  So Bito produced our family’s version of “Mantecado” ice cream with “dayap” lime from Lola Charing’s rose garden.  It was ambrosial.  I would have finished off a gallon if I were permitted to do so.

Comedy relief:  Remembering Brother Andrew’s predilection for “Buco Lechias” sherbet, I am reminded of the time when, already severely diabetic with counts from 300-500 in the early 1990s, Brother Andrew requested his dear first cousin Dr Erlinda “Linda” Arnedo Sazon-Badenhop to make him some sugar-free “Buco Lechias” sherbet, which she claimed she could.  Two or three Sunday lunches later, she arrived with the desired “sugar-free” “Buco Lechias” sherbet which she made herself.  Expectedly, given the Arnedo tastebuds that she had, it was delicious and Brother Andrew was in rapture.  “Are you sure this is sugar-free???  It’s so sweet and so good!!!  It’s delicious!!!”  Brother Andrew rhapsodized as he rapidly consumed 5 scoops of the concoction.  “Yes, Brother!  No sugar, definitely no sugar!”  she claimed most assuredly, with her characteristic deadpan.  Later, when Brother Andrew had retired upstairs (doubtless dizzy from the sugar rush LOL), we asked:  “Wow, Tita Linda!  Your “Buco Lechias” sherbet was so good!  And it’s sugar-free!  What’s your secret??!!”  “Easy!”  she replied, “I poured all the syrup of the cans into the sherbet!”  “HUH???!!!”  Aghast, we cried out:  “But Tita Linda!  That’s all sugar!!!  The syrup IS sugar!!!”    She insisted firmly but comically with a naughty smile:  “No, no, no!  That’s only syrup, NOT sugar!  Besides, how will it taste good without any of the lychee syrup???!!!”    TOUCHE.    LOLOLOL    ROTF    LMAO    !!!!!!!!!!!!

So this is what this warm, warm spell does to me.  It makes me think of sherbet and ice cream from the past.  From the distant past.

These days, I am delightfully condemned to the highly unusual, positively weird, molecular gastronomy, New Age ice cream concoctions of my brother Gene and nephew Gino.  But it’s a nice problem to have.  LOL.

Summer Siesta

Sleeping Beauty married Congressman Charming and they went to live down in the deep south where he had his kingdom, near the Water People.  It was her second wonderful marriage and it was his third wonderful marriage and they really wouldn’t be surprised if theirs fell apart as well, but it miraculously hasn’t.

Sleeping Beauty, needless to say, liked her beauty sleep.  And she liked her beauty sleep in cooooold, dark rooms.  On the other hand, Congressman Charming had several businesses, among them, cut flowers.

One really warm summer day, Sleeping Beauty went to the cold storage rooms to work on the flower inventories.

It was so cool and nice inside that Sleeping Beauty fell fast asleep.  But mercifully not for a hundred years.  Just for a little more than a hundred minutes.

Late that afternoon, Congressman Charming arrived at the cut flower business offices and looked for his Sleeping Beauty.  The company staff frantically looked for her.  They looked in the upstairs offices, downstairs offices, all the washrooms, the kitchen, the garage…  but they could not find her.

Finally, someone thought that he had heard Sleeping Beauty would be checking on the flower inventories…  so they ran to the cold storage rooms, fearful that she had been locked in and that her cries for help had been unheard.

But lo and behold… There she was sleeping blissfully, stretched out on 2 Monobloc armchairs face-to-face, snoring lightly and contentedly, for she just had almost a whole “lechon de leche” for lunch.  Congressman Charming had a good laugh.

“It was just so nice, you know.  Siesta!  So cooooold.  Exactly my style!”  explained Sleeping Beauty in her fashionable Colegio Santa Maria del Camino (Madrid, Espana) contralto.

And Sleeping Beauty and Congressman Charming lived happily for several years.    With Sleeping Beauty’s occasional jaunts to the cold storage rooms.

Well, they almost lived happily ever after…

(This is not a fairy tale.  It’s for real.)

Comedy relief: Instagone!

