Renaissance: The arts during the Marcos regime

The extremely active, albeit exaggerated, Philippine contemporary art scene aside, one remembers an earlier golden period of art about 50 years ago, during the ascendancy of President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos and his First Lady, Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.

Reading through the now antediluvian articles on art during the Marcos regime, one is struck by the creative flowering of several major artists in so many fields.  Despite the difficult political climate, the arts flourished to a remarkable degree, to an intensity unmatched in the past and perhaps in the present.

Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos had her mantra:  “The good, the true, and the beautiful.”

*unfinished*

“Tirar la casa por la ventana”: The Filipino hosts and their entertaining

It would be his birthday and he had asked his 30 closest friends to come for “a little dinner.”  Because his parties are always such wonderful occasions, no one declined.  Since his place is outside the metro, he asked us to be there by 5.30pm.

Marivic and I decided to have a convoy, although I rode with her so we could chat during the long ride.  It was a Sunday afternoon, and traffic was mercifully light.  We left Makati at 2.30pm.  We arrived at 4.00pm, without really knowing that our invitation was for 5.30pm.  His numerous staff carried our things into the house.  We were assigned the big guest bedroom.  Marivic had brought her personal assistant Mary Jane to help her dress.  Our host was in his palazzo-style bathroom, he had just finished bathing and was getting dressed assisted by his valets.

Curious about the dinner party preparations, Marivic and I wandered around the vast “little house” and into the hotel-style kitchen where there was a flurry of activity.  The numberless, uniformed staff was busy and all over the place.  We met the new head chef of the family, a 40ish Filipino-American who had taken his culinary studies at Cornell, and had actually worked at Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry” at Yountville, at Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse” in Berkeley, and other top restaurants.  He was very friendly and although very busy, he took the time to explain the dinner menu to us as well as offered samples of the exquisite hors d’ oeuvres that would be served during cocktails.  Marivic and I happily accepted our de facto merienda and nibbled away at the savories.

It was already a big kitchen by contemporary standards (indeed a commodious house unto itself), and it could hold long tables where the chefs could prepare dozens of plated dishes for multicourse dinners.  One side was entirely covered by antique cabinets filled with wonderful antique glassware and chinaware.   But I was surprised at the fact that it was still insufficient space for a sitdown dinner for 36 pax, service ala Russe.  Hence, the preparation area for the dinner with table after table extended to the back hallways and the service areas of the big “little house.”  I even accidentally bumped lightly into a table with several exquisite, antique crystal decanters which were to be used for the wines that evening;  good thing nothing was damaged.

The countless staff rushed to and fro.  Easily 200 of them.

I completely understood and enjoyed the complicated dinner party preparations (as long as I am not the one giving/hosting the fabulous dinner), and so did my good friend, who must have witnessed, hosted, and experienced much more as a heiress, a member of one of the country’s richest and most hallowed families.

“You can’t entertain like this without staff, more staff, and lots of staff!!!”  I commented.

“That’s true.”

We wandered into the dark and cool dining room, with its long mahogany table elaborately set for 36 pax.  36 place settings on a proper linen damask tablecloth with linen damask napkins, silver chargers, multiple silver flatware, and multiple crystal stemware.  The center of the table was occupied by big porcelain decorations adorned with fresh blooms, various French porcelain vases bearing fresh roses, and interesting carved candles.  Three crystal chandeliers lit the long room discreetly.  The dinner would be a French degustation, service ala Russe.  Naughtily and merrily, and rather improperly, we looked for our places at the table and looked at the place cards of who else would be there.  “Opap,”  “Johnny,”  “Manny,”  “Arnie,”  “Helen,”  “Cora,”  “Patis,”  “Tito,”  “Gop,”  “Snooky,”  “Tonying,”  “Ingrid,”  “Raul,”  “Reynaldo,” et al.  What fun!!!

We enjoyed watching the elaborate “backstage” dinner preparations as it reminded both of us of how our families entertained back in those days…  It was “deja vu”…

I imagined that it was quite like a “Le Grand Couvert” of Louis XIV at Versailles…  or a dinner at Baron James de Rothschild at his rue Lafite townhouse in Paris…  or a dinner at the van der Luydens’ for the Duke of Saint Austrey in Edith Wharton’s novel “Age of Innocence”…  It was a production on the scale of Cecil de Mille or Sergei Bondarchuk…

“No one does it like this anymore…”  Marivic said.

“Tita Chito…  Tito Luis!!!  Even Mommy.  Even when we were in the US.  But when we returned…  she had tired of entertaining like this.”  she continued.  (Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal-Vazquez-Collantes, Arch Luis Maria Zaragoza Araneta, Maria Luisa “Ising” Madrigal-Vazquez.)

I recalled:  “We don’t do it like this anymore.  But I enjoyed it for some 35 years.  We did during the lifetime of my Lola Charing and then during Bro Andrew’s heyday.   He passed away in early 2006, and even then no longer during his last years…

“But I’m sure you and your M cousins still do it this way…”  I conjectured.

“Not really.  Oh, there’s always a lot of good food.  Tables set with good plates, glasses, silver.  Buffet.”  Marivic related.

“It’s 2015.  I wonder if anybody has the time to plan, execute, and host these affairs…”  I mused.

