Conversations about: Simon Flores y de la Rosa, 1839 – 1904, painter

From around 1850 to 1900, a talented artist was busy painting all those stately portraits of — well, not all, but mostly — ugly and fat, or ugly and thin, rich Pampango dons and donas, senoritos and senoritas, in mostly vertical but also curiously horizontal modes [ “memento mori” ].  When not busy with portrait commissions, he was occupied painting murals in several Pampanga churches like Bacolor and Betis.  His name was Simon Flores y de la Rosa and he was from Paco, Manila and he had married a Pampanguena named Simplicia Tambungui y Pineda from Guagua town [ what an authentic “Queni” surname, you can’t get more Capampangan than that!!! ].

Almost every “bahay na bato” mansion of a “principalia” family in every town of Pampanga had an oil portrait or a painting by Simon Flores.  Predictably, the greatest numbers were in the old, principal towns of Bacolor, Mexico, Guagua, and San Fernando.

There were predictably many Simon Flores portraits and paintings in the capital town of Bacolor.

One of the earliest known works of Simon Flores, dated “20 de Mayo 1862,” painted when he was all of 23 years old,  is the still-extant portrait of Olegario Rodriguez aka “Incung Luga” [ o 1806 – + 1874 ], patriarch of the still-flourishing Rodriguez clan of Bacolor, when the subject was “56 anos.”  Olegario Rodriguez was depicted wearing the European black coat with tails, embroidered “nipis” shirt [ of “pina” or “jusi” fabrics ], and trousers of a “principalia,” seated on a Biedermeier-style armchair, with his arm resting on a grooved marble top table, which 128 years later until the lahar flows of 1991, still stood in the center of the “sala” of his own house.  The portrait is with Rodriguez descendants in Manila.

A noteworthy and famous pair of Simon Flores portraits, the spouses Jose Leon Santos and Ramona Joven y Suarez, both of Bacolor, now hang in the “sala” of the “Museo De La Salle” in Dasmarinas, Cavite, created by their great great grandson Jose Maria Ricardo “Joey” Yaptinchay-Abad Panlilio.  One vividly remembers the comic story of Joey Panlilio, as related by his grandmother Luz Sarmiento de Panlilio, of how her husband Jose “Pepe” [ Joey’s grandfather ], an aristocratic bon vivant who always preferred the very latest in lifestyle fashions, “thoroughly disliked and was frankly embarrassed by those old, outmoded paintings” during the prewar and relegated them to obscure corners in the ancestral home in Bacolor, installing fashionable, framed large photographs and hand-colored “foto-oleos” in their place.

In the Buyson-Angeles ancestral home, the most social residence in Bacolor prelahar, hung a Simon Flores portrait of the distinguished patriarch, Julian Buyson y Cunanan of Baliuag, Bulacan.

The rich, Chinese mestizo-dominated town of Guagua, Pampanga was burned to the ground during the war.  Most of the imposing “bahay na bato” mansions of the town’s richest residents, both the Chinese and the Spanish mestizos — David, Limson, de Mesa, Valenzuela, Velez, Rodriguez-Infante — lining the plaza were destroyed, and with them, what was surely a fine group of portraits and paintings by Simon Flores, for his wife, Simplicia Tambungui y Pineda, was a native of Guagua town.

There were also several Simon Flores portraits and paintings in the town of San Fernando.  For starters, around 1875, three prosperous, landowning and trading Quiason y Cunanan brothers, Cirilo, Lucio, and Pablo, commissioned imposing family portraits from the artist.  The most beautiful and elegant of the three was the one of the Cirilo Quiason family.  Cirilo was painted with his wife Ceferina Henson y David, their second son Aureo, and third son Jose.  It was painted in 1875 and Simon Flores charged 50 pesos a head in gold coins, totaling 200 pesos.  Simon Flores sketched their faces in their home, brought their clothes to his house, and in a month he presented the finished painting to them.  It was in poor condition when it was sold in the early 1980s by the Quiason descendants to Governor Jaime C. Laya on behalf of the Central Bank of the Philippines.  On the other hand, Lucio or Pablo Quiason was depicted with his wife, daughters, and even mother-in-law in a rather cramped composition.  It is now in the Leandro V. Locsin collection and was expertly repaired by the restorers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  The third Quiason family portrait is believed to be lost or to have been destroyed during the war.

In Porac town, Simon Flores painted the Spanish mestizo patriarch and wife of the rich Gil-Castellvi family [ whose present-day family members are the beautiful actresses and handsome actors Rosemarie Gil, Mark Gil, Michael de Mesa, and Cherie Gil ].  The portraits were lost postwar.  In the “capilla” chapel of the house was Flores’ “La Virgen Maria,” his interpretation of an Italian Madonna.  It was acquired by the architect-collector Luis Ma. Araneta who hung it over his bed;  it was acquired from Araneta in the early 1980s by the ubercollector Paulino Que.

