“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*

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Memory tidbit: Garden flowers

The searing heat of summer also brings back memories of childhood gardens, specially Lola Charing’s garden.  The garden of “Dona Charing” (Rosario Espiritu Arnedo-Gonzalez) was famous in the 40s, 50s, 60s, & 70s for its big American roses, in a city where even small roses did not thrive naturally.  During its heyday, a group of hardy gardeners kept that Eden in bloom rather expensively.  And we grandchildren had the run of the place, specially during the summers of the 60s & 70s.

*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.

Holy Week 2012 reflections

At the start of Holy Week 2012, I decided that I would visit two people very dear to me:  73 year old fellow aesthete “Cong Albert” Albert Salgado Paloma [ cousin of my Gonzalez-Salgado cousins ] and my great grandaunt, nearly 102 years old “Imang Bets” Beatriz Tiamson Rodriguez [ Rodriguez first cousin of my paternal great grandmother Florencia Rodriguez Sioco-Gonzalez, o 1860 – + 1925 ], both living in San Fernando, Pampanga…

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Cong Albert was in great spirits despite his kidney ailment.  His kidney treatment actually allowed him to eat anything, so we shared a luxurious “Bacalao ala Vizcaina” and a decadent “Lamb Shank Caldereta,” both unforgettably delicious.  Bishop Socrates “Soc” Villegas in Dagupan, a good friend and client of his, had just sent him a bag of king prawns, so he was thinking of making a nice “Sinigang”…

Illness had barely dampened Cong Albert’s spirits and he was his usual acerb, comic self.  We talked about the latest goings-on of our relatives and friends and as always, it made for very interesting conversation.

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Dear ol’ Imang Bets was seated upright on her bed, propped up on several pillows.  There was a lunchtime variety show on the TV, but she was looking blankly into space, muttering prayers.  I introduced myself, greeted her, and she took both my hands and kissed them.  But she could no longer recognize me.  It was alright, it was enough that I was with her.  There were some dark marks on her arms and legs;  Her assistant Charing explained that she got them during a bad fall some months ago and they had not recovered [ but what can one expect at + 100 years old? ].  Imang Bets told me that “Apung Misericordia” was in the house with her [ an antique wooden image of the Crucified Christ that was the center of Rodriguez family devotion for generations ].  She kept repeating a prayer that sounded like “Dear Jesus, forgive us our sins…”  Charing apologized that there was no big “ensaimada” nor my favorite “mamon tostado” in stock, which they usually served for “merienda” during my visits.  But it was enough, it was really enough, that I was there with dearest Imang Bets for a while.

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Cong Albert and Imang Bets.  Two people who make my world rock.  45 years have taught me not to take anyone or anything for granted.  Because one day…

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In the late afternoon, I stayed in the family burial ground for over an hour, seated on a prewar, precast bench, looking with deep affection at the gravestones and remembering all the people I had loved, and lost, to something we all call “eternity” which is something none of us fully understand…

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.

The ties that bind

We had a wonderful dinner last night for two dear friends, Rick and Regina, residents of Vancouver, on their annual visit to the “hometown.”  Being a well-liked couple, for the 18 days they are here, relatives and friends jockey for dinner, lunch, merienda, and breakfast slots to entertain them.  I knew this so I already requested for a dinner slot some 90 days ago when the annual Manila visit was just in the works:  I asked for 03 February 2011, Thursday.  I did not know then that it would actually be the first day of the new Chinese year of the Rabbit.

It was a cozy sitdown dinner for 36 persons at the “Gino’s dining room” of Gene’s “Cafe Ysabel” in San Juan:  Rick, Regina, Ditas, Gilbert, Nikki, Tito, Rory, Marivic, Lisa, Cindy, Chichi, Nening, Jackie, Ado, Amy, Butch, Agnes, Rose, Tess, Lulu, Tony, Marietta, Giging, Pepet, Eileen, Rookie, Ana, Noel, Vina, Tito, Patis, Serge, Salie, Martha, Edward, and I, Toto.

For starters, there was a table laden with Regina’s favorites from traditional Spanish-Filipino cuisine:  “galantina de pollo,” “rabo de toro” / “menudo Sulipena,” “jamon,” “chorizos,” “palitos” [ traditional puff pastry cheesesticks ], etc.;  the chef even added the gamey “chorizo merguez” of beef and lamb.  The guests could take their pick of any drink from the bar.  French champagne, Regina’s favorite, flowed freely.  Many bottles of “Moet & Chandon” Brut Imperial were on hand.

