Thursday, August 4, 2016

Arca's Yard and its camote pie

A row of bulols (rice granary gods) found in the attic of Arca's Yard Photos by EV ESPIRITU

Come rain or come shine, Arca’s Yard up in Tiptop, the boundary of Baguio and La Trinidad along Ambuklao Road, enjoys full-house patronage. Locals don’t mind the drive up outside city limits to get their slice of camote pie.

Owner Nida “Ninj” Sabado believes “I’m the only one serving this pie probably in the whole Philippines.” She cites the root crop’s role in Igorot rituals, especially in cañaos where pigs or carabaos are butchered to mark special occasions like wedding feasts. Alongside the cooked meat, staples like camote and gabi are served,

Sabado grew tired of boiled camote so she thought of a different way of serving it. She researched and discovered that sweet potato pie is the favorite dessert of Michael Jackson. Through trial and error, she got the taste she liked—pure, organic, with loads of anti-wrinkle and anti-oxidant elements.

Camote pie a la mode

Before Arca’s Yard Café opened, there was the gallery she put up to assuage her grief over her mother’s death in 2014. It was a combination of mini library and museum with the Cordillera as its theme. She said, I want to share and preserve the culture of Benguet and the whole Cordillera.”

She wanted the place to be somewhere her writer and artist friends could hang out, even if there was a typhoon raging. The gallery once faced the road, then she moved it to their adjacent family proper and now it’s facing three mountains on a clear day: Mt. Pulag’s tip, Mt. Purgatory and Mt. Ugo on the Itogon side. The sunrise and full moon can be viewed from the balcony.

The gallery-café grew to a three-room bread and breakfast place that is five storeys high, including an attic for the book collection, and still expanding sideways. It has come a long way from being originally the ranch and kamote plot of Sabado’s father Arca. She says he had no surname—Jonson, Dianson, Djanson were appended after his first name. Before World War II, Arca supplied Camp John Hay and the hotels of Baguio with fresh milk.

Ninj Sabado is a good storyteller about the old Baguio.

Today Sabado’s customers not only go up for the pie but also for the enlanrged menu that includes lamb chops, pasta, lechon kawali, arroz a la cubana and anything that she calls “easy and quick to cook. I didn’t realize all this would be successful.”

Arca’s popularity grew through word of mouth and social media. Visitors are always fighting over seats that have panoramic views whether it’s sunny, rainy or foggy.

Lovers' Locks

Another feature is gate inspired by a bridge in Paris. Sabado calls it Lovers’ Lock. She sells the padlocks for a minimal fee and lovers can make their vows by that gate barring a cliff.

When the restaurant is packed, service slows down. Sabado soothes her waiting customers, telling them, “We’re new, we’re feeling our way and trying to improve the service.” –Elizabeth Lolarga

View from the balcony

This article and some photos were first published in the Aug. 3, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northern Luzon Supplement.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Teacher, student show what they’ve got in #galingNAMCYA

The piece for two pianos selected for July 16’s "#galingNAMCYA" concert is appropriate for this collaborating pair of teacher and student. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” gained fame in Disney’s classic animated movie “Fantasia.”

Gabriel Allan Paguirigan, who is finishing his piano degree at the University of the Philippines College of Music under Prof. Luci Magalit, quipped, “I chose this because of Mickey Mouse. I’ve always been a Disney kid who owned copies of the old movies, including ‘Fantasia.’ This piece is one of the first classical pieces I’ve heard. This transcription of (composer) Dukas is a delight to play and fits the hands nicely. Plus it’s not too long or too short.”

Luci Magalit

Magalit, prize-winner of the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) Piano Category, said the concert isn’t her first collaboration with Gabby on two pianos. She had played orchestra reductions to piano in his undergrad recitals, his NAMCYA participation and in a Mozart concerto competition.

For the Cultural Center Little Theater performance, she recommended “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” because “the length is right, the music is easy listening, interesting, not serious or gloomy, and it is neither too easy for a NAMCYA show nor too difficult, given our busy schedules,” she said.