In the town of Mexico were many portraits and paintings by Simon Flores.  I will never forget the Simon Flores portrait of the buck-teethed Saturnino Hizon y David, dressed in a blue and white striped “pina” barong;  I could never get over his buck teeth which could have used the services of a good orthodontist.  He married three times because he was widowed twice:  first to Maria Cuison, then to Adriana Tizon, and finally to Cornelia Sison.  His third wife was also painted by Simon Flores.  The portraits, expensively restored, are now with Hizon descendants in Manila.  Saturnino Hizon y David and his three wives had many children and many descendants.  I remember seeing his very beautiful and exquisitely chased silver “platilla para buya” / “buyera,” marked “S H D ,” in the bedroom of an important Makati collector.

Also in Mexico town, Simon Flores painted a diminutive full-length portrait of the long-haired — as in floor length — Miguela Henson in front of her Isabelina-style dresser.  It is now in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas collection.  I was always amused by the little portrait of Miguela Henson since she looked so much [ almost a carbon copy! ] like my Mommy’s good friend, Tita Belen Henson-Lazatin Garcia-Diokno [ a pioneering Filipina psychiatrist ], who, somewhere along the way, must be a relative of  Miguela Henson through the Hizon-Henson-Lazatin line of Mexico town.

In the town of Santa Ana, Simon Flores painted the pretty Andrea Dayrit.  Her portrait hung in the 1840s Dizon house, famous in its time for its late Neoclassical and English Regency architectural details.

In Arayat town, Simon Flores painted the Spanish mestizo hacendero Jose Berenguer y Flores and his wife Simona “Munit” Linares y Reyes;  they are with Berenguer descendants in Manila.  He also painted the Spanish mestizo hacendero Lino Cardenas Reyes of Arayat and his wife Raymunda Soriano of Malabon.  “Capitan Lino” and “Capitana Munda” Reyes were famous in their time during the 1880s – 90s for their “fiestas” — elegant meals [ “desayuno,” “almuerzo,” “cena” ], “bailes,” and gambling — which lasted for weeks on end where the Spanish mestizo elite of Pampanga and Manila were invited [ remnants of their affluent life like Limoges china, Baccarat crystal, and silver “paliteras” toothpick trees in the form of birds amidst shrubs are still with Reyes descendants in San Francisco, USA ].  The Simon Flores portraits were destroyed when the Reyes-Soriano house in the poblacion burned down in the great fire that devastated Arayat in 1928, when all of the “bahay na bato” mansions lining its “Calle Real” were turned to ashes.

Adjacent to Arayat, in Candaba town, Simon Flores painted two doyennes of the “principalia” landowning class:  the severe-looking Severina Ocampo de Arroyo and the corpulent Quintina Castor de Sadie, nicknamed “Fat Woman from Candaba.”  They were in the collection of technocrat banker Manuel “Manoling” Martinez Dizon but he sold them to the Central Bank in the early 1980s because he wanted to concentrate on contemporary Filipino art.

In the southernmost town of Apalit, in the affluent barrio of Sulipan,  Simon Flores executed several portrait commissions from the richest families in that town.  In the Escaler-Sioco house, there was a pair of portraits of Matea Rodriguez y Tuason wearing a black “traje de mestiza” with considerable jewelry and her second husband Juan Arnedo Cruz y Tanjutco wearing a silver encrusted “salakot.”  There was a portrait of her elder daughter Sabina Sioco y Rodriguez [ 1858 – 1950 ] as a young lady wearing a “traje de mestiza.”  The three portraits disappeared in the early 1970s and presumed stolen and sold;  they were supposedly brought to the Escaler hacienda in Barrio Cansinala, Apalit  but they disappeared while in transit.  There was also a portrait of the Sioco progenitor Josef Sioco aka “Joseng Daga” [ 1786 – 1864;  father of Maria de la Paz Sioco y Carlos de Arnedo, Sabina Sioco y Rodriguez de Escaler, and Florencia Sioco y Rodriguez de Gonzalez who spawned the 3 richest families of Apalit in the 1800s ] in his 40s by an early painter, thought to be by Severino Flavier Pablo of Manila;  it is with Gonzalez descendants in Manila.  In the Arnedo-Sioco house, Flores painted the two daughters Maria Ignacia “Titay” [ 1872 – 1964 ] and Ines [ 1876 – 1954 ] as children wearing “traje de mestiza” in the 1880s.  It disappeared in the mid-1960s and presumed stolen and sold.  In the Gonzalez-Sioco house, there was a portrait of the matriarch Florencia Sioco y Rodriguez [ 1860 – 1925 ] as a young lady wearing a “traje de mestiza.”  The portrait was destroyed when the house was bombed by the Americans on 01 January 1942.

Reminiscences of Old Pampanga

Last Sunday evening, 30 May 2010, we were at Albert Salgado Paloma’s Rory Cameron-Lady Kenmare-“La Fiorentina”-“Le Clos Fiorentina”-overlooking-the-French-Riviera like house [ think white, white, white halls of noble proportions with classical antique Filipino furniture and genuine French antiques effortlessly put together with Albert’s tremendous, inimitable style and chic ] in San Fernando, Pampanga for his annual reception celebrating the town [ now city ] fiesta in honor of “San Fernando, El Rey.”

