Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wood nymph

I don't want to be the first to break my own rule about marrying text and images, but since I can't find my file photos of my works cited in my essay, let me inflict myself on my blog visitors. Photo taken at the garden of Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, last spring.

The Marriage of Text and Images

Ever since I started blogging, I made sure I'd have visuals to go with my text. Here's my argument for that kind of pairing. This was the paper I turned in for an art seminar last semester on contemporary art issues.

The idea of melding words and visuals isn’t novel. Ancient China and its mandarins produced elegant calligraphy, brushstrokes representing ideas and feelings apart from representations of gorges and mountains shrouded by mist on paper or silk. Poetry was part of the civil service examination. During the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty, the flowers and bird depicted in paintings were accompanied by a gold, slender calligraphic style.
In the Western world, especially in the field of contemporary literature, concrete poetry blossomed in the sixties. Also known as pattern or shape poetry, it is described by Wikipedia as a “typographical arrangement of words…as important in conveying the intended effect.”
Filipino poet Ricardo M. de Ungria, in his foreword to his book of poetry Pidgin Levitations, wrote: “…I would want the designer to involve the history of some poems visually on the very page of their final, or latest, version. Wouldn’t that be exciting to see? Yes, I would very much like this collection to be visual in character, to include even my own chromatext pieces—if only I could find the time and hustle them out from under all those dusty boxes under my bed.”
The book is full of examples of playful typography, doodles, a poem like “Fugues Unwatched” in the center of several frames or boxes, a yellow envelope filled with yellow slips of paper with his short poems printed on them and in the inside back cover, two pockets holding postcards with images and poetry on them. It can be said to be an interactive book.
Pidgin Levitations brings to mind the body of works of author-visual artist Nick Bantock, famed for his Griffin and Sabine series of epistolary novels that make the reader feel he/she is a kind of voyeur as envelopes of illustrated letters and postcards are read.
In his handbook Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera, he stated how beauty can be created out of mundane, taken-for-granted things. He wrote: “…(G)ood art can be found in many a dark corner. It just has to be discovered, played with, nurtured, and appreciated. Only when we develop a strong sense of aesthetic within the everyday will we avoid having crude and clumsy uglification served to us in the name of art and personal taste.”
He considers his art-making a kind of “outsider art.” He utilizes an assortment of ready-mades from postage stamps, stamp marks, rubber stamps, matches to aged pieces of sheet music, jigsaw puzzles, decks of cards, old maps and engravings. Think of anything, he has or hoards it.
This is what I find appealing about Bantock and the other poets/artists mentioned—not being bogged down in one field of specialization but combining print and visuals. The Cubist Georges Braque, when he was taken ill, did artists’ books or livres de peitre as they were called. They were in limited edition and thus commanded high prices.
Critic Roger Shattuck wrote that Braque and others like him who catered to wealthy collectors followed an “untraditional aesthetic (that) reaches a bare handful of readers and appeals only to sophisticated tastes.” What Braque did was to “escape for a short space into the magical world of words. Representation and figuration present no problem for words. Meaning arises through agreed-upon convention, not through likeness.”
So the Cubist may be drawing flowers in a vase, but the words he writes on the same sheet of paper have no connection with the image.
This is unlike what a Filipino artist from the Hispanic period did. Jose Honorato Lozano’s name is synonymous with letras y figuras. Art critic Santiago Pilar described these unusual works as “age-tinted paintings on Manila paper of 19th-century Philippine life ingeniously arranged, delineated and highlighted with color to form the letters, spelling out a person’s name.”
Lozano may have been influenced then by the illuminated Bibles from the Middle Ages when calligraphers decorated the initial letter of every biblical chapter or a prayer book with an artwork. If the owner of the name Lozano was illustrating was an engineer, he portrayed the tools of the man’s profession in the letters unlike Braque who did not seek to find a connection between text and image.
Recently, the International Herald Tribune reported about American poet John Ashberry, aged 81, who opened his first solo art show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City. The article ran: “To Ashberry the intermingling of artist and writer always made sense, because he was both, though his primary ambition while growing up in upstate New York was to be a painter. And not just any kind of painter, but a Surrealist…Ashberry’s artistic ambitions stayed high until 1945 when he got to Harvard, where, for practical reasons, they died down. ‘There was no place to paint, so I stopped,’ he says. But by then he was already writing a lot of poetry and starting to do collage. In addition to being the perfect dorm-room art, collage is the ideal writer’s art, not just because it can incorporate words, but because it can be done on a desk.”