She described him, a two-time NAMCYA winner, as “very hardworking and very teachable. He never lets his amazing talent get to his head. He is always open to learning, whether from me or from other pianists and piano teachers. When he doesn't readily grasp an idea or he finds it difficult to replace a habit with a new one, he does his best to learn it. Aside from this receptivity, the other thing that I love about Gabby is his sincerity as an artist which, at the end of the day, is what defines a musician, no matter what his teacher is able to give him.”

Magalit recalled her experience in competing. “I joined at an age when it was my last chance. Since I had not joined NAMCYA before, I took it all in with openness, no expectations. I remember the decrepit upright piano we used in the first stage of the competition in a crowded and noisy gym in Manila. I remember the MRT and LRT rides to the semis where I thought I would be eliminated because I struggled with the Prokofiev Sonata I was performing for the first time, then to the finals at the CCP where I was to perform Bartok’s Third Concerto, which I was also playing for the first time.”

She continued, “It was a new experience playing a concerto at 8 a.m. but the best of it was playing on that stage. The bigness of the auditorium and the lights twinkling in the ceiling gave me a sense of magic and made me forget how difficult my concerto was. I am immensely grateful for the entire experience. The prize money was not very substantial. I bought my first cellphone with it.”

Gabriel Allan Paguirigan

Both pianists agree on the role of award-giving bodies in the flowering of talents. Paguirigan said, “The contests expose musicians to more opportunities. It feels amazing to discover and appreciate the talents rising in our country.”

Magalit said, “NAMCYA is important. It is the only award-giving body that is national in scope. Award-giving bodies as competitions are essential to the discovery and development of talent and skill. It is not enough that a piano student does well in his/her academic piano requirements or gives good recitals or gets performance opportunities outside school. A competition offers a venue to stretch one’s abilities to a level that he/she has not yet discovered, which he/she will not discover otherwise. It provides a certain pressure not present in other performance situations, given that the jury is known to be top-caliber and trustworthy.”

She added. “This pressure tests a musician’s character: both teacher and student experience the pressure and it will show what kind of people they are in the way they handle it. Apart from whatever title or prize the young musician obtains from the competition, the whole experience of stretching, discovery, testing of mettle is essential to preparing him/her for the bigger world. It would be in the best interest of our country's cultural and artistic life that there be more competitions.”

They’re both passionate about sustaining the lives of classical musicians in this country. Magalit said, “We in the classical music industry must do something to create a bigger demand for high quality live performance of classical music in our country, if we want to continue. This is what I always tell my students: Always do your best, and share your music.”

Paguirigan nodded, “One can’t live on just performing. Most performers I adore here are also teachers. Performing and teaching demand much time though. Music is an extremely difficult track. We never stop learning, face countless hours of practicing and a spectrum of difficult situations and people as musicians. As long as you love what you're doing, play on.”-- Elizabeth Lolarga

Friday, July 8, 2016

The power of flowers

"Daisy" by Kelly Ramos

BAGUIO CITY—Merci Javier Dulawan and Kelly Ramos, writers and painters both, had always talked about someday doing a joint project that would involve words and paint. It was a thought they put out there for the universe to pick up.

What happened instead was they found themselves for much of this summer working on unfurled sheets of watercolor paper to meet their target of 10 paintings for their current “The Watercolor Flower Show” at Café by the Ruins Dua, Upper Session Road, Baguio. The exhibit runs until July 10.

Although Ramos is the more formally trained one in fine arts at the University of the Philippines between the two painters, the self-taught Dulawan has had watercolor as her preferred medium of expression since the mid- to late 2000s. Ramos recalled doing just one watercolor plate as a school requirement and hadn’t touched the medium for more than 20 years.

Still they managed to work separately and confidently meet their deadline, even as the younger Ramos practiced on small scraps of paper.

Detail from Merci Dulawan's "Red Gumamela"

Choosing flowers as their subject was the easy part. Dulawan said, “Baguio means flowers, and ever since they’ve been my subject. New learning says that the edible protein found in flowers helps humans reflect, meditate, ruminate about our connection with the Divine. I feel connected. In this series, I honor the contribution of flowers to human.”

Uncannily enough, when it was time for the two to bring their finished works to the framers, they saw that they painted a variety of common flowers and not once did they have duplicates of a certain species of flora.