Because her US-based nephew was in town for 2 weeks for his niece’s beach wedding in Boracay island, Parsimonious Auntie had invited her nephews and nieces for lunch ( siomai (( from “Forbes” notwithstanding )), what else???!!! ) at her Grey Gardens-style home in gated Makati ( remember the movie “Grey Gardens” from 2009 starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange? ).  One could hardly move with the palimpsest of possessions, of great worth and the worthless, since PA at her advanced age could no longer make distinctions ( not that she ever did ).  There were beautiful paintings ( Fernando Amorsolo magsasakas & lavanderas, Anita Magsaysay-Ho tinderas & chismosas, Romeo Enriquez portraits of the family trolls ), furniture ( enough original Batangas mesas altar to make the top collectors swoon ), and objects ( silver “paliteras” toothpick holders and “buyeras” betel nut & cigar trays from several roots of the tree, Ch’ing dynasty rose, vert, & jaune vases, etc. ), juxtaposed with PA’s latest finds from the 168 mall in Divisoria, “Wellmanson”s” & “Sophie’s” in Quiapo, & the Greenhills “Tiangge,” but they were all coated with what seemed like a year of dust, despite the presence of several household help, who had once complained to their mistress that she had too many things for them to clean, to which she replied matter-of-factly:  “Mayaman ako.  Kaya marami akong gamit.  Wala tayong magagawa tungkol do’n.”  ( “I’m rich.  That’s why I have so many things.  There’s nothing we can do about that.” )

The house looked frozen in time…  A beautiful niece, married to a superrich Asian businessman, was fascinated with already-“antique” perfume bottles ( perfume, not EDT eau de toilette ) in a vitrine in Parsimonious Auntie’s master bedroom, the lot of them from the 1950s, mostly from PA’s mother-in-law, Lola Bruja Mahjongera.  What fascinated her the most were 2 bottles, 1 big and 1 small, sporting capes and headdresses.  She had seen them in that cabinet since she was a small girl in the late 1950s.         

The nephews and nieces ( all adults, very well-off, with their own families ) snickered among themselves when they came upon their aunt’s big framed family photo from the late 1970s by a society photographer hanging in the stairwell.  Something was different in the family pic… 

Parsimonious Auntie had roundly cut out her former daughter-in-law’s face and replaced it with the one of the new daughter-in-law, whose photo however, was of a different proportion ( not to mention a different era ) to the former daughter-in-law’s body, making her look like an alien…  It looked “beyond ridiculous.”

Observations between the cousins were exchanged in hushed tones…

“Cutting ***** off and putting ***** like that…  so funny!”  observed a senior nephew. 

“Why didn’t she have that done professionally?  It looks awful!”  asked a kind niece.

“Ssshhh…  She’s proud that she did it herself!  DIY!”  an acerb niece warned.

“Hah???  She did it herself???!!!”  they all asked, incredulous.

“Do you honestly think she’ll pay for Adobe Photoshop services by a pro???!!!” the acerb niece retorted.  They all kept quiet.     

A witty techie nephew pointed at the family photo and quipped the best line:  “BUT HEY…  THAT’S THE ORIGINAL ‘CUT & PASTE’ !!!”

( “Best Face” by Android??? )

Bwahahahahah!!!   😀   😀   😀

“Bagnetized”: 3 days in Ilocos Norte

As with most things, it started with a call on the cellphone… from my dear friend Cindy R-V…

“Would you like to come with us to Laoag for 3 days?  Sept 10 – 12, Monday to Wednesday.”

“Can I get back to you, Cindy?  I have several things to check first…”

I studied my schedules and figured out ways to reconfigure everything just so I could “escape” with my friends to Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

“OK.  I can go.”

************************************

That late Monday afternoon, we all found ourselves at the “Cafe France” at the Centennial Terminal:  Cindy R-V, Naynay V, Raqui R-L, Evelyn H-R, and Pinky R.  Tata P sat with us while she waited for her flight to Bacolod.

The flight to Laoag on PR 228 was a pleasant and quick 55 minutes.  At the airport lounge, we were greeted by Imee’s staff who hung pretty red ribbons with innovative shell and coconut designs on us as a welcome.  We were whisked to a Coaster which took us in 20 minutes to our designated hotel, the “Plaza del Norte” in Paoay.

I did not expect much by way of accommodations because I had been visiting Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte on and off for the past 20 years and I was content with a clean room and a clean and functioning bathroom, no matter how basic ( of course that rule did not hold at the upscale Fort Ilocandia hotel ).  What mattered to me was that I was with good friends and that I would certainly have a wonderful time.

The “Plaza del Norte” hotel, all of 3 years old, was a completely pleasant surprise:  all white, clean, neat, spacious, and sprawling.  It had been a project of Bonget’s when he was governor of the province.  It certainly was of a new generation of hotels in Ilocandia.  My room, 105-B, overlooking the courtyard and swimming pool, was good-sized, clean, neat, and uncluttered, with a clean and well-planned bathroom.  I was happy with my accommodations, given my various interesting experiences with hotels in Ilocandia.  I knew I was in for a really good time.