Further on in his career, he learned to speed up a “compositional method…It involved picking up found phrases and images, putting them next to different phrases and images, inviting both brilliant accident and bruising confusion. He was…making language-collages based on principles learned from paper collages…”
His works are not what he would call high art. “…(H)e obviously values in collage its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high artiness, its resistance to monumentality. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career…”
Ekphrastic poetry has long been in existence. This refers to poems inspired by artworks. Among the famous examples are John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts.”
But in the series of works I made for this art seminar, I did no ekphrastic writing. Rather I chose poems from my two out-of-print poetry collections, The First Eye and dangling doll: poems of laughter & desperation, an unpublished poem entitled “By the Half-moon Driveway of the ICM House of Prayer” and another, “Rot in the Castle,” from an anthology still found in bookstore shelves.
To add a touch of music, which I love, I chose “Last Rose of Summer” and a portion of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” for two other works. The music sheets came from the compilation Piano Pieces for Children which I studied as a young girl.
I emphasized the use or revival of long out-of-print poems because I was seeking a new audience. My two poetry books came out in 1990 and 1997 in small editions of 200 copies each.
My concept was to combine visuals I had made or composed with words and musical notes. How to combine them set me thinking: should they be scanned and printed out? Then I hit upon the use of the photocopying machine. Local artists like Cesare Syjuco and lately poet-retired journalism professor Raul Rafael Ingles and expatriate former enfant terrible David Cortez Medalla have done xerography. The last two contributed Xeroxed art in the exhibition “Chromatext Reloaded” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Gallery that ran from January to February 2007 and gathered more than 50 writers-artists, including myself. Krip Yuson, who was one of the curators, describes the show as “a dazzling celebration of the word, in dynamic fusion with visible, palpable, electrifying and endearing art.”
What I noticed about the viewers’ behavior on opening night was the length of time they lingered looking at a work. It may be because apart from the drawing, photograph, painting or video, there was always something to read. Gemino Abad’s poems, for example, were illustrated by Danilo Dalena.
These readings about certain writers-artists and the successful “Chromatext” exhibition helped crystallize my ideas. I gathered old works—watercolors of pine trees, world music instruments and a forest, a pastel of a chrysanthemum—and gathered things that I collect like paper cut-outs made by Luz Ocampo of Bulacan (these are actually elaborate, delicate pastillas wrappings made of papel de japon, a form of ephemera, as Bantock would say, because they are usually discarded after the candies are opened) and color paper in my favorite shades of pink, purple and their variations. Throw in a sheet of yellow ruled paper—talk of ordinariness!
In my initial presentation of three xerographs, the feedback I received was the text for all three pieces was too centered and that I should try an off-center layout. This I did with my second presentation. During the second presentation, one feedback was one of the five xerographs that used color paper as material looked as though it was scanned or went through Photoshop so the suggestion was to make it more “rough.” My solution was to produce highly textured acrylic paintings on paper canvas so the strokes and thick pigment could be captured on the enlarged A-3 photocopies, all three of them.
An adjustment was made as to the size of the font of the text. They were enlarged to almost double their size because the A-3 requirement was of a small poster dimension. It was a matter of guiding the photocopying machine operator at Copylandia on Session Road, giving instructions like lightening the tone of some dark paintings. While waiting for my works to be photocopied, I observed the other customers. Everyone, except me, went there for a practical purpose—to have documents photocopied. I was the only one there on an art-related mission which goes to show that the possibilities of using this machine in the service of art and craft have not been fully exhausted.
Besides, I have no training yet in printmaking (rubbercut, etching, intaglio, serigraph, woodcut, etc.). To me xerography is a form of printmaking, a more modern and faster one, and the photocopies I had produced I’ve decided to call artist’s proofs or monoprints. I have no intention of reproducing them in the future. But I have every intention to seize an opportunity to exhibit them to reach those new readers I mentioned earlier.
The whole exercise taught me to continue my “bad” habit of being a pack rat, of not throwing anything away, even if they’re plates from my early fine arts years with mediocre grades of 2.5 or 3.0. They can be recycled, renewed, refreshed by adding other elements and tinkering with them with the aid of a taken-for-granted machine like the photocopier.
So as I learn to pick up more aptitude in painting, which is my preferred way of visually expressing myself, I can also explore what machines can do apart from making life more efficient. Explore them in the name of everyday beauty that can be held by one’s hands.