The big draw of an Albert Salgado Paloma invitation for me is to relive the lunches and dinners of the Old Pampanga I remember from my childhood and youth:  the delicious and luxurious Spanish and French-inflected Capampangan food cooked at home, presented on large antique porcelain, ironstone, and silver platters and laid on beautiful antique hardwood tables;  an assortment of fine wines;  the many tables elegantly set with china, crystal, and silver on linen damask;  and the genial company who knew one another, whose parents knew one another, and whose grandparents and great grandparents knew one another as well.  I’m sure it was a similar draw for many of the other regular guests.

Dinner was a grand concourse comparable to the five star hotel buffets:  Italian gnocchi, tagliatelle, and penne in various sauces, A large Lapu-lapu fish as “Pescado en Mayonesa,”  Dory filets with capers and butter sauce, “Relleno de Pollo,” Roast Turkey with all the trimmings including glazed yams, “Caldereta de Cordero [ lamb ]” braised in French red wine, Angus Beef carvery, Albert’s famous long-simmered “Fabada Asturiana,” Smithfield Virginia ham, young “Lechon,”  fresh asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Mixed Greens salad with unusual dressings.  Steamed Japanese rice for those who wanted some.

For desserts, there were fresh fruits and many cakes and pies from Manila’s most fashionable pastry shops.  There was also a delicious “buco” sorbet, tinged with pandan and exquisitely laced with “dayap” lime rind.

Later in the evening, when most of the older guests had left, Albert and I finally got around to talking, and as always, he was a vivid window to a vanished world, to a Pampanga long gone, even if he was already of the PostWar generation…

“Albert, how did one spell Benito Ullmann?  One l, two ls?  One n, two ns?”  I asked.

[ Benito Ullmann was the part-German first husband of Albert’s grandaunt, the very rich businesswoman Teodora Salgado y Basilio.  After his death, she married a full Spaniard, Dr. Saa, who was, of all things, a magician.  She had no children though, thus she partitioned her many holdings between her several Salgado nephews and nieces. ]

“Ullmann… two ls and two ns.”

“Benito Ullmann was in the luxury imports business.  Was he a part-owner of ‘La Estrella del Norte’ or did he have his own firm?”

“I don’t know about his involvement with ‘La Estrella del Norte’ but he had his own firm.”

“I remember your telling me years ago that the famous Arnedo Paris porcelain dinner service was ordered through Benito Ullmann’s firm… Therefore, the Grand Duke [ Alexis Alexandrovich of Russia ] must have ordered it immediately from Benito Ullmann after his visit to the Arnedos in Sulipan in 1891…”

“Yes it was.  It was Tirso Ballesteros and his mother Joaquina Arnedo-Ballesteros who told us.  They were there when we visited the Arnedo house in Sulipan… a long time ago?”  he confirmed.

Albert continued:  “Those plates were displayed in two “vajilleras” glass-fronted cabinets in the “comedor” dining room.  Tirso and his mother Joaquina told us that the majority were actually in a storage room.  They were beautiful!  Where are they now?”

“With me.  Most of them anyway.  Some are displayed at the ‘Museo de La Salle’ in Dasmarinas, Cavite.”


“I didn’t know Tito Ocampo was from Mexico town.  I thought the Ocampos were from San Fernando…”

“Tito’s father was an Ocampo from Santa Rita.  His mother was a Paras from Mexico.  That’s why he has that property there.”

“Interesting to note how old Dr. Sandico [ Mayorico Hizon Sandico ] and Imang Jane [ Jane Lazatin Garcia ] married off all their children to equally old Capampangan families.  I remember Dr. Sandico very well, he was a perfect gentleman… to the hilt.  He was also quite emphatic about people of good family:  ‘galing sa mabuting pamilya,’ he used to say.”

“Yes, they’re of very good family.  Their Hizon ancestors were painted by Simon Flores.  You’ve seen them?”

“Yes, Saturnino Hizon y David and his third wife Cornelia Sison.  It turned out that Saturnino Hizon was actually the direct, maternal grandfather of Dr. Sandico.  His mother Pilar Sison Hizon-Sandico was a daughter of Saturnino and Cornelia.  I remember the Saturnino portrait very well because he was buck-teethed.  They were already given to the children.  Then they were restored by Helmuth Zotter, the Austrian.  Very expensive!”

“There used to be a big Simon Flores painting right across from this house when I was young.  A family portrait with several people.  Lindy Locsin [ Architect Leandro V. Locsin ] bought it.”

“Which family was it?”


“Oh, if Lindy bought it then it’s the one with the mother-in-law.  There were three Quiason family portraits — the three were brothers — that hung in San Fernando before the war.  Another one, with just four figures [ Cirilo and Ceferina Quiason and their family ], is in the Central Bank Collection.  Another one is really dark, in the Central Bank too if I’m not mistaken. I’m a Quiason by descent, through my mother, by the way.  The baby in the Central Bank portrait, the one whose pee-pee was burned off by his own cigar, was my mother’s maternal grandfather { Jose “Yayang” Quiason y Henson }.”  I related.

