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: 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.

The Christmas Seasons of Childhood

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the Christmases of recent years just feel different…  WHERE IS THE SPIRIT???  I’m not sure if it’s just my “advancing” age, along with all the various responsibilities, persistent worries, and endless problems that make me feel this way.  All I’m sure is that Christmas was much more wondrous, joyous, and fun when I was a child in the early 1970s, considering that those were not even wonderful years — rather dark, in fact — in our country’s history.

When I was a child, there was the rustle of the elders and the household staff in the dark of night — although the roosters were already crowing — as they dressed to attend the 4:00 a.m. “Misa de Gallo” at the parish church.  We children were not really taken along since we would just be irritable and sleep throughout the mass.  After the mass ended at 5:00 a.m., there was no going back to sleep as the day had begun.  Breakfast was prepared and afterwards everybody set out with their tasks for the day.

During the times I was taken along to the “Misa de Gallo,” I was fascinated with the “belen” [ Christmas creche ] near the altar and the occasional crepe paper “parol” [ “farol” / lantern ] hanging nearby.  The figures of the “belen” were big although not lifesize, and there were animals and real hay [ absolutely thrilling for a child ]!  There was an ox, a donkey, a camel, goats, and several sheep.  After the mass, there was a long line to kiss the image of the cute Baby Jesus in the “belen,” and Little Me, blissfully unaware of bacteria and viruses and infections, gave Baby Jesus’ stomach a big smack of the lips.  In those days, there was no fear — indeed no knowledge — of H1N1 or bird flu;  there was only good ol’ TB tuberculosis, which was chicken feed by Philippine standards, and which everyone had been exposed to one way or the other!   😛

During the nine days of the “Misa de Gallo,” the patio of the parish church turned into a veritable market with vendors selling all sorts of things.  Of course, Little Me and my younger brother and sister always wanted the multicolored sweet popcorn .10 centavos per pack [ which my mother thought was not clean enough and refused to buy for us ] and the color-splashed balloons .25 centavos each.  The elders went for the “bibingka,” the “puto bumbong,” and the “suman” rice cakes, although they always complained that the ones made at home were better.  All the sights, sounds, and smells during those chilly December mornings became the Christmas memories I have carried with me all my life.

Back in Lola Charing’s house, the Tampingco-style round dining table, the magnificent bone-inlaid sideboard, the JAO nests of tables, the Puyat library table, the cabinets, and most of the antique tables around were teeming with white boxes upon boxes of large “ensaimadas,” “tocino del cielo,” fruit cake,” “food for the gods,” and other Old Sulipan goodies on top of cans and trays with water [ to prevent the ants climbing up 😛 ] which Ate Talia Padilla [ daughter of the legendary Juan Padilla, chef of the 1898 Malolos Congress ], Lola’s “mayordoma” and resident patissier, had been churning out by the hundreds the last few days to be sent to Lola Charing’s relatives and friends around the city — various Gonzalezes and Arnedos;  various Lopezes, Cojuangcos, Madrigals, et. al..  We grandkiddies only had to ask Ate Talia for any of those sugary goodies in the kitchen as she had lots of them there.  Thus the Gonzalez diabetics of the future were bred.

Back in those days when I did not have to think of the employees’ Christmas bonuses, 13th month salaries, personal cash gifts, Christmas gifts to VIPs all the way to friends’ pet dogs, yearend debt settlements, etc., etc..  All I had to think of was what new toy I wished for Christmas from “Santa Claus,” who never showed up in person.

I thnk my first “loss of innocence” was when I was told at the age of seven, I forget by whom, that Santa Claus didn’t exist, that he was just some fairy tale.  You see, we children, courtesy of our “yayas” from the provinces, lived in an insulated, magical world where everything existed:  angels, demons, vampires, “aswang,” “manananggal,” “kapre,” “tikbalang,” “duwende,” “asong pascual” [ in Pampanga ], and Godknowswhatelse, etc..


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   😀   😀   😀

Comedy Relief: Haute Taal, October 2009

On one A-MRMF Assumption Mother Rosa Memorial Foundation Tour to the beautiful heritage town of Taal in Batangas, we visited the two beautifully restored and strictly maintained Villavicencio ancestral houses, the 1850s “Original” and the 1870s “Wedding”…

In the “Sala” [ drawing room ] of the 1870s “Wedding” house, now owned by Ms. Monsy Villavicencio-Joven, initials of the illustrious Villavicencio-Marella family members intertwined with leaves and flowers were painted on the frieze of the room.