Be More Aware

At my last official meeting for the year yesterday, I lent Padma Perez, incoming president of the Baguio Writers Group, my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, a memoir of the author’s recovery from heartbreak by eating her way through Italy, learning meditation in India and adapting to Oriental ways in Bali. Being from the “don’t judge a book by its cover” school of thought, I failed to note the significance of this book’s cover. An observant Padma pointed out how Eat is spelled out using pasta, Pray with prayer beads and Love with orchids. She taught me my last lesson for the year: be ever present in the moment. Thanks, P! Photo by KIMI FERNANDEZ

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Someone I know nursing a heavy hangover the day after an office Christmas party. Photo by EV Espiritu

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Anytime We're Together It Feels Like Christmas

Because it's a rare occasion when the Fernandez family members get together, even if this picture was taken in May, it has the look of a Christmas reunion.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Demanding Mr. Valenzu

Bobi Valenzuela, curator par excellence (or prestigious curator as we used to kid him) had been lingering in the pre-departure area since his second massive stroke in 2005. For three years until his death on Dec. 12, he was bedridden, his food had to be processed to a fine pulp, he could neither speak—for someone who was gregarious, voluble and pointedly critical—nor walk until his body atrophied.
It was a condition that we knew he abhorred. At the peak of his health, when we would encounter aging or crippled persons, he would wish aloud he would never find himself in the same state. He even asked me to be part of an assisted suicide pact should he ever lose control of his faculties.
Yes, he was a proud person, of the annoying kind who would admit no wrong and consider himself always right. Before his second stroke, this trait estranged once dear friends from him., including myself. He could show displeasure with his infamous eyebrow rising up to the 13th floor. He was already confined to a hospital bed in his family’s home in BF Paranaque when we reconciled one emotional, tear-filled afternoon.
Angie, his sister and main care-giver, told us how he refused to cooperate with his physical therapist. Many times she would send distressing text messages describing his deteriorating health.
One of our friends, Gigi Custodio, called Bobi “The Star of Our Lives,” and he was for close to two decades, the ties forged at the old Hiraya Gallery in the waning Marcos years. Bobi organized courageous exhibitions showcasing the works of the social realists that pierced the veneer of normalcy.
He enjoyed being given importance to—friends called it pagpupugay when they went up the mezzanine of the gallery and paid their respects to him. Birthdays were particularly special as he kept mental tab of those who remembered to call. Even after his first stroke, Noel Cuizon and I were on a neck-and-neck race as to how many times a week we called Bobi to report on the goings-on in our lives. He was great at keeping score and keeping grudges. The last, I suspect, was what triggered the debilitating third stroke.
If he was a good curator, he was even a better friend. Bobi once wondered why so many young and veteran artists came to him with their personal problems. Manny Chaves told him, “Kasi naman, Bobi, tingin nila sa iyo isa kang malaking tenga.”
However, if you were expecting a sympathetic listener, Bobi could be brutal in his frankness and tell the person off, especially if that person did not heed his advice the first time around. If you overstayed your welcome in his premises, he could pointedly remind you, “Di ba may appointment ka pang pupuntahan?”
And of course his appetite for the fine things in life defined him, too. The first stroke made him give up his chain-smoking and his 36 cups of coffee. But diet-wise, he backslided, openly enjoying fatty foods like lechon kawali and kare-kare in the company of people he called “kindred spirits.”
Tonight is a gathering of kindred spirits. I am sorry I cannot join you in this last sendoff for Bobi. I will be in Baguio feeding VCDs of “Camelot” and “The Sound of Music” in our videocorder. I do not exaggerate when I say Bobi can hum and sing in his wonderful tenor all the songs in those two musicals from the overture to the finale. Auf weidersen, Herr Bobi. Long may your music play!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pia Cayetano’s Cause

Through the wonders of Skype technology, Sen. Pia Cayetano was able to address the participants of the seminar on women, media and tobacco in Boracay from her house in Metro Manila and ask them to support her proposed Senate bills that face down the powerful tobacco industry.
Among other features, the bills recommend a graphic health warning, a photograph showing the gruesome ill effects of smoking on the body. This photo will occupy 60 percent of the cigarette pack and is meant to discourage smoking. It is found to be more effective than the small textual warning at the bottom of the pack and can be understood even by illiterates in farflung places that are still be reached by tobacco products.
Sen Cayetano bemoaned there is widespread ignorance of smoking’s consequences. She remembered joining a fun run in San Pablo, Laguna, and espying along the route a young father holding his toddler in one arm and a lighted cigarette on the same hand. Heedlessly he exhaled smoke that also shrouded the child. She found it ironic that there she was enjoying her rights to health and clean air of the countryside while this father imperiled his child’s health.Talk about irresponsible parenthood! Upper photo shows the senator on screen. Lower photo shows some of the participants. Photos by Sinag de Leon-Amado

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holy Smokes

Buhay pa ba ang taong iyan (Is this person still alive)?” The aghast radiologists at the Makati Medical Center commented, first upon seeing the chest x-rays of 1950s matinee idol Oscar Moreno, and later, those of television host Pete Roa. These important men in actress Boots Anson-Roa’s life—her father, then her husband—both lost their lives to the vicious vice and killer of modern times, tobacco. Her mother, tired of inhaling her husband’s secondhand smoke and unable to convince him to stop, also took up the habit with the same dire consequences.
So Boots may be called not only a Cigaret Widow (a title bestowed on her by journalist Barbara Mae Dacanay at the recent seminar “Glamour, Smoke and Mirrors:Women, Media and Tobacco at the Boracay Tropics), she is also a Cigaret Orphan.
Pete Roa became an anti-smoking advocate at a late stage when his life was ebbing. Boots recalled he never took his illnesses against God and always admitted, “I brought this upon myself.”
The widow has embraced the cause of anti-smoking. Her son-in-law, Rep. Robbie Puno of Antipolo City, is also doing his part in Congress to help pass a bill that would strengthen the anti-tobacco law, using Pete’s illness and death to bolster his position. Photo by Sinag de Leon-Amado

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sunflower Season

“Don’t you think we have a bit of paradise here?” Sr. Emma Paloma, ICM, asked , her face awash with a smile and her inner sunshine. I looked out the sliding capiz windows of the Teahouse at the ICM House of Prayer, and there was a framed view of a peaceful garden, all dewy and with shafts of afternoon sunlight falling on the pine tree branches.

All over Baguio’s vacant hillsides, sunflowers blaze in the color of hope. They bloom untended at this time of the year, lovelier than a thousand Van Goghs as a former city resident describes them. And as the temperature dips further, it won’t be long when the poinsettia leaves begin reddening. Emma is right about bits of paradise scattered here and there. I can only capture a weak impression.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ani the Annihilator

“It was so masochistic,” feminist Anna Leah Sarabia said of her first impression of triathlon, the grueling sport her eldest daughter Sinag de Leon took up involving kilometers of swimming, running and biking. Then her second daughter Ani pursued it, too, going beyond her limits until she became the first Filipino to compete in the Ironman Triathlon Challege in Kona, Hawaii, this year. Wearing a People R People spaghetti-strapped, knee-length dress that showed off her well-toned arms and becomingly muscular legs, she went up the stage Nov. 5 at the Peninsula Manila Conservatory to receive her glass trophy as one of the 10 Women of the World picked by the three-year-old Marie Claire magazine. Ani’s bronze skin glowed even more under the spotlight as she thanked the magazine for celebrating womanity. Isabela Gov Grace Padaca, another awardee, lauded Marie Claire for recognizing not only “the beauty of women but also the beauty of the things they do.”