Albert countered:  “Lindy also bought three portraits by Simon Flores from the Cunanan ancestral house in Mexico town.  The very old, probably 1780s, thatch-roofed house that used to stand on the site of the Methodist church now, right beside the old town church.  The parents of Mariano Cunanan and another one.”

“By the time I saw the house in the 1950s, the Cunanans had already become Methodists.  I guess that’s why the Methodist church now stands on the site of their ancestral home.”

“The Quiason are descended from the Cunanan:  Cirilo Quiason y Cunanan.  His mother was Maria Cunanan and his father was Modesto Quiason.”  [ FYI:  Our Cunanan is NOT related to Andrew Philip Cunanan, the assassin of Gianni Versace in Miami.   😛 ]

He added:  “Lindy had the big Quiason portrait and the three solo Cunanan portraits restored by no less than the principal restorers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”

“Do you think Lindy would have bothered to record the names of those three Cunanan portraits by Simon Flores?”  I asked.

“Knowing Lindy, yes, he would have.”

Albert recalled further:  “That Cunanan house had the most beautiful segmented “cabecera” dining table I ever saw:  Neoclassical, with tapering Sheraton legs, and discreet bone and kamagong inlay.  Their sideboards in the “comedor” dining room were a pair of longer and bigger than usual Sheraton-type altar tables, tapering legs, restrained bone and kamagong inlay, and all.  Beautiful!!!”

“My only ‘recuerdo’ of that Cunanan house is the smallish grooved marble top table from the ‘sala.’  Without knowing its provenance, I bought it, along with many other first rate antiques, for a small fortune in 1997 from Rene Dizon who had acquired it, together with the late ‘agente’ Mamerto “Mamer” Ocampo, from the family in 1972 in exchange for a new color TV.  Rene didn’t even know it was the Cunanan house, all he remembered was that it was the old, long, thatch-roofed house beside the Mexico church.  Then I learned that the old, thatch-roofed house used for ‘Filosofo Tasio’ in director Gerry de Leon’s classic 1961 ‘Noli Me Tangere’ was  the Cunanan house in Mexico, Pampanga.  Years later, you told me that the Cunanan house had beautiful old things and it was right beside the Mexico church where the Methodist church stands now.  So you see, after all those years, all the bits and pieces of information finally jived.  I guess that buying that grooved marble top table from Rene was sheer serendipity, as always.”


“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cunanan family had those silver “paliteras” toothpick trees…”

“Sonny Tinio remembers being told long ago by Hizon [ de Mexico ] descendants that the old house had twelve of them and that they were distributed to the children…”

“Very believable.”

“Te Hizon still had two of them before his beautiful San Fernando house was damaged by lahar.”



Man in the sala

Walk into the residences of the Philippines’ most important established families — Zobel, Madrigal, Cojuangco, Lopez, Ortigas, Araneta, Aboitiz, et. al. [ as well as the traditional or new cultured Chinese rich — Sy, Tan, Yao-Campos, Que Pe, et. al. ] — and you will see, aside from the multimillion peso works of Fernando Cueto Amorsolo and Fernando Montojo Zobel, the equally multimillion peso paintings of Vicente Silva Manansala, whom they knew in his lifetime simply as “Mang Enteng.”  The works of those three celebrated painters, combined with exceptional antique Filipino furniture, punctuated by rare Filipino colonial silver and ivory, and juxtaposed with contemporary art and furniture [ sometimes from Italy and France ] produce a definite look that says the family has always been there, is there, and will always be there.

Last night, I attended the opening of the commemorative exhibit “Si Mang Enteng… Encountering Manansala” at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila at the Central Bank Complex.

I went through the exhibit one artwork at a time…  My personal favorites, my odd tastes in art notwithstanding, were “String Players,” undated, oil on canvas, from the Luis Ma. Araneta Collection — if a painting could be said to possess chic, then that one certainly had it, in spades:  it could have easily hung in the famous Art Deco New York living room of Princess Yelena Ghiurielli [ Helena Rubinstein ] or the legendary PreWar Paris salon of Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles or even that of Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s;  “Kahig,” 1976, oil on canvas, from the Gretchen O. Cojuangco Collection;  “Sabungero,” 1977, oil on canvas, from the Ricardo Lopa Collection;  the serene and iridescent “Magsasampaguita,” 1974, oil on canvas, from the Ricardo Lopa Collection;  “First Lesson,” 1977, oil on canvas, Gretchen O. Cojuangco Collection — a not quite banal Madonna and Child rendition;  “Woman with Cat,” 1974, oil on canvas with gold leaf, Tony and Cora Lopa Collection.

I also liked the small “Trees in the Park [ Paris ],” watercolor, 1951, from the Ricardo Lopa Collection.  That one I could also see hanging in a Paris salon along with works by Maurice Utrillo and Raoul Dufy.