Dinnertime was at the hotel’s “Cafe Ayuyang” and everybody opted for the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Grill ( although all of us went once and that was it ).  It wasn’t half bad for the limitless seafood and meats you could pile on, which were then cooked on a grill in the patio outside.  What I found interesting was that soumak ( a Persian spice which tastes mildly of Chinese “kiamoy” ) and cumin were included in the garnishes;  I put generous amounts knowing full well I would probably smell “Arabo” the next day ( well, periodic sprays of Annick Goutal’s “Eau d’Hadrien” took good care of that! ).  Kapampangan that I was, I had to make additional orders of “Bagnet” & “Kalderetang Kambing.”  The “Bagnet” was very well done and was enjoyed by everyone at the table.

We were already at the table when the other guests arrived.  Dulce R arrived, and so did Fe R-G.  They had driven up from Manila and it had taken them 9 hours.  Betsy & Co. would be arriving the next day for the D-Day ceremonies.    

( Cindy, her daughter Naynay, Cindy’s sister Raqui, Cindy’s sister-in-law Evelyn, Evelyn’s daughter Pinky are from the Miguel Romualdez line;  Cindy is his granddaughter.   Dulce is from the Vicente Orestes Romualdez line; she is his granddaughter by his first wife Juanita Acereda.  Daniel Romualdez Sr. of Pandacan, Manila and Trinidad Crisostomo Lopez of Leyte (( originally of Basey, Samar )) had 3 sons:  Norberto, Miguel, & Vicente Orestes ). 

( Fe Roa-Gimenez headed the personal assistants of Mrs. Marcos during the Malacanang years. )

After what seemed to be a long after-dinner chat with the R cousins, we retired to our rooms at 10:00 p.m..  I fell asleep quickly because I had not slept adequately the previous night.  We would also have to leave the hotel at 8:30 a.m. the next day for the 95th birth anniversary mass for the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos ( born 11 September 1917 ) at 9:00 a.m. at the old Batac parish church.

************************************

I was late for the departure time of 8:30 a.m.!  I was late!

Imee’s efficient staff briefed us on the activities for the day.  We were assigned a “Grandia” van driven by a kind Manong Erwin, who worked for the mayor of Currimao town as well as the provincial governor’s office.  We finally left the hotel at 8:32 a.m..  According to Manong Erwin, Batac town was only 20 minutes away.  It was a wonderful sunny day and we drove through picturesque Paoay… we passed by an elegant Mediterranean-style villa by the lake and were told that it was Rudy Farinas’, further on was the road that led to the storied Ferdinand Marcos resthouse “Malacanang ti Amianan.”  We passed Paoay town proper, by the famous “earthquake baroque” church, and I noted that the town plaza had been improved from years ago ( there was a time when the tennis court at the back of the church was the major development ).  We were disappointed to hear that the “Herencia” restaurant, famous for its delish and cosmo “pinakbet” and “bagnet” pizzas ( think of Manang Biday meets Alice Waters ), had relocated.    

We were yacking about “those days” and before we knew it, we were already in Batac town.  Probably because the van had an identifying mark or something, the police and the barangay tanods waved us to the “VIP entrance.”  Make no mistake about it:  It was Marcos town and the profound affection and great esteem accorded to the late President Ferdinand Marcos was not only visible but palpable even to non-Ilocanos like us.  We drove into the Batac church patio, filled with various contingents waving flags and banners awaiting the arrival of the Marcos family, the de facto royal family of Ilocandia.  We alighted from the van and entered the church, which was already nearly full with various contingents as well — men, women, youth.  Cindy led us to a vacant pew in the middle of the church when an announcement was made that the first 5 pews were reserved for the guests of the Marcos family; the people occupying them immediately stood up and transferred.  We took the 5th pew on the left side — Cindy by the aisle and me by the other end.  In front of the first pew were the individual pews reserved for the Marcos family.  A lady in black and white whom no one recognized sat at one of the individual pews.