There were four generations of Sarabia women beaming proudly that evening: grandma Lourdes, who in her 80s can still drive from Quezon City to her home province of Quezon, mother Anna Leah, a former Woman of the World awardee herself, strong, invincible Ani and her niece Raya, a budding basketball player. Photo courtesy of ANI DE LEON’S FACEBOOK

Sunday, November 2, 2008


The CT Scan of my brain revealed an “ill-defined hypodense zone in the anterior limb and genu of the right external capsule as well as the right lentiform nucleus," in layman’s language, a mild stroke. The doctor said one possible side effect is short-term memory loss. Visiting me at the acute stroke unit of the Medical City, my brother Dennis quizzed me: When is my birthday? June 24, 1955 (check). What is the name of the pug at my mother’s house in Pasig? Bruno (check). He points to my youngest sister Gigi. How much money does she owe you? “Plenty,” I joked. That was typical poker-face Dennis humor.

Bruno has become the family baby. Like me, his weight is being watched. He is completely useless as a guard dog. He only barks thrice a day to remind us of his meal. My daughter Kimi came home late one evening, went to his cage and called out his name repeatedly. He didn’t stir, he continued sleeping and could be heard snoring. Now that Bruno and I are both on a strict diet, he feels starved and munches on leaves when taken for walks the way I munch Romaine lettuce leaves with a light vinaigrette dressing. I only have to frown and pucker my lips and we can pass for lookalikes. Photo taken at Bonifacio High Street by GIGI LOLARGA

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who's the Fairest of Them All?

Hands down it’s Celso, the fellow in yellow Lacoste shirt with black abaniko and our friend working at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. He blew into town last week and rustled us girls (Lynett, Chato and me) for what he called a “wicked lunch.” Mindful that among us was a vegetarian, we chose healthy items from the Ayala Museum Café and didn’t venture beyond the appetizers of crab cakes, which he declared more full of extenders (potatoes and flour) rather than crab bits, sushi and salads. Strangest of all, we were reluctant dessert eaters. When he rose to go to the Gents, he asked me to hold on to his black leather bag. “Is this a Prada?” I asked as I gingerly touched the soft smooth leather and marveled at the zipper work. “No,” he replied. “Emporio Armani lang ‘yan.” Heads at the next table swiveled and gaped at the well-accessorized man. Count on Celso to deliver the best punch line of the afternoon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Advertisements for Ourselves

Toottee Chanco-Pacis, our fellow Baguio Aquarelle Society member, invited us to do an on-the-spot painting session at her recently cleared greenhouse in Happy Homes. My teacher Norman Chow always likes to visit Toottee as his form of relaxation. Her cottage seems straight out of a storybook . Inside are her collection of miniature tea things, strawberry figurines, including a dining table that she handpainted with strawberry fruits and vines. Firsttime visitor Roland Bay-an, who doesn’t do flowers and similar still lifes as his subjects, was inspired to paint a bundle of strawberries for the Strawberry Lady herself who fed us pancit with the distinct and delicious aftertaste of Chinese sausage (she gets her supply from Sunshine Supermarket although she said U-need’s is also worth a try; Norman swears by the savory sausages in Santa Cruz Manila). This was our society’s first get-together after the opening of our ongoing exhibition “Baguiong-Baguio” at The Manor of Camp John Hay. A recent visitor there, Marilyn Cayabyab, commented that my paintings had wit, character and looked whimsical. Would that her words translate to sales, Toottee and I and the rest imagined. I’m posting my painting “Get Me to the Church on Time” and Toottee’s what else but “Strawberries.” Photos by ELMER CHRISTIAN DAUIGOY

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Passion for Pasta

I remember the simple pasta served in a deep white plate at the Cantinetta, an Italian restaurant at Camp John Hay. It is made up of angel’s hair noodles, olive oil, toasted garlic. I don’t recall any other ingredient or dash of color on this very plain dish. In other places, there are usually strips of basil included.

I want to try the Osso Buco, but when my husband notes how much it costs, he raises his eyebrows. The occasion is his 58th birthday, and he earlier tells me and our daughter that we can order anything. He doesn’t forewarn us that there is a price limit.

So I settle for something simple, cheap but utterly satisfying. No other pasta dish that I’ve tasted in Baguio compares to this particular aglio y olio. I use the piece of bread to sop up the last trace of oil.

In our pantry at home, we have a pack of angel’s hair noodles. Hanging over the sink is a long braid of garlic. There is a gallon of extra-virgin olive oil trickles of which I use to fry rice with. What has kept me from replicating the Cantinetta experience? My husband asks the same thing—what’s stopping me? What is stopping me indeed?

I like Cantinetta’s mahogany tables with the grains of wood showing, the view of pine trees from the window, not bearing the heat of the kitchen, not having to wash dirty dishes later. Yes, the whole experience of dining out, being served by an attentive waiter and having someone else take care of the bill—all these add more flavor to aglio y olio.
Daughter is shown enjoying her panna cotta. Photo by BABETH

Monday, October 6, 2008

Life in a Day

Alone in the house for three consecutive days, I padded around in my slippers and nightgown, channel surfing and bagging some good movies on cable: Beethoven’s Copyist with the great Ed Harris as the maestro; Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Colette who proved to be a surprise in a period movie (I’ve a stereotype of her doing edgy roles); Notes on a Scandal with Cate Blanchett as a lonely art teacher who embarks on a disastrous affair with her 15-year-old student and Judi Dench as the self-described “battleaxe” who gets wind of it and uses it as a leverage to get closer to the Blanchett character with whom she is enamored; and finally Heartburn, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson enacting the fictitious characters based on Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein. All in a day.