In true Gonzalez-Arnedo “Sulipan style,” “Croquembouches” [ cream puff trees ] of various sizes, candles, and spring flowers decorated the long tables for 20 pax, 10 pax, and 10 pax.  It was always the way the family entertained, still entertains, and will always entertain…

“On the table” were the house bread with herbed olive oil dip and truffled liver pate topped with orange confit and crackers.  The actual dinner started with “duck rillettes, roasted walnuts, & feta cheese on mesclun greens with raspberry vinaigrette”;  “roasted pumpkin soup with orange essence & black sesame puff”;  “smoked & saltcrusted ‘lapu-lapu’ with baby carrots and green beans”;  “mango & lemongrass sorbet”;  “‘cochinillo’ with cognac demiglace [ or traditional liver sauce ] with guava confit & wild rice with pine nuts & spinach”.

Dessert was “Chef Gino’s molten ‘Callebaut’ chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and homemade rum raisin ice cream”;  there was a myriad selection of coffee and tea;  Cafe Ysabel chocolate truffles and pralines made from “Callebaut” chocolate.

All the fine and interesting French, Spanish, American [ Napa ], South American, and Australian wines which accompanied the dishes were personally selected by Gene.

As a nod to Regina’s, and the genetic Lopez [ Iloilo ] sweet tooth, there was a separate dessert table that featured “Pasteleria Mallorca’s” genuine and faithful renditions of the old “Las Cibeles, Pasteleria y Salon de Te” favorites — Spanish “crocombuche” / French “croquembouche,” “tarta Madrid,” “milhojas,” “naranjas,” and “yemas” — as well as the traditional Gonzalez-Arnedo “sans rival” and large, special “ensaimadas.”

Every single guest took home a “loot bag” with “Pasteleria Mallorca’s” “argelianas,” “palillos de Milan,” and “lengua de gato,” which are the favorites of Manila’s establishment families.

Because everyone knew everybody else [ indeed, every single person had family, business, and social connections to each other ] conversation was extremely lively and that precious, high decibel level was reached — my personal barometer of a successful, even wildly successful, party.

No new people, no nouveaux riches, no arrivistes.  Just peers who knew each other, whose parents knew each other, whose grandparents knew each other, whose great grandparents knew each other…

Every single one was descended from one, two, three, or even four old Filipino families:  Araneta, Zaragoza, Teodoro, de la Fuente, de los Reyes, Cojuangco, Madrigal, Paterno, Vazquez, Earnshaw, Bayot, Tuason, Legarda, Prieto, Valdes, Roces, Lagdameo, Revilla, Zamora, Hidalgo, Padilla, Ongsiako, Gallego, Laperal, Litton, Manahan, Garcia, Casas, Cuyegkeng, Cu-Unjieng, Huang, Lopez [ Iloilo ], Ledesma, Soriano, Jalandoni, Jalbuena, Montilla, Gustilo, Rodriguez [ Bacolod ], Hizon, Rodriguez [ Pampanga ], Escaler, Gonzalez, Henson, Pamintuan, Guanzon, Valdes [ Pampanga ], Feliciano, Tinio, Gabaldon, de Santos, Aquino, Cancio, Ponce, Tesoro, Lopez [ Balayan ], Solis, Kalaw, Katigbak, Escudero [ San Pablo ], Gala, de Villa, Rivera, Fabella, Almeda, Yaptinchay, Singson y Chiong Veloso [ Cebu ], Osmena, Velez, Cuenco, Acebedo [ Leyte ], Pedrosa, Romualdez, Pelaez, et. al..

In essence, the group was a Filipino version of the old New York families of Edith Wharton’s and Henry James’ novels…

The ties that bind.  The stories of generations, the clasps secured by time.

Dinosaurs and extinction

[ Dear Readers:  This is a post about our deceased family members which I have to write.  It will most probably not interest you.  You may spare yourselves the trouble.   😛 ]

08 October 2010, Friday, 2200 hours.  Yes, I’m not ashamed to admit it, I’ve been influenced by “contemporary thinking”:  I’ve junked the whole “All Souls’ Day” tradition of the family.  Call me the “weak link” or whatever, but I don’t see why I have to be the “Old Faithful” geyser of the family, a quaint relic of the past, when my siblings and my nephews and nieces are out in Phuket, Bangkok, Bali, Singapore, Shanghai, Boracay, Baguio whooping it up and not being where they should be in the first place.  You see, I didn’t believe in a family autocracy [ operative word:  “didn’t”;  now I believe in an oppressive dictatorship! ], but I do believe that as a responsible, duty-bound adult member of a tradition-bound family, you know where you should be at certain occasions throughout the year.  No questions.  After all, you’re not a 6 year old child and neither are you the golden retriever nor the Jack Russell that has to be told what to do.  Or are you???