Stunning and memorable for the sheer number of lissome naked [ nude? ] figures were the mural-size, graphic “Lexham Garden” and “Voyager” charcoal on paper works, both from the 1970s, from the Louie Cruz Collection.  They would be fantastic in a New York penthouse living room with works by Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe.  Definitely not for the fainthearted and often hypocritical Manila society matrons, they were works only the irrepressible Louie Cruz, with his matchless devil-may-care panache, could possess!!!

During the lifetime of Ambassador J.V. Cruz, his family was known to have one of the biggest collections of works by Vicente Manansala.


Grand Revival in Pampanga

It is amazing that in this era of rapid secularization and religious desensitization, religious traditions are experiencing an unexpected revival.  In particular, Roman Catholic traditions are experiencing a renaissance, indeed a grand revival, in Pampanga.  Thanks — of all people — to the youth.

Parish churches mount their “monumentos” — temporary altars to the Blessed Sacrament — for the traditional “Visita Iglesia” after the all-important Maundy Thursday afternoon holy mass:  the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s institution of the eucharist.  For the longest time and up to the present, Betis town always has the most remarkable, the most spectacular, sometimes very modern “monumento,” with a large budget allotment, that makes it a destination for pilgrims from other Pampanga towns, Bulacan, Tarlac, Bataan, and even Zambales.  In the late 1990s, a very traditional, very elegant, and most magnificent “monumento” entirely in antique silver was assembled in the lahar-ravaged Bacolor church by Thomas Joven and Jerome de Jesus from their private collections.  Joven and de Jesus are two Bacolorenos famous in elite circles for their expertise in the ecclesiastical arts.  Since then, the traditional Bacolor “monumento” [ not assembled every year ] — which rivals the annual Vigan cathedral “monumento” entirely of magnificent 18th century silver — has set the standard for all other Pampanga churches during Maundy Thursday, and so there has been a quiet but massive return to the sense of religious splendor during the Spanish colonial era.

There was a time in my childhood [ the 1970s ] when the traditional Good Friday processions in Pampanga, including ours in Apalit, were in sorry states.  Heirloom images were neglected [ thankfully not ours ], dressed shabbily, antique “carrozas” unkempt and unpolished, their lighting erratic or plainly nonexistent, the attendees lackadaisical and bored, and a general distaste for religious matters prevailing in the air.  Secularization was very in, and disco was preferred over the divine.

But it’s a different matter altogether now.  There is a renewed interest, surprisingly spearheaded by the youth, in all matters religious, including processions and other rites.  In all the old Pampanga parishes and even the new, Lenten processions have taken on a new luster, which 30 – 40 thirty to forty years ago would have looked “outta synch” and downright ridiculous.

Driving around Pampanga towns on Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, one will see antique, ornate “carrozas,” mostly silverplated from the 1900s to the 1920s, being assembled, polished, and decorated with flowers in residential driveways.  Inside those houses, the antique images are being carefully dressed by the ladies of the family in well-preserved, traditional embroidered vestments, some of them original from the 1800s.  Some affluent families even pin a genuine gold and diamond brooch or two, or earrings and rings, to the female “santos” as signs of their devotion.  Some “pasos” will be processed during Holy Wednesday evening, the others on Good Friday, still others on Easter Sunday.

The traditional Pampanga Good Friday procession unfolds most beautifully and elegantly in lahar-inundated Bacolor town, once, and in a sense still, the seat of all that is patrician, noble, and grand in Pampanga.  Guagua, the traditional Chinese mestizo economic powerhouse, comes in a close second, despite the unsightly commercial district where the procession passes.  Santa Rita also has beautiful Good Friday rites;  the Holy Wednesday procession is remarkable for the number of antique “pasos.”  One is surprised by the fishing town of Sasmuan:  it has an astonishing number of antique, silverplated “pasos”;  its 1800s “calandra” of the “Santo Entierro” is truly remarkable for the magnificently-worked silver “arana de luces” chandeliers and the sheer number of antique “virinas” glass shades.  On the opposite end of the province, Arayat town has a most atmospheric Good Friday procession:  5 five of the beautiful antique “pasos” are still candlelit, returning one to the times of Maria Clara and Ibarra, of Capitan Tiago, Tia Isabel, and Padre Damaso…

I’m so glad that the time has come.  I am so fortunate to see a renewed appreciation and reestablishment of the meaningful, and beautiful, religious traditions of our forefathers in my lifetime.

A million thanks to you

Dear Friends,

As that Pilita Corrales ditty from the 1970s went:  “A million thanks to you…”  A million thanks to you indeed, for today “Remembrance of Things Awry” — — reached the 1,000,000 hits mark since starting in August 2006 [ 1,000,402 hits — not counting me — as of 8:00 p.m. ].  I know it’s “peanuts” compared to the great Filipino blogs which already have millions of hits.  But then, we all know this blog isn’t for everyone, right?

A Million Thanks to All of You!!!  And of course, a million thanks to, the blog host.