Which makes nodding off at night a bit of a problem as the scenes replay in my head. Last night I distracted myself with success, reading Doris Grumbach’s memoir Life in a Day (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996) from cover to cover. She opens with this truism: “…I have decided to explore twenty-four hours of ordinariness. The common day is more representative of the contents of most of our lives; disastrous ones are rare.”

A negative review of her book sets her back, nearly paralyzes her, and the rest of the day is a study in evading her routine of facing the computer, encoding and editing her words. She describes her situation as an “osteoporosis of the will” that “kills off the desire to write.” I identify with the way she finds a thousand things in her house to delay her duty to craft. Accidentally, she finds a credo from an old man who used to work at a handpress. Studying it, I think it is worth adopting. Here it is:

I. Work slowly.
II. Make no promises.
III. Take frequent coffee breaks.
IV. Set no line before its time.
V. Accept imperfection.
VII. Observe the cocktail hour.

There is no sixth instruction, and Grumbach surmises it might be any of these: “Make changes without rancor or resentment. Or: Take a nap after lunch. Or: You have done enough for this day. Or: Ignore whatever you have done thus far…”

I also liked how she and her companion mutually agree to dispense with preparing supper and washing dishes and instead hie off to the Morning Moon Café (a lovely name). This part made me envious. How many times I have wished for a nearby café in our neighborhood where I can sneak in for a meal instead of preparing one.

To poet Luisa Igloria who gave me this book, thank you for passing on the wisdom.

Now Showing

The way Baboo Mondoñedo tells it, the Baguio Aquarelle Society began when her painting teacher Patric Palasi couldn’t meet her because he had spilled hot water on his foot. He advised her to seek out Roland Bay-an so she wouldn’t miss a lesson. When Roland saw her, he wondered aloud how come, in a city of visual artists, there was no watercolorists’ group? That was all Baboo needed to lasso people and make an appointment with a more than cooperative Heiner Maulbecker, general manager of The Manor, Camp John Hay. He acquiesced to everything she requested. As he put it, how could he say no to four women? And that is how the ground level of the hotel today carries whiffs of Baguiong-Baguio—in the lobby, at Le Chef, along the corridor, beside the elevators. There the works of the other members hang, capturing the spirit of place. In this photo are the members (front row, from left): Toottee Pacis, Baboo, Norman Chow, Roland, Merci Dulawan and me. Second row: Rishab, Patric, Jenny Cariño and curator Erlyn Ruth Alcantara. The huge painting we're holding is an interactive work with our guests. Photo by ELMER KRISTIAN DAUIGOY

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Death in the Family

“Honey, nobody dies of a broken heart,” my friend, a jaded journalist, likes to tell people who come to her with tales of breakup and separation.

But I’ve always felt that it was possible, that a heart can shatter into a million pieces no matter the brave front you show. This was the case of my godmother, Jane Server Banzhaf. When her husband Hans passed away two years ago, Jane, already weakened by emphysema, grew progressively fainter, a wisp of her old, chain-smoking, coffee-drinking self.

Last Sept. 27, my sister Evelyn, brother Dennis and I visited her at the ICU of Asian Hospital. Jane’s youngest child Yammy was keeping watch. I lost count of the tubes connected to the patient whose chest was the only part of her moving. Everything was still. Her eyes seemed pasted shut, the eyeballs unmoving. We hoped that she would wake for a few minutes. She never did.

Back home my brother gave his prognosis to my mother who is very attached to Jane and who considers her not just a favorite niece but another daughter and dear friend. When Jane entered widowhood, my mom kept her company on some weekends—they’d eat together, watch TV together, sometimes play mahjongg and sleep on the same bed. Dennis, a doctor, said Jane was being kept alive by the whole enchilada of life support. Mommy whirled as though struck by a blow. By that time I had let Jane go, wishing her what a poet called the peace of all things.

When the confirmation of death came Monday, I was prepared. Telling Mommy was a different story. She broke down and was nearly hysterical. It was sometime before she quieted down. She had hoped for a miracle.

Jane was cremated that same afternoon. In the evening my siblings, daughters and I rode to her home in Ayala Alabang to pay our respects. Her jolly older brother Shorty arrived at the same time as we did. He brought my hand to his forehead, and everyone chuckled. “Why are you laughing?” he asked. “My sister has just died.”

Earlier, he told Evelyn and her husband Obet, “Please don’t wait until I’m in the ICU before you visit me.” The humor and the truth in that statement weren't lost on us.

In this old picture are Jane, who was the middle child, her brothers Shorty and Fritz and their mama, Nazaria.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yankee Forever

It was to have been the highlight of his trip to New York City after an absence of 25 years. This was his fifth visit, but even if he was a diehard Yankee fan, he had never stepped inside the stadium (a.k.a. the House that Babe Ruth built).

So he wasn’t about to pass up a chance this time, especially with news that the stadium would be closed for demolition this year. (It did last Sunday.) He made sure that he and I had tickets to the start of the Subway Series (Yankees vs. Mets) courtesy of his nephew Andrei Marquez who picked out the prime seats and paid for them online from his computer in Los Angeles.

