Sunday, January 20, 2019

Old friends (reprising an old title for a blog post)

Mariano Garchitorena calls our group Good People of Hiraya after the gallery on United Nations Ave., Ermita, where we used to converge and connect in the 1990s. Missing in this post-Christmas reunion was ceramicist Shoko Mafune, now based in Australia. Miss you like crazy, Shoko!

That Sunday we came from different parts of Mega Manila--Karen Ocampo Flores and her children Aya Justiniani and Adoy from Las Pinas City, Noel Soler Cuizon from Manila, myself from Antipolo and Garch from Makati.

We chose Rockwell Power Plant Mall as assembly point. From there we decided whether we'd walk towards Poblacion, Makati, in search of Thai food at a place called Crying (?) or Crouching (?) Tiger. Or not. Garch, a mountaineer, would have found the walk easy peasy lemon squeezy. But there were Noel, whose leg was all achey and who was using an umbrella to prop himself up, and myself, certified PWD with osteoarthritis of both knees and with a cane to keep my balance.

Posing at our table, me holding up the rear and a bottle of brown Sheaffer Skrip found at a Noteworthy sale. Clockwise: Garch, Adoy, Noel, Aya and Karen

The mall was Garch's territory since he lives and works nearby. He decided for us--let's go to The Grid. The fried chicken and mashed potatoes came highly recommended--I had that as I was in no mood anymore to decide on what I was gonna eat. Noel had chicken, too, but with French fries, not mashed potatoes. Adoy's Mexican fare looked tantalizing but too late to change my mind.

Studying the cholesterol content, Nuks?

Yes, you dipped the boneless chicken in gravy, the mashed potatoes in more gravy. Bliss!

Mid-meal who should stride in but scriptwriter-director-actor-"almost tocaya" Bibeth Orteza and friends? There was time for a brief "Hi" and "Hello" before she told me of her schedule of appearance in all the performances of the play "Silent Sky" where, according to the Repertory Philippines press release, she will play "the brilliant and exacting astronomer Annie Cannon." (The play runs from Feb. 1 to 10 at the Carlos Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.)

I learned a new word--"smocket"--for smoking pockets which the mall had outside for the ones who couldn't break the habit (I won't disclose who among the good people still indulged in an after-meal stick).

Selfie by Garch as we rested our feet before walking to our dessert destination

Group-fie with me photobombing Garch and Karen

We followed the leader Garch to Wildflour for apres-dinner coffee and tea, plus slices of coconut pie, carrot cake and chocolate cake. I was so full from dinner (no leftovers is my new motto) that I could only partake a portion of the sweets. Not that I was watching my diabetes. When I'm with friends, I hang loose.

And hang loose we did until it was time to kiss and hug one another good night and to pray for a very good year that would bring us together again.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Like hearts

“Tulips are like hearts.” ~ Simeon Dumdum Jr.

Not only are they like hearts, they seem to be edible, too, and can replace onions in some recipes, so the magazine Country Living tells me, the gardening idiot but full-blown admirer of these flowers that were endemic to Asia before The Netherlands claimed them as their own

My family once tried growing them in pots. The bulbs were gifts from a friend who had just visited Europe. We thought that Baguio weather from January to early March would sustain them, but as soon as they flowered in glorious coral, pink and orange, wild birds swooped down, attracted to the visual candy on our balcony. They pecked at the tulips until only the stalks and leaves remained. Well, the fact that they’re edible must be a reason why the birds fed on them. My daughter tried covering the tulips with nets to no avail.


exotic expensive extraordinarily
pretty, dear tulips now breaking out
of a glass vase, your perfectly symmetrical
petals and buds are the opposite
of my asymmetrical life

your beauty also feeds
physical hunger but enough
that my one famished soul
had you for companions

Photos of tulips grown through indoor aquaphonics by Junic Lolarga

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Sunday at Steve's

Farmer Steve Salonga

The trip to Sampaloc, Tanay, wasn't exactly planned. What was was my visit to Dr. Melendre Araos, a yearly ritual that was a month delayed because of our full December schedules.

After we exchanged gifts on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I sat down for another tradition--eating the Araos pancit molo, a Christmas fare without which my year was incomplete. With us eating Cunanan ensaymada were Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco and hubby Ernie who called the special pastry a real brioche.

I always had this simple-minded idea that sculptor-farmer Julian Araos had a workplace in Tanay that was just a "kembot" or one or two zigzags away from their Antipolo home.