As I was wont to do, I took in the church interiors while waiting for the ceremonies to start.  Austere, Ilocano austere.  I observed that the Batac church did not yet have “Imee’s touch,” nor “Ma’am’s touch,” nor the faultlessly elegant “Irene’s touch.”  However, I noted a beautiful, elegant lifesize statue of the “Immaculate Conception” in the center niche of the main reredo;  it seemed to be the work of one of the famous Quiapo ateliers prewar.  On the right side ( the Epistle side ), there was an interesting, overpainted antique statue of “La Virgen con Nino Jesus” on a niche, possibly early 1800s or even mid-1700s.  I was seriously studying what was before me when the other live Virgin, the Madonna of Malacanang herself, finally appeared…

A growing hubbub at the church entrance signaled that The Eternally Beautiful One, the former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, had finally arrived.  She glided up the aisle, resplendent in a deep red silk terno and her signature pompadour, amidst the characteristic flurry of security men, assistants, politicians, and media — just like the “old days.”  Whatever one thought of her, the lady simply had an amazingly potent and lasting megawatt star power.  The excited congregation clicked their cellphones endlessly.  As she neared our pew, the group stood up to greet their “Auntie Meldy.”  She was happy to see her relatives and associates and “beso-beso ed” one by one.  When it was my turn, she paused momentarily and gasped:  “Ay, anak ni Poling!  Kamukhang-kamukha!” ( “Poling” was Froilan Zialcita Romualdez, her first cousin, son of Manila mayor Miguel Romualdez )

The group laughed.  “Ma’am, hindi anak ni Poling ‘yan.  Si Toto Gonzalez iyan, kaibigan natin.”  they explained.

“Pero mukha kang Romualdez!”  she insisted.  “Toto Gonzalez!  Ikaw nga!  Bakit hindi ka na bumisita sa akin?  Ang saya ng kuwentuhan natin…”  I just smiled and nodded.  ( Long ago, Mandoy’s daughter Eliza told me that her Auntie Meldy enjoyed my company, intrigued as she was by my knowledge of the Manila families, the establishment, the Marcos circle, and also of the New York, London, & Paris social sets, the top jewelers, etc.  — in short, my knowledge of her world. )       

She sat down at the end of our pew and exchanged more pleasantries, unmindful of the scheduled ceremonies.  At the same time, a steady stream of people queued up to greet her.  Natural charmer that she was, she was unfailingly gracious to all.

Signaled by Atty. Eden Volante, Mrs. Marcos stood up from our pew to take her place in the individual pews in front.  She looked askance and gestured towards the lady in black and white ( whom no one recognized ) who continued to sit on one of the pews, seemingly oblivious to Mrs. Marcos’ arrival:  “Sino siya???” Mrs. Marcos asked.  Later during the mass, we all found out to our comic relief that the lady was none other than the lector.  Hahahah.    

After some time, Bonget ( Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ) and Lisa ( Atty. Lisa Cacho Araneta-Marcos ) arrived with their security detail.      

The sprightly octogenarian Fortuna Edralin Marcos-Barba, the last surviving sibling of President Marcos, arrived, wearing a cheery printed red-and-white dress.  Mrs. Marcos greeted her affectionately with “beso-beso.”

Last to arrive was “Gov” Imee ( Maria Imelda Marcos ), looking morning fresh in white “abel” ( Ilocano woven cotton ).  No, Irene ( Irene Marcos-Araneta ) was not present.

*unfinished*

Birkinmania: The Hermes Birkins of Manila

Of course, it’s tacky to ask one’s freespending socialite friends, whether they are genuine establishment, fabulously nouveau riche, or the irrepressible wannabes, “How many Birkins do you have?” but one might as well ask as there seems to be a raging contest going on in walk-in closets and in chichi lunches and teas…

And I am NOT talking about the AAAs and the First Class fakes available at every “tiangge”…

“I only have 6.  But my daughter has 10.”

“She has assiduously collected 8.   She keeps them by her bedside to watch over them.”  ( Probably the only things she owns? )

“She has quite a number of them:  1 from Taipan I’s son, 1 from Taipan II’s son , 1 from Taipan III’s lesbian daughter, 1 from Senator IV, 1 from Senator V, 1 from Congressman VI, 1 from Congressman VII, 1 from Mayor VIII, 1 from Mayor IX, et. al..  She has more than 12?”

“I have 18.  And I want more…!!!”

“She freaked out when the ‘yaya’ carrying her Birkin was sandwiched between the elevator doors at Pacific Plaza towers.  She nearly died!!!  Well, the pobrecita ‘yaya’ was fired ASAP.”