We were blessed with four consecutive days of fine weather. On the day the game was scheduled, rain poured non-stop. Our NYC host, cousin Telly Valdellon, said she’d keep us posted through SMS. Meanwhile, we stayed indoors at the Metropolitan Museum, he zipping through all the galleries from antiquity to contemporary, me being slow, selective and concentrating on certain periods in art history.

At 3 p.m. Telly texted that the game was on. We walked, the spring rain causing us to huddle deeper in our three-layered clothing, to the subway entrance where we hopped into a train that took us to the Bronx. We made good time despite getting on the wrong train and being guided by a guy in dreadlocks to the right exit.

Our coveted seats in the stadium were soaked. We moved up to a dry level. Some Met players were warming up on the wet field so we assumed it was still playable. He bought sodas and burgers. I was about to bite my third chunk of the tasteless, cardboard-like bun and meat when it was announced that the game was cancelled because of the foul weather and spectators were advised to leave the stadium. We asked the usher if we could just finish our snacks before standing up to leave.

But the usher was more like a bouncer. Meanwhile, I could feel the blood of one Yankee fan roiling. He barked at me to get rid of my unfinished snacks and to snap his photos pronto. Outside we tried getting in the Yankee souvenir store with other fans, but no dice. Management was closing shop early. “They don’t want our money?” a perplexed man asked.

When Telly picked us up about an hour later and drove towards home, she said she’d forgotten to buy a lottery ticket. I said the Yankee fan should stop to buy one that minute; if he was unlucky at the stadium, maybe he’d be lucky in the lottery. From the back of the seat, his tired voice said, “I don’t find that funny.”

And what do you know? The next day was sunny and dry again, but the tickets couldn’t be used for that day’s game nor could we get a refund. I tried to console him: “This only means you’re meant to return to this city and to see the Yankees play ball.”

Today he monitors every Yankee move at Meanwhile, he prizes these photos of the historical stadium, sometimes referred to as The Cathedral. If you look closely, you can see his eyes tearing up. Photos by BABETH

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Save Savannah Movement

My partner is teasing me for becoming a bleeding heart. I have a ready retort : it only means my heart is in the right place.

Invites have entered my inbox to a series of fund-raising concerts in Quezon City for unborn baby Savannah, a name redolent of grasslands described in Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. She is the second girl I know to be given that name, the other being the artist Aba Dalena. But I’m digressing.

Raymond Toledo, the baby’s grandpop-to-be, writes that the recent fund-raisers were organized by former classmates of his daughter Vida whom I know from her toddler years at the Community of Learners at its old locations on EDSA and later New Manila, Quezon City. Vida and my daughters Kimi and Ida rode the school bus together and spent after-school hours in day care.

The Vida of memory was fair, well-dressed, well-behaved, bordering on serious for someone that age. Later I worked with her Uncle Rex and found out that she had grown into a basketball player of the school team.

Fast forward to this year. Vida and husband Brian Samson learned from an ultrasound diagnosis that Savannah has congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). Raymond reports: “Funds are needed for the medical procedures to save the baby’s life. CDH is a rare condition (one in 3,000 babies) wherein the diaphragm fails to properly close. As a result, part of the stomach enters the space where the lungs and heart should develop. Ideally, microsurgery should be done on the baby while inside the womb (but this can be done only in the US).

"We have recently received word that due to Vida’s nearing due date, the University of California San Francisco Medical Center has declined to send the documents needed for the application of their US medical emergency visas. The reason is that if Vida were to enter labor during transit the hospital would be held responsible for her welfare. Vida’s obstetrician has advised the couple on the possibility of her giving birth here in the Philippines. After birth Savannah would be incubated for at least 48 hours. Surgery would be possible when her condition stabilizes.
"Vida and Brian are still looking for a foundation that would sponsor the cost of Savannah’s treatment.”Expenses are expected to be incurred for: professional fee of the pediatric surgeon, incubation of Savannah, her medicine and her surgeryVida voices a first-time mother’s anxiety:
"I received an email from UCSF Medical Center informing me that my baby is no longer qualified for the intrauterine fetal surgery. It was like having someone throw a bucket of ice-cold water at you. I felt like whatever was left of my faith went down the drain. However, a follow-up email was sent to me informing me that my baby can still be given a chance to live if she gets operated there as soon as I give birth to her, there is a big possibility that she'll live—97 % as compared to the 10 % survival rate that the doctors here in the Philippines kept on telling me.
“If you were on my shoes, if you were a mom-to-be and you have been told that your baby has only less than 10 % chance to live as soon as her umbilical cord is cut from you, wouldn’t you feel like losing your sanity? Wouldn’t you feel like questioning your relationship with God? Why me? In the first place I never took anything that I know will put damage to my body and my baby.
"I’ve been asking myself every day...why me??? Teacher Marj told me that I shouldn’t be asking that kind of question. I should be flattered that God thinks so highly of me, that’s why He thinks that I am capable of handling such a difficult challenge.

"During the Rock The Cradle concert, Alice Sarmiento told my husband that her mom, Ms. Menchu Sarmiento (executive director of PAL Foundation), would shoulder the surcharges and taxes of our airfare in case we’ll be able to fly.

"Right now we're still hoping for a miracle, whatever miracle may that be I just hope that it would allow me to hold Savannah and watch her grow into a person that I can be proud to have as my daughter."