I couldn't be more wrong. Amara, the daughter of Roja Encabo and Melen's granddaughter, once went to Steve B. Salonga's farm and counted 64 zigzags that the car passed through to get to the roadside farmers' market. Easily an hour's drive to get there.

The view from Ka Teban's farmer's market at El Refugio Sampaloc, Tanay

The view was scenic--rural Philippines at its best. We climbed higher and higher. My ears started popping, something that happened only when I was ascending, or descending from, Marcos Highway in Baguio.

Steve calls his farm El Refugio Sampaloc. The farmland sits below the highway market. You won't miss the sign "Ka Teban's" (yes, that's the term of endearment for the farmer-informal trader).

It was towards noon already so most of the fresh vegetables that weren't drenched by the Christmas rains were sold. Melen bought some mushrooms and tinapa, Waya a bagful of fresh arugula leaves that she was going to turn into pesto for supper, tree-plucked papaya and a plant whose name escapes me now. I bought three bags of organic mushroom chicharon as gifts for a friend's children.

Freshly plucked arugula

Cuchinta with ricotta cheese on top

Golden tinapa

Red lettuce

Romaine lettuce

Steve and wife Girlie invited us for coffee and cuchinta in the shaded area. The cuchinta had that special nuttiness of flavor and was deliciously chewy. Ernie had the bright idea of putting fresh ricotta cheese on top of it for an extra kick.

Then it drizzled a bit and the fog and cold rolled in. Julian wrapped his mother Melen with a jacket and prepared piping hot tarragon tea for us. He threw in sprigs of lemon mint as an afterthought.

As I sipped my tea, I thought, despite everything, life's good!

Pompom, the Salonga family's pet, in his Sunday pose

Except for Steve's portrait from his FB photo collection, all photos by Babeth

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lakwatsa with Gilda

It was the day after Peculiar People's Day which is celebrated on Jan. 10, according to illustrator-cartoonist Sandra Boynton. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the residual of that day than with friend and mentor Gilda Cordero Fernando, the woman writer who defies categorization because she's in a class of her own.

I knew that at this stage in her long life, she loved stepping out even if her legs were unwilling to bring her out of her house. Her will is too strong to acknowledge the weaknesses the flesh is heir to.

So we met in the dark of her boudoir where she was all dressed and made up while seated on her wheelchair. "Halika na," she said as I caught my breath upon arriving. She allowed me to inhale exhale for a few minutes as I told her about a harrowing time spent in the hospital for a thorough breast examination and shared the findings of my doctor regarding my arthritic knees.

"Di bale na," she waved her hand. "Maganda ka pa rin, Babeth!"

Three rings on the bell to summon Michelle, the tall, willowy caregiver who was to push Gilda's wheelchair and keep her steady while she boarded her car or stepped out of it when we reached Via Mare on Timog Ave, Quezon City, a few kilometers from her house.

Gilda Cordero Fernando with her preferred drink of distinction and a plateful of Oysters Rockefeller three-fourths of which she ravished

There she immediately zeroed in on what she wanted for appetizers. She pointed her forefinger and tapped it on the menu picture of Oysters Rockefeller. When the waitress said the order would take 20 minutes to prepare since the oysters still had to be baked, Gilda shook her head vigorously but said she'd wait.

Her order arrived at the same time as mine (arroz a la cubana). She said her household kitchen made a better version of it. I said I missed her cook Veni's cooking, but according to Michelle, her employer would rather eat out seven days a week. This meant dressing her up every day, applying makeup on her smooth face (to which she credits Pond's), putting on her accessories (she wore one of her many pairs of hoop earrings that afternoon) and her sneakers that matched her outfit. Is it any wonder that she has always been the Best-Dressed Writer in my book?

I asked her what she did the day before. She nudged Michelle who, along with the other caregiver Aiko, have become her memory bank. Michelle said Gilda went to visit her old friend, Inquirer founding publisher Eugenia D. Apostol, in the latter's house in Dasmarinas Village, Makati.

Prior appointment had been made so Tita Eggie looked forward to the visit, but when Gilda arrived, the former said, "Matalik kong kaibigan si Gilda. Hindi ikaw 'yon." To which Gilda replied, "Babatukan kita na dyan."

Tita Eggie repeated her remark, denying Gilda's presence before her. Again Gilda said, "Babatukan kita na talaga!"