“She has some 2 dozen Hermes Birkins among hundreds of  really nice bags in her 300 m2 walk-in closet in Forbes Park.  But she stopped using the Bs when JP and then DP started using them.  Hahahah!  Just wait until they move into the ‘hood!”  

“You should have seen her when her hubby’s champion golden retriever dragged her fuchsia pink Birkin through the dining room to the living room to the ‘lanai’ and made the bag his lunch.  She cried for days and days over her tattered bag!!!  It was as bad as when their big Cristal Baccarat chandelier in the dining room fell just before a dinner party years ago.  Maybe there’s something wrong with the feng shui of their house… ”  

“That’s her retinue:  There’s the ‘yaya’ with the smartphone, the ‘yaya’ with the Birkin, the ‘yaya’ with the child, the ‘yaya’ with the child’s bag, the gay ‘alalay,’ the bodyguard with the big umbrella, the bodyguard with the small umbrella, and the 2 drivers ( of 8 ), one for the day and one for the night.  Nice life.”

A taipan’s beautiful wife said:  “Toto, just to let you know that I am sick and tired of seeing women parading their Birkin for everyone to see, so I have been using mine as a gym bag to the horror of friends who love to show theirs off. Mine is stuffed with a water bottle (sometimes wet) and a towel and some snacks. Doesn’t that remind you of IRM who would parade her diamonds on her head (tiara) when Elizabeth Taylor in the same event wore hers underneath her ball gown, on her ankles, apparently the headlines the next day say:  ‘ The jewelry that Imelda wore on her head, Elizabeth Taylor wore on her feet.’ Not sure how accurate the story is though, but was widely gossiped about then….Hahaha… And just so you know, mine are real!!! Even if I shop at 168, I also shop at Hermes in PARIS!”

“Of course, I’m not going to pay attention to my bags, whatever they are.  What am I, nouveau riche???”  ( She isn’t, but megarich just the same. )

“Puh-leeze!!!  None of that stuff for me!!!  Why would I want to look like them ( a litany of “new tacky names” )???  Yes, we had them when nobody did but now…  EEEeeewww!!!  I’m happy with the darling little bags I pick up in places not known to THOSE people, thank you.”

“Hermes Birkins ( and Kellys ) are simply beautiful bags.  They come in such pretty colors, and they’re so well-made, like a genuine Paris couture gown!  They are the only reasons why I buy one every now and then.  The fact that they cost more shouldn’t be an issue or a factor.  If you like them, that is enough justification to purchase.”  reflected a doyenne of establishment society. 

“This is a very beautiful bag,” explained a rich, genuinely establishment society magazine editrix to her wide-eyed staff, “look at the quality of the leather, the fittings.   Observe how neatly and precisely it’s sewn together, you can tell that so much expert effort was expended to create it.  I want you to look at it, smell it, feel it.  In the future, girls, should you have the requisite resources, you should invest in bags of high quality like this Hermes Birkin.”        

The last word came from a ranking Frenchwoman who, with great curiosity and the requisite Gallic snobbery, asked her Filipino Spanish mestizo friend:  “I was in Manila and I observed that Filipina women use their Birkins in the evenings…  Don’t they know it’s a day bag?”

To which the diplomatic friend helplessly and haplessly replied:  The Philippines is a tropical country.  It’s warm.  There’s really no distinction between day and evening wear.”

“Palusot”!!!  ( Lame excuse!!! )   😛   😛   😛

The one and only Dolphy

From the mid-1980s to the 1990s, my good friend Jo Panlilio ( Jose Maria Ricardo Yaptinchay-Abad Panlilio ) and I used to see Dolphy, the King of Comedy, having “merienda” with his friends, usually 2 to 3, during our weekly afternoon forays to “Za’s Cafe” at “Hizon’s” bakeshop in Ermita, usually after our jaunts to interior decorator Edgar Ramirez’s Aladdin’s cave of decorative delights on Remedios circle in Malate.  It was well-known that “Hizon’s” bakeshop was Dolphy’s favorite hangout.  And we couldn’t agree more.  During that time, the famous ”Lola Cecing” ( Inocencia Flores Hizon-Zamora originally of Mexico, Pampanga;  first married Carlos Ramos and then married Eduardo Zamora Sr. ) was still alive and held sway over her flourishing baking and restaurant business which served some of the best Kapampangan goodies and food in town.  We would see Lola Cecing busily supervising the kitchen operations through the glass panels which showed her immaculate kitchen. 

*unfinished ( there is a punch line to this )*

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