So faithful readers Kimi and Ida, both Community of Learners preschool alumni, pass the word and the hat. Donate funds through Vida’s savings account:

Land Bank of the Philippines, UP Diliman Branch

SA# 3076-0324-74
Swift code for those depositing from abroad: TLBPPHMMA

Let’s help Savannah see life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wanted: Host Family for Christine

We’re reaching out to Los Angeleños out there. From Menchu Sarmiento, that rare combination of literary writer and social worker, comes this appeal:

Maria Christine B---- (DOB 2003 Dec. 23) has a heart defect called PATENTDUCTUS ARTERIOSUS with aortic valve stenosis. She also has a cleft lip and palate. Her father is just a tricycle (rickshaw) driver who earns US$5(P250) on a good day. He simply cannot afford to pay for the heart surgery Maria Christine needs so that she can grow up and thrive, and also get her cleft lip and palate repaired. She's been waiting to go to Los Angeles for the past year to have free surgery as a MENDING KIDS US CareProgram patient (please see, but first, we need a volunteer medical host family for her as she will be alone. Philippine Airlines Foundation will bring her over, and one of her host parents mayescort her back to Manila when she is all better. If you want to be part of the miracle to give Maria Christine the chance to experience life in all its fullness, please call Mending Kids: (661) 298.8000 or the undersigned.

Ma. Carmen "Menchu" Aquino Sarmiento, Executive Director, Philippine Airlines (PAL) Foundation, Gate 1, PAL Maintenance Base Complex, Andrews Avenue, Nichols, Pasay City 1309 Phone: (632) 851-2980; (632) 855-8000 extension 2563Mobile: +63917.823.1427

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Generation Y as Cuties

We were looking for a suitable birthday card for my mother’s 81st birthday. He was holding on to his collection of assorted postcards and cards possessively while I wore this expression of a mendicant on my face.

Observant daughter noted this transaction between her parents. Then out of the blue, she said, “My early memory of Tatay is he already looked like an old man.”

He used to drive her to school right up to the doorstep. Once a classmate asked her, “How come it’s your lolo who always drives you to school? Where’s your father?” That stumped her.

Recently, cousin Jing L. Deco sent some photos of our children, the fourth generation of Lolargas who occupied the house in Brookside.

Here they are at Innoh’s first birthday (he’s the boy the red shirt and shorts). No longer that wide-eyed innocent, he’s a college kid at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila taking up computer science. Elder cousins Kimi and Ida help him celebrate his big day along with his nanny, Tito Rolly and Tita Babeth. Hmmm. Ida’s right—her Tatay already had a headful of gray.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Another Day and Yet Another Birthday

We both woke up during that “darkest hour before dawn” on Sept. 6, but I beat him to the toilet. When I stumbled past him as he took his turn to pee, I embraced him awkwardly, said, “Happy birthday”, climbed back to the bed and promptly fell asleep again.

When my daughter and I woke up, the sun was high, and he was calling us down for breakfast. Robert and his young family were there to wish our old man a happy 58. They brought tinapa and longganisang Lucena. We had been craving for those for months already so the stash was put away in the fridge. Instead, we breakfasted on champorado, fried saba and Benguet coffee, all prepared by the birthday boy.

Not even the New York Yankees losing to the Seattle Mariners could dampen his upbeat mood. I wasn’t about to ruin it by asking if I could leave earlier for Camp John Hay as somebody was waiting for me. That somebody had to give up on me.

And so we let him have his way the whole weekend. Drink beer even if his sugar was unstable. Work even if he was entitled to a birthday leave. Prepare lunch from salad to main course.

Why, at the rate everything was going, it was like a typical day/weekend in the life of one Rolando Fernandez. Fuzzy photo by BABETH

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hang in There, Ninang Jane

When I was this wee, I was a bit resentful of my other siblings when they would address my baptismal godmother and first cousin on Mommy’s side “Ninang Jane.” She was my ninang, I would rage inside, so why were they laying claim to her? Why can’t she just be Jane to them the way her brothers Shorty and Fritz were to us? Yes, I admit to having been proprietary toward her as only the immature could be.
When I still didn’t know what the word glamour meant, Jane Pearl Server (standing left with her mama, Nazaria Dula Server) was already firmly installed in my mind as the epitome of that. I have a faint memory of her wearing white gloves and bending down to whisper goodbye to my ear before she enplaned to the US to study at Marymount College. A still fainter one of accompanying her to Ben Farrales’s shop in Ermita and stepping out, looking up at the elegant awning and admiring that stretch of road. Was it an unintended early lesson in aesthetics?
She sent me Dr. Seuss books at about the time I was learning to read, and The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back and A Fly Went By made the interminable hours of childhood tolerable. Years later, she came home married and introduced us one by one to tall, handsome Hans Banzhaf who formally shook our hands.
My chest constricts as I write these words. Hans went ahead of Jane two years ago. Meanwhile, widowed Ninang Jane is fighting for her life at the ICU of Asian Hospital. I think of what a great friend she has been to her four children Pipo, Tina, Dada and Yammy even if she isn’t the baking-cookies-from-scratch type of mom. Right now my wish is for her grandchildren Olivia, Georgia and Max to continue to experience this special being the way she once graced my youth.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Longing for Longga