After lunch, the car made a U-turn to drop me off Popular Bookstore where I bought a copy of Elmer A. Ordonez's Father's Doppelganger. Back in the car, Gilda took a cursory look at the book, then handed it back to me.

I asked her if she still enjoyed reading. She nodded, but said she couldn't remember anything anymore after she finished reading something, whether it's a newspaper or a book. She circled her hands round the sides of her head. "Magulo na," she said, seemingly aware of the ravages of time inside of her.

I asked what her friend and neurologist Joven Cuanang said about her condition. She smiled broadly, declaring, "Mahal na mahal niya ako!"

Gilda with the blogger, Xoce Luna Dalena and his grandma

Three generations almost but only two are blood relations (Xoce and Lola Julie)

She wasn't ready to go home. I said I wanted to visit Julie Lluch whose blood pressure had been elevated for the past two days and thus couldn't visit Gilda as originally planned. So off we went to Julie's house, but Gilda, being the generous soul that she is, remembered that we needed to stop over a place where we could buy pasalubong for the ailing sculptor.

We drove down Maginhawa Street until I spotted Friulli Trattoria where Michelle and I got off to order Margarita pizza and mozzarella sticks for takeout.

At Julie's who should be first to say hello to us but her grandson Xoce Luna Dalena and Aba Lluch Dalena who was on her way out on an errand? Aba stopped in her tracks to pull out her cell phone to take a photo ("proof of life," as Nash Tysmans would call it) of her Tita Gilda and herself.

We didn't go inside the house as there were steps that the older woman didn't want to negotiate so we spent the hour at the car port, with the electric fan turned to full blast. GCF continued to cuddle and admire chubby Xoce, son of Julie's daughter Kiri Dalena.

(NOTE: I can't believe I've gone this far and that particular afternoon isn't over yet. Trust Gilda to make the day long and memorable.)

When she rolled her head again, Julie and I took it as cue that she wanted to go to another place. Michelle recommended an ukay-ukay emporium (for that was what it was) on Aurora Blvd. near the corner of Anonas Road.

We bid Julie goodbye. The writer and the sculptor exchanged "I love you's" and tight hugs.

I don't have a picture documentation of Gilda among the racks of ukay-ukay where she almost lost one of her earrings which got caught in a blouse. She found one to her liking--a black top with tiny floral accents. I found a white eyelet dress perfect for lowland summer for P150 and a pair of khaki pants for the same price, all in tiptop condition.

Gilda shouted from her seat her observation of the people who patronized the place, "Very democratic!" And I did notice that all the customers who finished paying up at the counter left the Janco Fashion Trading with a big smile.

I went home also with a smile in my heart for I had spent a full afternoon that stretched to evening with a literary and style icon whom we are lucky to have very much around us still.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Death and life in a day, plus a nightingale comes home

If it's Wednesday, the 9th of January, it must be Manila with all its traffic woes and attention on the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

My husband Rolly Fernandez and I arrive at the Cubao terminal of JoyBus at 5:30 a.m., but hustler cab drivers are ready to pounce on two senior citizens shaking off the weariness of travel. Finally, after three tries we find a cabbie willing to take us and our baggage in at only the cost of what's stated in the meter.

Dr. Florentino "Jun" Martin a.k.a. Kentucky

Where we head at that hour is for a future story. What brings us to the lowlands is the death of our brother-in-law Florentino Martin, husband to Rolly's elder sister Thelma. She and Kuya Jun, as we called the late urologist, are American citizens who had long decided to pour their savings into the Philippines by settling in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and building a modest hotel. Already in his 80s, KJ (shorthand for Kuya Jun) continued to practice medicine there.

Also known as Kentucky because he loved to bet at the Kentucky Derby and he practiced his profession in that state, KJ suffered a heart attack on the fourth day of the New Year. He had told relatives earlier, who had quizzed him if he had a life plan, that he wasn't all that ready to go. He wanted to die at age 94. But at age 88, his wish wasn't heeded. And so he went.

So Rolly, myself and my sister Suzy Ellen Suzanne D. Lolarga find ourselves the first visitors of Kentucky at 10 a.m. on a hectic Wednesday as he gloriously lay in state in a white coffin at the St. Alphonsus Chapel in Magallanes Village, Makati.

We say our prayers for his soul's repose quietly, and at a quarter to 3 p.m., Suzy and I take our leave to avoid the EDSA carmageddon exacerbated by the rerouting of vehicles due to the Quiapo feast.