Now, are you ready for the “Toto Gonzalez Show” on the Net???  Hahahah.


Toto Gonzalez   😀   😀   😀

The Patriarch’s House

“Maleldo 2009”

Apalit Fiesta 2008 Advisory












Discovering Pampanga

One of the best things in life is to be able to help the less fortunate and yet have fun in the process.  That was what the MRMF Mother Rosa Memorial Foundation of the Assumption College did last Saturday, 26 April 2008 to raise funds for the Assumpta Technical School in San Simon, Pampanga.  Charitable Assumption alumnae and their friends contributed Php 2,500.00/xx each and went on a discovery tour of Pampanga…

One could ask:  What can be seen in Pampanga???  Lahar???  What else???  It’s warm and dusty.  There are no white sand beaches like Palawan and Boracay, no five-star resorts like Amanpulo and Discovery Shores Boracay, no diving or snorkeling, no surfing or wakeboarding, no top international shops like Hermes, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, et. al.., no celebrated chichi restaurants and bars like at Greenbelt IV and V and Serendra, Nada!!!  True!!!  But Pampanga has so much more than mere consumerism.  The province is undeniably rich with history, culture, traditions, quality education, fine and decorative arts, culinary expertise, and so much more.  Pampanga the province has the ever elusive qualities of wonder, depth, and soul.  And it was that Pampanga that the generous Assumption alumnae and their friends sought to discover that day…

The fundraising MRMF Pampanga Tour was planned by A-MRMF president Rosalie “Salie” Henson- Naguiat, former A-MRMF president Josefina “Nening” Pedrosa-Manahan and former A-MRMF Jacqueline “Jackie” Cancio-Vega.  Angeli Ko of KulTours was consulted for logistics.  And I was consulted for the “off-the-beaten-track” itinerary.

Included in the tour group were “Connie” Carmelo-Pascal, “Angie” Barrera, Mary Garlicki-Moorani, Asuncion “Nonny” Carlos, Marietta Cuenco-Cuyegkeng, Victorina “Chichi” Litton Laperal, Anna Aguirre-Pamplona, “Ching” Singson Abad Santos, “Gigi” Lacson Lacson, “Mabek” Lichaytoo-Kawsek, “CJ” Junterreal, “Gina” Gozum, Dr. Gaudencio “Boy” Vega, ADB executive Victor Yon, et. al..

Petron gas station, northbound NLEX.

JDN CKS HAU The Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies at the Holy Angel University, Angeles City.

The Assumption alumnae were very impressed with the JDN CKS Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies in particular and with the Holy Angel University in general.

Henson mansion, Angeles City.

Chow Time!!!  Salie Henson-Naguiat had prepared a wonderful spread.

Dr. Jose “Jojo” Valencia, Dolores, San Fernando.

The group eagerly descended on “Nathaniel’s” along the Olongapo-Gapan road and bought boxes upon boxes of the store’s famous chilled “Buko Pandan” [ with carabao’s milk ] dessert for their “buko pandan fix” and every other goody displayed that seized their fancy.

Archdiocesan Museum, University of the Assumption, San Fernando.  I became very irritated with the rude security guards because they passed us from one gate to the other and would not let us in.  As if the university was the gold-laden Fort Knox in Texas.  I sneered:  “You passed me from ‘Papa gate’ to ‘Mama gate’ to ‘Baby gate’!!!  Whothehell do you think I am, ‘Goldilocks’???!!!”  *LOLSZ!!!*  Later on, I was told that the ladies inside the bus were also wondering aloud about what was going on…

However, we all forgot the travails of the university gates when we beheld the sheer magnificence of the collection of the Archdiocese of Pampanga.  Absolutely marvelous!!!  The curator and concurrently the parish priest of Santa Rita, Pampanga, Monsignor Gene Reyes, was a kind gentleman who took the trouble of explaining every object in the collection that we found interesting, which was mostly everything!!!

I was able to request my dear friend, the artist Alberto “Albert” Salgado Paloma — a first cousin of the legendary jeweler Erlinda “Liding” Salgado Miranda-Oledan — to open his beautiful, faultlessly elegant home to us.  It is to me, the Filipino version of the legendary tastemaker Roderick “Rory” Cameron at “Le Clos de Fiorentina” above the French Riviera, without the sea of course.

Albert, in his characteristic high style, had ordered his staff to prepare an elegant Kapampangan “merienda” for us.  And what a chic and stylish “merienda” it was!!!

The ladies enjoyed every minute at Albert Paloma’s.  It was as if they never left their houses in Forbes Park or Dasmarinas Village.

After Albert Paloma’s, some of the group members and I crossed B. Mendoza street to get our orders of traditional large “ensaimadas” from [ my great- grandaunt ] Lola Beatriz Rodriguez, who temporarily lives in a priest friend’s house after the old Rodriguez mansion in Bacolor was inundated by lahar.  The group members were absolutely delighted to meet Lola Beatriz, who was already 98 years old but still healthy and alert.