Admiring the ornate “Sala” [ restored under the direction of patrician Filipiniana scholar Martin “Sonny” Imperial Tinio Jr. ], one of the socially prominent lady travelers, who certainly knew her Art and Antiques, but decided to be naughty nonetheless, pointed to a painted cipher and quipped:  “Sosyal!  “L V”… Louis Vuitton!!!”   😛   😛   😛

Harharhar!!!   😀   😀   😀

The Marcos Era Part III: The Final Act 18 January 1981 – 25 February 1986

She knew, she knew… In early February 1986, First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos called her close Romualdez relations and urged them to come to the Malacanang Palace to take their pick of her personal effects, NOT the official Palace inventory, but the beautiful things which she had collected for herself — furniture, rugs, paintings, decorative items, etc..  She knew The Hour was upon her.


And yes, the erstwhile preposterous claim of the Marcoses that they thought they were being flown by the Americans to Paoay, Ilocos Norte, and not to Hawaii in the U.S.A. was actually TRUE.

Drawing from conversations 24 years after the fact with Marcos, Romualdez, and Coj*angco-Murphy family members who were present at Clark Air Base that time, the rescue of the Marcoses & Co. was an American operation but they were not told of an outright plan to fly to the United States.  The Americans had flown the Marcoses out of Malacanang Palace to Clark Air Base to avoid a French Revolution-type of scenario in which the Marcoses would be summarily put to death by the angry mob.  They also had to fly the Marcoses out of Clark Air Base because elements of the AFP Armed Forces of the Philippines sympathetic to the rebels at EDSA would soon be circling the air base — but not attacking, for Clark was considered U.S. territory — waiting to arrest the Marcoses.  The Marcoses & Co. were informed that they were flying out of Clark, ostensibly to the Ilocano North, but never to Hawaii in the United States.  The plane was not even meant for passengers, it was a cargo plane of the U.S. Air Force.  In fact, the children and the teenagers traveling in the group bled from their noses and ears as a result of the incorrect air pressure in the cabin.

That was why Hawaii Governor George Ariyoshi and his wife had prepared a diplomatic welcome for the Marcoses.  They were not aware until the last minute that Ferdinand Marcos had already been deposed.

An American radioed:  “I have the trimmings of the cake but I don’t have the cake itself…”  But then, the “cake” itself arrived…

D*nding Coj*angco and his family were the last to arrive at Clark Air Base.  They hardly brought anything with them, if at all.  D*nding had forgotten to bring a jacket and so donned the jacket of a security guard.

D*nding had taken the time to bid goodbye to his mother, Dona N*ne, at her Balete Drive residence:  “Mama, sandali lang ako.  Ihahatid ko lang si Marcos.”  He charged his siblings with the care of their mother:  “Kayo na ang bahala kay Mama.  Babalik din ako.”

The Marcos Era Part II: Martial Law 21 September 1972 – 17 January 1981

I remember 17 January 1981, the day President Ferdinand Marcos officially lifted Martial Law.  That evening, my mother and I were at the Cultural Center of the Philippines for a performance of the pianist Cecile Licad.  As always, Cecile’s patron Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos was in attendance.  Although it was a gala performance, there seemed to be an attempt at understatement:  Madame Marcos was not in a long dress, but in a short cocktail one, red and black if I remember right.  After the performance, Madame Marcos descended the stairway surrounded by her retinue but she made the effort to cordially greet the people who approached her.  My mother complimented her:  “Congratulations!  It is because of you that we have Cecile Licad.”  And Madame Marcos happily rejoined:  “No, Cecile is there because of all of us.” gesturing at the assemblage.  The mood of the evening was happy, cheerful, and hopeful.  Nine memorable years in Filipino History had officially come to an end.

EDSA 1986: Remembrance and Reevaluation

What was it all about, after all?

Was there any real change inside us, where it really mattered?

Why are we back to square one thus far?  Or have we really progressed as a democratic country without our knowing it?

These and other nagging, serious questions haunt us — as I’m sure they do millions of others, specially the principal players of that epic drama twenty-three years ago — as we ponder the mortality of the former President Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino.

Was it worth the personal sacrifices and the very high levels of stress as the President of the Philippines after Ferdinand Marcos, Cory?

Was it worth your assassination / martyrdom, Ninoy?  Was it worth becoming a national hero?

Was it worth ignominiously removing you as the First Lady, Imelda?

Was it worth ignominiously removing you as the President, Ferdinand?

Was it worth all the hope for my family and I and fifty million other Filipinos?

Was it worth anything at all to you, my friend?

It is a good time to reflect on THE ESSENTIALS OF LIFE, to ask ourselves the difficult questions of our existence as human beings and as Filipinos…