"Fifi's Pitcher Plant" by Dulawan

The experience revived Ramos’ interest in watercolor and the surprising effects that could be achieved with a medium that she once forsook for oil on canvas. She found the images right outside her home in Tawang, La Trinidad. And when the wildflowers weren’t enough for her, she went around the parks in Baguio and visited the ICM House of Prayer which has a sprawling garden enjoyed by those taking their spiritual retreats.

Dulawan quoted the children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen who wrote, “Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” -- Elizabeth Lolarga

This story earlier appeared in the July 6, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northen Luzon Supplement.

"Prickly Pear Cactus" by Ramos

Monday, June 13, 2016

Anne Marie of the keys

Anne Marie "Macky" Caldoza

“Good music, good food”—these, in pianist Anne Marie Caldoza’s words, are her priorities in life as she enters her 25th year on earth, half of it spent studying her instrument.

Known to family and friends as Macky, she attributes to her Lola Joaquinita her first exposure to music. Joaquinita Cinco Alzate was the town pianist. During the Japanese period, she played for parties. She even accompanied a young Imelda Romualdez in Tacloban. But Caldoza said her attention span as a child was such that she couldn’t learn earnestly from her lola. Or she may have tried the older woman’s patience.

At age 12 she began formal piano studies with Prof. Najib Ismail at the University of Santo Tomas. During that period with him she won, among many prizes, honorable mention from the National Music Competition for Young Artists in 2013, a silver award from the 2011 Asia International Piano Academy and Festival with Competition in Korea, second prize the 2010 UST Chopin Competition, second prize from the 2007 Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines Bach Competition.

After she graduated cum laude at the UST Conservatoryof Music with a bachelor of music in piano performance and performing at Paco Park, Ismail thought she was fit for something bigger and recommended her to pursue her masters of music in piano performance at the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To reach Longy, a century-old conservatory inside a New England mansion, one of the largest in Boston, she walks for 30 minutes, cutting through Cambridge Commons and Harvard Square from the house where she rents a room from a Filipino family.

Calzado has built a name for herself on campus, having served as an officer of the Longy Student Association in her first year and co-president in her second. Longy has a small student population of 250. She says they know one another, adding, “Basically, we are one big crazy family.”

She recently graduated but plans to return to Longy this fall for a graduate performance diploma, saying, “I still have lots to work on.” She adds that two years of graduate studies aren’t enough and despite four hours of daily practice.

If there’s anything that Longy has taught her, she says, “It is to embrace all possibilities and to think creatively as possible, be it in class projects, concert programming, performance practice, etc. The dream is to make a difference, no matter how small.”

Caldoza opens the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation (MCOF) season on June 22 at 7 p.m. at Ayala Museum with a challenging program made up of Handel’s “Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 440,” Beethoven’s “Sonata in E-flat Major, op. 7,” Haydn’s “Sonata in G Major Hob. XVI: 40,” Harold Shapero’s “Sonata in D Major” and Rachmaninoff’s “Etudes-Tableaux, op. 33.”

She says of her selections: “There’s always something to love about the style of each composer. I play or listen according to my mood as part of my ‘quarter-life crisis.’ Even if Handel is baroque, there is something lyrical you can do with him. You’re allowed a little freedom because the counterpoint is very thin. I have friends who study early music, and they’ve helped me with nuances.”

To relax she continues the family tradition of baking. She specializes in cupcakes and cookies for her own consumption and for community sharing. Her latest creations carry the combined flavors of Earl Grey tea and chocolate, chocolate crinkles with a crusty top and ginger molasses cookies.

Or she plays with four dogs, two of them pugs. Caldoza talks fondly of them, “We’ve had Raya since I was in high school. The other is Porkchop, a fairly recent addition. Raya sleeps under my piano whenever I practice. I used to have a pug named Puffy that loved the Grieg minor concerto and she’d come running when she hears me start playing. She’d sit beside me for hours and sometimes howl while I played.” -- Elizabeth Lolarga

For tickets to Caldoza’s “Tribute to the Masters,” call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or MCOF at 997-9483, 782-7164 or cell phone nos. 0920-954-0053 and 0918-347- 3027.

A shorter version of this article is published in today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Arts and Books section.