Bacolor church.

Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Cabetican, Bacolor.  We made a quick stop to make our “first visit” prayers and requisite three wishes at this popular Marian shrine where many petitions are said to have been granted.  We were efficiently out of there in ten minutes flat!!!

Betis church.  It was a beautiful church with many artistic details but we were not able to appreciate it as much as we would have wanted as it was already late afternoon and there were no lights inside.  We requested some people chatting in the convent to turn on some lights but they replied nonsensically that there was no electrical connection or something equally silly.  We were able to enter the sacristy and admire the magnificent 18th century “vestuario” vestry cabinet, “aparador” cabinet, and “dinemonyo” “mesa altar” altar table.  It was a good thing we had already seen all of that before the security guard entered the church and, not knowing who we were or what we were doing for charity, wanted to shoo us away.  So I didn’t feel the least bit guilty when, in our rush to leave, we completely forgot to leave our envelope with a generous donation to the church.

After Betis church, we visited the absolutely enchanting David ancestral house, which Salie Henson-Naguiat had arranged for us.  Atty. Dante David showed us around his family’s restored and renovated 1904 Filipino house.  Many of us particularly liked the antique-style, carved wooden brackets with peacock designs at the ceiling of the main floor.

The restored ancestral house had such a lovely garden.  It seemed to be the work of a top landscape artist until Atty. David told us that they actually did it themselves!!!

The ladies peeked inside a garden pavilion being used as a [ not at all! ] “dirty” kitchen and giggled when they saw that the tablecloth was the very pattern of their beloved “Assumption plaid” uniform.  Also, the ladies very much appreciated the very clean and contemporary bathrooms of the house.

N. Cayanan, antique “agente,” Betis.

And so, as the sun quickly set on the horizon, the group set out for the border town of Apalit…

The funniest, wackiest, and most outrageous part of the tour happened when we reached Apalit town at 7:00 p.m..  Jackie Vega had secured an appointment with Ellen Ramirez, a known Apalit decorative arts manufacturer, whom she had met at the Manila F.A.M.E. exporters’ show.  The address read “Dona Asuncion Village, San Juan, Apalit” which, despite my being an Apaliteno, I didn’t know, so I got down the bus when we reached the back of the Apalit church and inquired with my friends there where “Dona Asuncion Village” was.  They laughingly pointed to the town cemetery and said that the big bus would not be able to pass the street going there.  OH.  UHM…

I got back on the bus and announced to an excited group:  “Ladies, we have the thrill of the unexpected!!!  We know where ‘Dona Asuncion village’ is.  Problem is, it’s located after the town cemetery and the big bus won’t negotiate the street going there.  We will have to walk, if ever we proceed.  What’s your decision???”

I looked at the ladies.  The ladies looked at one another.  The ladies looked at me.  I looked towards the cemetery!!!  The “thought bubbles” on their faces were:   “Shopping… Cemetery… Shopping… Cemetery… Shopping…”  And then a unanimous “YES!!!  SHOPPING!!!”  And they all proceeded to disembark from the bus!!!

It was a scene straight out of an adventure movie:  some 35 well-heeled, well-dressed, and well-shod Assumption alumnae happily chatting away as they trod the rough road [ of some 500 meters ], accompanied by excited Apalit children, on the way to Ellen Ramirez, the decorative arts manufacturer, in “Dona Asuncion village” past groups of drunken men, the town cemetery, and young families enjoying the night air.  They were amply rewarded when we reached the manufacturer because there were all sorts of stylish, “au courante,” export-quality decorative accessories that could be purchased “in situ.”

Apalit church.  We were lucky to find the parish choir in practice so the church lights were all switched on.  The ladies marveled at the San Agustin “wannabe” church with its interesting and folksy trompe l’oeil paintings.

I showed the group the beautifully-carved [ Carrara marble ] gravestone of my paternal great grandfather Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez [ 1853 – 1900 ]:  a Spanish Augustinian friar’s son; a Paris-trained ophthalmologist who preceded Dr. Jose Rizal; he was the discoverer of “beri-beri” as a disease in the Philippines; and he was one of only two Pampango representatives to the 1898 Malolos Congress [ the other being Jose Rodriguez Infante of Floridablanca ].  I explained that Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez was the great grandfather of such diverse characters whom the ladies knew socially:  Elsie Franco-Diaz, Cecilia Gonzalez-Soriano, Fr. Gabby Gonzalez S.J., Annie Gonzalez-Chanco, Romy Rodriguez, Rosemarie Rodriguez-Lopez, Tony de Leon, Marianne de Leon, Bambina de Leon-Herbosa, Jane de Leon-Syjuco, Gia Lopez Gonzalez, Toni Lopez Gonzalez, Mely Gonzalez-Gan, Atty. Renato Gonzalez, Leony Gonzalez, Jerry Gonzalez, Jean Gonzalez-Salvador, Ina Gonzalez-Dizon, May Gonzalez-Benedicto, Minnie Gonzalez Blanco-Abdallah, Gene Gonzalez, moi, Atty. Adolfo Gonzalez, Rocelle Gonzalez-Lizares, Charo Cancio-Yujuico, Arch. Jackie Cancio-Vega, Dr. Vicki Belo, Karen Cancio-Litre, David de Padua, Dr. Donna de Padua, Tweetums Cruz Gonzalez, Noli Gonzalez, Atty. Ging Madrigal Gonzalez-Montinola, BG Gonzalez, Gig Gonzalez, Dr. Jake Jison, and Liel Montinola Gonzalez.