Death has become trivialized in these contemporary, “e” – everything times.  We have negated it to the point that it comes as a total shock when it comes, although it barely stops us for a minute these days.  Our usual reaction is a shrug of resignation.  It wasn’t the case for those who came long before us.  For them, death was a central point of life as well as its ultimate destination, and it was celebrated with Hispanic pomp and circumstance during “Todos los Santos” and “Semana Santa”…

I grew up at a time when 02 November of every year meant all of us getting up very early [ 4:30 – 5:30 a.m. ] in order to leave the city at 6:30 a.m., to arrive in time for the 7:30 a.m. All Souls’ Day holy mass at the Gonzalez mausoleum at the Apalit Catholic cemetery.  The big come-on was the big Capampangan breakfast which followed at the old house in barrio Capalangan.

It was a time when we observed quarterly or more visits to the family burial ground to remember, pray for, and weep for Lola Charing who had passed away on 18 May 1977.  Those were the last days of death as a gothic and Victorian experience, when black dresses, sheer black veils, formal ecru barong tagalog with black armbands, pants, and shoes, long rows of funeral sprays [ the more “important” the sender, the more costly the flowers and the florists, the better ], and endless eulogies were de rigueur for the funeral rites of traditional families.  It has unraveled and modernized since, with the “cuerpo presente” reduced to a brief “ashfall,” white as the new color of mourning, chic buffets by chichi caterers, and even “house music” thrown in for “atmo”…

In those days, we brought beautiful flowers, lit tall candles, and said heartfelt prayers for our deceased family members.  We remembered them with fondness even with all their shortcomings, idiosyncrasies, and eccentricities.  We honored and loved them, even if we had never even met them.

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The dinosaurs and the dates of their extinction:

Florencia Sioco viuda de Gonzalez, “Eciang,” 1860 – 1925.  My paternal grandfather’s mother.

Ysidora Espiritu viuda de Gonzalez, “Orang,” + 1975.  Lola Charing’s maternal aunt.  Delightfully eccentric character.

Augusto Gonzalez y Sioco, “Bosto” / “Titong,” 1887 – 1939.  The fortune he accumulated allowed three generations, now going on the fourth, to live well.

Rosario Arnedo viuda de Gonzalez, “Charing,” 1903 – 1977.  Dearest Lola Charing.

Marina Gonzalez y Arnedo, “Mina,” + 1974.  Tita Mina was Daddy’s eldest sister and she was deformed.

Augusto Beda Gonzalez y Arnedo, “Beda,” 1932 – 1990.  Daddy.

Ermelo Gonzalez y Arnedo, “Melo,” 1933 – 2001.

Hector Gonzalez y Arnedo, “Hector,” 1937 – 1988.

Macario Domingo Gonzalez y Arnedo, 1938.

Macario Diosdado Gonzalez y Arnedo, “Macarito” / Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez, F.S.C., “Brother Andrew,” 1940 – 2006.

Pilar Reyes y Quiason, “Pilar” / “Pil,” 1933 – 2002.  Mommy.

Monina Gonzalez y Gala, “Minnie,” 1964 – 1991.  As Brother Andrew said:  “Too bad, Minnie would have been very rich!”

Household staff:

During Tito Melo’s funeral in June 2001, his niece Ave Gala-Blanco asked me who were the “strange names” in some of the gravestones.  I quipped a line still memorable to Ave and the Gala cousins:  “We’re like the Egyptians, we’re buried with the slaves!”  😛

Alejandra Ochengco y Padilla, “Andang,” +1969.  “Imang Andang” had been working in the Gonzalez-Sioco household since the early 1920s.

Natalia Padilla, “Talia,” + 1976.  Ate Talia, the “mayordoma.”

Leodegaria Nuqui, “Garing,” + 198_.  Dearest Ate Garing, the cook.

Benito Nuqui, “Bito” / “Bits,” + 1999.  Dearest Pare Bits.  He started out as the personal “barquillos” maker of Lola Mary Arnedo [ Lola Charing’s sister ] in the Arnedo-Sioco household in the late 1930s.