“One can have these elegant dinners catered.  But the true luxury is in having everything in your own house (or houses, as the case may be):  great food and wine, a large and efficient household staff, many sets of French and English china, crystal, and silver.  Beautiful linens.  Suitable after-dinner entertainment.  Old master, modern, and contemporary paintings, antique and contemporary furniture, Eastern and European rugs, flowers from the garden.  The works…”  I thought aloud.

*unfinished*

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 just 3 months before the declaration of Martial Law.  The brownies offered to the guests had been surreptitiously spiked with “marijuana” [top growth] by the couple’s artist friend and his girlfriend 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 in the garden or sit on the “piedra china” Chinese granite slabs leading to the front door.  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.”

Memory tidbit: “Tutubi”

Where did all the beautiful “tutubi” dragonflies go???  We used to have many of them in the garden before…

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*

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!!!   😀   😀   😀

Wedding anniversary

It was all sooooo effortless and yet so splendid…

For once, I arrived in time for the 7:30 p.m. invitation.  The 3 streets which the manorial house straddled were already filling up with all the latest, top-of-the-line cars and SUVs.  Just by the vehicles alone, one already knew exactly which crowd was attending the party:  the major Chinoy and Pinoy players of big business.

The extensive buffet dinner was catered by the Makati Shangri-La hotel, and it featured all the best selections from its 4 restaurants.  All kinds of wines and other liquor flowed freely from the very open bar.  French champagne, Scottish single malt, Johnny Walker Double Black, vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy, Louis XIII [ Treize ] de Remy Martin cognac, it was “bottoms up” “drink all you can” because the sky was really the limit.  Because it was drizzling, meaning that the ladies’ expensive Blahnik, Choo, and Louboutin heels would sink in the extensive lawn’s grass and their Hermes bags would get wet, the lady of the house spontaneously decided to hold it inside the house.  No problem, as the elegant house of embassy proportions, completely airconditioned, could easily accommodate the 200 guests in round tables of 10 between its living room and garden room, with more than enough space for everyone to glide through like a skating rink.

There were lovely, lovely flowers by Manila’s top florist placed discreetly on various tables and pedestals around the house.

After dinner, it was quite a treat to see many of Manila’s richest Chinoys [ Chinese-Filipinos ] and Pinoys belting out their favorite ballads and dance songs accompanied by a very talented band.  Interestingly enough, many of them actually had good voices.  The joking, the teasing, the banter, the mock verbal abuse among Manila’s inebriated business titans were very amusing.

The immaculate guest bathrooms were efficiently attended by alert and assiduous household staff who totally cleaned up after each guest.  There were various Hermes and Chanel cosmetics on Christofle silver trays and lovely, lovely flowers amidst the Carrara marble and the uberefficient German fixtures.  Hidden perfume burners emitted the most marvelous scents.

The party finally ended at 5:00 a.m..

There are many superrich people in Manila, but they might as well wear shirts stamped with “SCRIMP SCRIMP SCRIMP”  by the modest [ albeit admirable and conscientious ] way they live.  But for the superrich to live like the superrich, that’s style…

All I can say is that it’s really, really, really nice to be really, really, really rich and to have everything really, really, really new.   🙂   🙂   🙂

*unfinished*

The fruits of summers past

ANONAS.

ARATILES.

ATIS.

BALIMBING.

BALUBAD [ KASUY ].

BAYABAS.

BUKO.

CACAO.

CAIMITO.

CALAMANSI.

CALUMPIT / KALUMPIT.

CAMACHILE.

CEREALES.

CHESA.

CHICO.

DALANDAN.

DALANGHITA.

DAYAP.

DUHAT.

DURIAN [ DAVAO ].

GUYABANO.

INDIAN MANGO.

KAMIAS.

LANGKA.

LANZONES.

MABOLO.

MACOPA.

MANGGA.

MANGOSTEEN [ DAVAO ].

MANZANITAS.

MARANG [ DAVAO ].

MELON.

PAKWAN.

PAPAYA.

PINA.

RAMBUTAN [ THAILAND ].

SAGING NA LAKATAN.

SAGING NA LATUNDAN.

SAGING NA SABA.

SAGING NA SENORITA.

SAMPALOC.

SANTOL.

SINEGUELAS.

SUHA.

ZAPOTE.

Breathless

I have never had a Christmas season like this in Manila… I was actually out of breath dashing from work to lunch, work to merienda, work to cocktails to dinner… practically every day.  I can only guess that the Philippine economy is doing well, because the majority of people are in the mood to give and to attend all sorts of gatherings.

Aside from the Christmas parties, the lunches and the dinners with friends, there were family / clan reunions, gala events, “bienvenidas,” “asaltos,” “despedidas,” “important” weddings, baptisms, confirmations, children’s parties, debuts, “important” funerals, art openings, concerts, book launches, out-of-town jaunts, etc., etc., etc..

And the season hasn’t stopped… It’s just going and going and going…!!!

WOW…  *breathless*

Titans of Taste: Lindy and Cecile Locsin

There are many rich, even superrich, Filipinos.  But only a few of them have style, and even fewer still have the high style which compare to their peers in New York, Paris, and London.

Architect Leandro “Lindy” Locsin and his heiress wife Cecilia “Cecile” Araneta Yulo along with their friends personified Filipino high style.

Lindy and Cecile kept a close circle of friends — Jimmy and Maribel Ongpin, Ting and Baby Paterno, and Manolo and Rose Agustines.

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