Cacnio house, San Juan, Apalit.  I explained to the group that the Cacnio house was the last intact ancestral home in the entire town and the only evidence that Apalit actually possessed a kind of Spanish colonial elegance which has almost entirely disappeared.   My dear Espiritu-Arnedo-Mercado relatives Tita Esther Cacnio-Atienza and her daughter Paz came all the way from their Manila residence to welcome the MRMF group to their beautiful ancestral home in Apalit.  The MRMF group marveled at the 1850s house, transferred from Malabon to Apalit in 1905, which has survived so many disasters intact, down to the last teaspoon of their ancestors.

The Cacnios prepared a wonderful “pancit luglug” traditionally soured with “kamias” fruit which was a nice counterpoint to all the sweets that we had been eating the whole day!!!  There were also those delightful little aniseed “puto” — a type which we used to produce in barrio Capalangan, Apalit years ago.   All “gratis” again which we much appreciated because it was like a donation to the MRMF!!!  Leading the group in their appreciation of the Cacnios’ warm hospitality, Tita “Nening” Manahan presented “Majestic” ham as a token of gratitude.

And so, in the dark of night, we bravely forged on to old barrio Sulipan in Apalit…

It was already 9:00 p.m. when we arrived in the legendary, once-elegant, definitely-not-patrician-and-sylvan-anymore barrio Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga…

Arnedo house, Sulipan, Apalit.  It was simply too late to bother the gay caretaker to open the ancient house for us.

Saint Peter’s shrine, Capalangan, Apalit.  Our delicious, freshly-made Spanish “postres” were locked inside the Espiritu hall behind the gates!!!  Aaarrrggghhh!!!

Petron gas station, southbound NLEX.

Some of the ladies were so happy to see Connie Carmelo-Pascal and Mary Garlicki-Moorani — who were trapped for several hours in that frightful traffic between the San Simon and Pulilan exits of the southbound NLEX [ two big trucks had fallen off the viaduct!!! ] — all OK in the ladies’ room.  At least, they were safe and finally on the way home!!!

Everyone had already boarded the bus and were raring to finally go home — except for Gigi Lacson.  I got down the bus to look for her…  She had come from the shops and was walking towards the bus.  I waved to her and she waved back.  Before we both knew it, a truck passed as she was crossing the pavement, nearly running her over!!!  She mock-blamed me for not warning her about the passing truck, but I just smiled and laughed because my tired, tiny eyes really didn’t see the truck coming in the dark…

Back to Quezon City and Makati…  We reached Merced bakeshop along EDSA near Quezon Avenue — where the Quezon City group dropped off — at 10:30 p.m. and we reached the Manila Polo Club — where the Makati group disembarked — at 11:30 p.m.!!!  Whattaday it had been!!!  *LOLSZ!!!*

We had so much fun that we are already planning the next tour!!!  Perhaps Laguna, maybe Bulacan, on to Batangas, Ilocos Sur and Abra, Bacolod and Iloilo, and of course, Pampanga part II…   😀

And yes, almost miraculously, but also because of the generosity of sooooo many people, MRMF was able to raise a good amount for the Assumpta Technical School in San Simon, Pampanga…!!!

The Untold Splendors of Old Pampanga

In the late afternoons, a group of affluent Filipiniana collectors and connoisseurs, as well as authorities, scholars, and researchers, gathers at the eminent Filipiniana scholar Ramon “Boy” Villegas’ “Katutubo” Arts & Crafts at the LaO’ Center in Makati to catch up on the latest in the uppermost echelons of the Manila art and antique world.  The conversations are invariably interesting, as the friends discuss the latest important finds on the market and express their interest in the rarest objects, generously peppered with, of course, the latest unsavory but interesting doings of Manila society.

Usually, the conversations steer to the highly-desirable heirlooms of the “de buena familia” old families.  And more than the Negrense, Cebuano, Batangueno, Laguna Tagalog, Ilocano, and even Manila families, the Pampango families and their storied holdings are the ones most often discussed.

I have always suggested to my good friend Ramon “Boy” Villegas that the Metropolitan Museum of Manila should mount an exhibition — one that will certainly be a blockbuster — themed and titled “The Splendors of Old Pampanga.”  I also suggested the idea to another good friend, Corazon “Cora” Alvina, formerly the head of the Metropolitan Museum and presently the head of the National Museum, and while she thought it was a wonderful idea, she bowed and shook her head sadly when she realized the enormous insurance costs that such a magnificent exhibition would entail…

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