Aurea Rodriguez, “Baluga,” + 195_.  She was an Aeta from Zambales who liked to sleep in the kitchen near a stove with live coals.

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Just wait until I junk Christmas and Easter altogether.  And while I’m at it, my Christianity and Roman Catholicism as well.  Throw in my crappy family for good measure.  That will be the day.   😐   😐   😐

*unfinished*

Beyond repair, beyond regret

Probably because of all the shit that had happened since, I no longer remember why we were there at the Gonzalez mausoleum at the Apalit Catholic cemetery, just the two of us, my uncle Brother Andrew and I, one sunny, breezy afternoon sometime in the early 2000s…  [ The venerable Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez, F.S.C., 1940 – 2006, of the De La Salle / Brothers of the Christian Schools, longtime president of the DLSU De La Salle University in Manila ]

“You can just put my ashes [ half ] anywhere here… when the time comes.”  Brother Andrew declared, a detectable gulp in his voice, as he surveyed the extension to the right of the old mausoleum, where the younger members of the family, his generation, were buried.  “The other half will have to be with the Brothers in Lipa.”

“Well, why not just be interred wholly in Lipa?  Why be ‘chop-chop’ like a pig?”  I asked.

“Because none of you will visit me there, damn it!”  he scoffed.

I laughed.  “Of course we won’t, it’s too far!  Besides, how would you know, you’d be dead, six feet under the ground, or six feet over, whichever…”

“I know!”  he snapped with finality.

“Well, which half goes here and which half goes to the Brothers?  From your head to your tummy here, and from your ass to your feet to the Brothers?  Or the other way around?”  I asked jokingly.

“It doesn’t matter.  Some here, some there…  Just do it, please!”  he requested, his eyes wide with sarcasm and scorn for his wisecracking nephew.

“OK!  Whatever turns you on, Brother.”  I shrugged.

“OK.  Where do we go to eat now?  I had a lousy lunch!  I’m hungry!”  and off he stomped back to the car.

And with that query, we left the Gonzalez mausoleum at the Apalit Catholic cemetery.

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Some five years later in January 2006, Brother Andrew passed away of severe diabetic complications.  That afternoon, my lawyer brother, his Korean wife, and I were enjoying the delights of the 168 mall in Divisoria for the first time.  All those cheap and cheerful goods!!!  At 4:30 p.m., my brother received a text message that Brother Andrew was finally dying at the De La Salle University hospital in Cavite.  We immediately decided to return home to get organized.  As we were driving along Quezon avenue in front of the Santo Domingo church at around 5:30 p.m., we received another text message that he had already passed away.  I sighed, then continued looking at all the nice fake watches I had bought which I forthwith decided I simply couldn’t wear and would have to give away to our male employees…  The guy’s dead anyway, what could we do about it?!

By that time, he had messed up family matters so badly — with not a little help from youknowwho, youknowwhotoo, and youknowwhoelse — that some of us, including yours truly, had simply eradicated him from our lives.  Probably because of divine intervention, I managed to visit the dying man a few times in the hospital and actually be cordial, as if nothing bad had happened at all, which the poor man happily interpreted as “reconciliation” [ which it really wasn’t, it would take a longer time, but what do you do with a dying man? ].  We were still able to talk about some important things, but not all, before he finally “kicked the bucket.”

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It’s 2010 and I’m a very different person, sometimes unrecognizable even to myself.  Gone are the kindness, innocence, generosity of soul that everyone who had known me in childhood could attest.  Essentially.  Then I finally realized, contrary to what I had been taught and had believed in all my life, that goodness has no place in this world where one must kill, in all ways, to survive.  The danger is that the difference lies deep inside:  the cynicism, sarcasm, vengefulness, darkness of the soul…  although visible are the tired eyes, the sagging cheeks, the droopy smile, the weatherbeaten look of it all.  I think evil of everyone, bolstered by the fact that I’m usually proven right as time passes.  I prefer the Stepmother to Cinderella, Maleficent to the Three Good Fairies, Odile to Odette, Tosca to Violetta.  They’re more fun!!!

What’s the point of visiting the dead family members during All Souls’ Day anyway???  Why all the pretenses???  Why visit the dead when the living detest and even loathe each other?  What family?  Are you to be considered family when you’re only all too willing to destroy the entire superstructure just to feed your sense of self-entitlement, simply because you feel outdone and disenfranchised by so-and-so, because you’re named so-and-so, the supposed favorite of so-and-so?  What legacies?  Are misunderstandings, arguments, quarrels, and protracted wars among family members considered legacies???  We might as well be all dead if that’s the case!!!