By 4:30 p.m. friend and fellow music lover Joseph Uy is texting me, urging me to come to Oriental Pearl Kapitolyo where "tito is already waiting." Tito is Pablo Tariman, and the occasion of our reunion is a belated celebration of his 70th orbit.

Shall we call them the usual suspects as far as eating well is concerned? Here we are still awaiting our orders. Thank you for hosting, Joseph!

Joseph is just a few years younger than me, but he enjoys addressing me as his "tita." I don't know if it's because of the dust of white hair on my head or the cane I use to assist me when I stand or walk.

What I think is merienda rapidly segues to a simple lauriat dinner (no meat dish as we are groaning from it from the holidays) of birthday noodles, shrimp balls, mushrooms, cold cuts, fish fillet with veggies and Yang Chow flied lice. :-)

The stories are uncorked like bottled champagne and plans for intimate concerts in the New Year are laid.

The blogger and soprano Myramae Meneses

Joseph always has a surprise up his sleeve. A little before 6 p.m. who should walk in but soprano Myramae Tapia Meneses, back from her two years of studies at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, looking trimmer and smiling sweetly as we last remembered her.

No, she doesn't sing an aria for her Tito Pablo, but she does something better. She commits to an outreach concert in Baguio details of which will be written later when everything is ironed out, including a program that's guaranteed to make the most stoic and most hardhearted swoon in delight.

Wednesday isn't so bad. God allowed me to glimpse death (Kentucky's) and a celebration of a life (Pablo's) in a day.

May your Thursday be as meaningful!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Cultural work

Clockwise: Frank Cimatu, Mae Paner, the blogger, Edna Aquino, Kervin Calabias and Kelly Ramos

Yesterday marked my first official meeting for 2019. Meaning, this was no longer socializing and meeting holiday obligations. This was defining a project, setting realistic goals, assigning duties, sourcing possible funds.

It helped that convening the meeting were cultural activists Mae P. Paner, a.k.a. Juana Change, and Edna Aquino. After initial sips of coffee or tea, we buckled down to work at a long table at Hill Station. The January afternoon weather was kind, not bitterly cold, so it was conducive to agreements and agreements to disagree. With us were fellow writers Frank Cimatu, Kelly Ramos and Kervin Calabias.

The project is the mounting of, hope I can announce it now, guys, "Tao Po," described as a a monologue for four characters on extra-judicial killings by Ms. Paner on Feb. 8 at the University of the Cordilleras (time and specific venue at UC to be finalized).

The next day, Feb. 9, Ms. Paner will conduct a theater workshop for Baguio youth to raise their awareness of human rights. The all-day workshop will culminate in a showcase of the participants' output. Venue is still the UC.

The organizers of these twin events, which are part of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR)-led "Artists for Human Rights / Luzon Project," are Let's Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK), the UC, HUDYAT (Artists for Human Dignity) and the Baguio Writers Group led by newly elected president Kelly Ramos.

Expect that in the next couple of weeks, we will be making some social media noise about "Tao Po" and the theater workshop--two avenues for promoting, at the risk of repeating myself, human rights. Mabuhay!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Human bonding


No, the season ain't over till it's over, to quote legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. Just when I thought I could tighten my belt bit by bit by going on intermittent fasts and yes, dieting to take the weight off my aching knees, who should text to announce they were in town and would like a reunion of friends?

It was the Big J herself, as her husband and sports writer-editor Al Mendoza refers to Soly Ferro Juvida, our colleague in the Women Writers in Media Now, Marcosian years. It's always a pleasure to meet up with Al and Sol and their son Dayong Mendoza from whom I pick up painting tips.

Baguio art patrons Des Bautista and wife Auring hosted early dinner at Iggy's Inn: kilaweng kambing, goat caldereta, fish sinigang, nilasing na hipon, lechon kawali with kangkong, etc.

Before the evening was over, chess grandmaster Eugene Torre strode in with wife Marlene, she with the pixie salt and pepper haircut that we admired. Marlene has earned the nickname "My love" because of the endearment with which she calls Eugene, even in public.

The chess whiz brought out a black handsome box marked "Lakan"; it contained an elegantly packaged bottle of lambanog (coconut wine) which the men proceeded to drink apart from their red wine. Rolly Fernandez being the designated driver, he just sipped water and later, hot hibiscus tea.

Here we are, pausing from our merriment to preserve a different kind of family get-together for posterity.

Photo courtesy of Dayong Mendoza