Last week, my sister made arrangements for the Apalit parish priest to say an anticipated All Souls’ Day mass at the Gonzalez mausoleum at the Catholic cemetery;  she was the only one who attended.   A few days later, my eldest brother, still hip and groovy from the non-trad 1970s, called my younger brother so that they and their families could make the trip to the mausoleum at the cemetery.  What for???  Did they ever care for those traditions when they were still there?  Why make a show of it now, now that it’s gone, for good???  What for???  As for me, I told them pointedly that since we could no longer have the traditional Capampangan breakfast at the old house in Sulipan / Capalangan, the least they could do would be to cart me off to the Pen, the Shang, or the Sofitel Plaza for breakfast, brunch, or lunch.  “Antonio’s” Tagaytay would be nice.  Other than that, please do not bother me with your inanities, I told them.

SHIT.  Sartre would agree.

Comedy relief: Buffet and Consequence

I attended the 72nd birthday celebration of a dear friend’s mother yesterday evening and I was exceedingly amused by the extensive buffet because I saw something I had never seen before… !!!

The family was completely Kapampangan “as in Keni” so all sorts of cholesterol-laden delights were laid out on the long buffet, most of them from the family’s excellent kitchen.  There was a preponderance of pork dishes, a Kapampangan peculiarity.  There were “lechon,” crispy pata, lechong kawali, grilled pork chops, baked sweet spare ribs, “hamonado,” hamon “hoc shiu,” hamon china, Virginia ham, chicharon laman, chicharong bulaklak, “tidtad” [ a classier “dinuguan” ], “pulutuk” [ sizzling spicy minced heart and lungs ], “sisig”  [ sizzling spicy minced pig head ], “tokwa at baboy” [ soybean cubes/tofu and sliced pig’s ears ], etc..  All those… apart from all the beef, chicken, fish, seafood dishes, and… desserts!!!  Were there vegetable dishes in that spread at all???  Yes, of course, but hardly anybody touched them!!!  In an authentic, traditional Kapampangan meal, veggies are definitely last, very last, priority.

What stunned me and made me laugh out really loud, as it did the other guests, were what were laid out neatly in trays after the staggering variety of desserts…

“Lipitor”

“Crestor”

“Orlistat”

“Omega III”

and what truly took the cake…  “Viagra”!!!   😛   😛   😛

The medications were certainly useful because most of us over 25 years old in the party felt “I feel the earth… move… under my feet!” [ as in the Carole King song ] as we were halfway eating the triglycerides-laden food piled up on our plates!!!   😛   😛   😛

Truly, the Kapampangan take their eating seriously, very seriously!!!

Harharhar!!!   😀   😀   😀

Nice problem to have

I came from a long lauriat lunch at the “Li Li” Chinese restaurant of the Hyatt hotel and casino in Manila.  It was the birthday celebration of a Pampango gentleman known for the elegance of his lifestyle, the excellence and profligacy of his table, and his largesse to family and friends, and as always, there was an interesting mixed bag gathering of Old and New Pampanga…

I was seated at one round table with an elegant and pretty Pampanguena lady descended, as is sometimes the case, from four still-rich old families.  In true Pampanguena tradition, she was a very good manager of her inherited fortunes.  From her enterprising and affluent parents, she had inherited several profitable companies, a slew of Manila real estate, both commercial and residential, several large USD $$$ placements in New York, and as sentimental tokens, several SDBs safety deposit boxes brimming with important jewelry, mostly diamonds.  She didn’t even pay attention to her considerable properties in Pampanga, which she said were “a pain in the neck” — a bother to manage and control.  On her own, she had invested in big, profitable corporations, purchased real estate in New York, London, Paris, and Madrid, and as a hobby, continued to purchase important jewelry at auctions and jewelry galas the world over.  And as a pleasant addition to her various assets, she had married a highly successful, not to mention uberrich, businessman.

But despite her very considerable resources, she still had various problems.  Like all very rich people, she was constantly worrying about her companies, properties, her placements, and all her other assets…

With genuine puzzlement, she blurted out:  ‘THE PROBLEM IS:  WHERE DO WE PUT THE MONEY???”

I paused and gave her amusing question a thought…  And since I didn’t have an answer anyway, I continued chewing on the Peking duck…

She reminded me of the famous American heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post [ Post Cereals ], who, decades ago, famously said:  “I do have problems.  But they’re nice problems to have.”   😛   😛   😛

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