One time I was writing something—I’ve forgotten what it was—but I needed to use the Latin phrase “Art is long, life is short.” I texted two pals who had an Ateneo education, sure that they would remember the original Latin. Amadis Ma. Guerrero said sorry, he couldn’t quite recall the words precisely. Butch Macansantos attempted something that had “longa” in it, adding that it just made him hungry thinking of longganisa. Recently I ran into the expression in a book: “Ars longa, vita brevis.” Yes, the longa part is evocative of those ropes of longganisa at the Baguio public market. Tip from restaurateur Edna Anton (but she has sworn off meat as she is recovering from an illness): choose the Tuvera brand. Photo by BABETH

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Nostalgia Bites

Can I allow nostalgia to bite me viciously? I give it permission a day after Baguio Day. Cousin Allyn sends this photo from her iPhone all the way from Virginia and gets sentimental, too. Lady with a head of white is none other than our lola, Telesfora Lolarga, with my sister Evelyn who must’ve been taking a semestral break around ’74 or ’75. Allyn writes: “Ah, really nice memories of Baguio. I get quite nostalgic, too, thinking of Lola's vanity table full of lotions and powders, the pictures and novelty items on her shelves and piano, looking over her photo albums, digging up camote for our merienda, cutting a rosal or rose bloom, walking to Session Road and eating Tesoro empanada,,, so many more!” They can't take those away from us.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Give Us This Day Our Daily Whine

Restless fashionista daughter whines almost daily that she wakes up with nada ahead of her.

Her Tatay says he wakes up every morning grateful that he can still see, this after a cataract operation and six- hour working days, much of them spent in front of the computer cleaning up copy and at least two hours of his sleeping time broken so he can correct students’ papers.

I’m somewhere in between—a glorious (if sun is out) morning ahead with nothing planned save for a class in web design, and the rest of the day stretches on punctuated by nibbles of popcorn, peanuts, turrones de casuy, whatever I can graze on. Some days I paint, other days I scribble in my notebook. I don't mind doing all those things until the day I croak.

I’m tempted to tell my daughter, “Doesn’t coordinating what you’re going to put on your body and feet excite you anymore?” If she's looking for a purpose to get up, I think anything is worth it rather than the mini angst she's going through.

Then I overhear her Tatay’s colleague talk about a line from a Radioactive Sago Project song penned by Lourd Ernest de Veyra that goes something like: “Naghihirap na ang bayan, fashionista ka pa rin.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Writing for Their Lives

One of the nice things about First Draft, women friends writing as if their lives depended on it, is the giving of presents whenever a member’s birthday falls within the range of the bimonthly meeting. The pleasure of being a recipient of their generosity can only be matched by the glee (and greed) of a child tearing the wrappers off her Christmas gifts.

As we take our seats at a reserved area in Greenbelt 3’s Bizu, Rita hands over to me a small bag with the subtle scent of mainly handmade bars of bath soap wafting from it, Peng an embossed envelop in old rose with the propitious figure of the Hindu god Ganesh (inside is a tiny packet of powder sheets—quite convenient compared to the old-fashioned pressed powder housed in a compact with mirror), Lorna a slight, squarish book (Elizabeth Spires’ The Mouse of Amherst) wrapped in yellow Japanese paper and Chit a mini hibiscus-shaped bookmark. Edna, whose birthday is coming up at the time of the get-together, gets her fair share of loot, too.

The gracious gestures are like a ritual served straight up from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. We miss the three members who suddenly cannot make it: Gilda, whose driver announces that the car is about to run out of gas in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, necessitating a trip back to home base on Panay Ave., Melinda, who is stuck at her office, and Karina whose flight back from Cebu is delayed.

There are two high points in these meetings: an aural feast (the reading of our works) and the actual feasting.

Before we head for home, Mariel invites me to try the soft-serve yogurt at her daughter’s ice cream house on Joya Drive at the Rockwell Center area. It is an occasion for us to send good vibes to Gilda, who is again complaining of chest pains, and to be critical of our essays (as if the Bizu meeting isn’t enough).

Nearly a month has passed since all this happened. I can still see the plush purple and yellow banquettes of the café-patisserie, savor the sour aftertaste of the yogurt as it goes down my throat, hear everyone exhort Peng to catch the movie musical Mamma Mia! and exchange stories about magic Meryl and her bravura performance of “The Winner Takes It All.”

I cannot wait until our next meeting in September when, apart from reading our required homework, we transform into dancing queens. Drawing by CLAIRE A. NIVOLA from The Mouse of Amherst

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bedside Reading

Same fashionista daughter must be credited for her eagle-eyed observation about how her parents, at least her father, are slowly morphing into: almost-there senior citizens. She took a look at the book by his bedside nook and could hardly contain her laughter. No, it wasn’t anything at all suggesting porn. It wasn’t Playboy. Nor was it FHM. It was Lovebirds: A Pet Owner’s Manual.

On my side of the bed was the February issue of Vanity Fair with Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones on the cover together with the actor who plays his son in the movie. At least I’m keeping the flame alive for someone who can crack a whip, not for some, ummm, feathered thing.

S-t-r-e-t-c-h Pants

I was putting away some stuff with my behind on my fashionista daughter’s face, effectively blocking the television screen from her view, when she asked, “Do you wear those pants when you go out?”

I was in mustard-colored stretch pants and a Tintin t-shirt that was one size smaller, and I answered, sounding offended, “Of course not! If I ever did, I wore a long loose top over this pair of pants. Why?”

“Well,” said Miss Size Small to Medium, “don’t ever wear them outside the house again. Because, Nanay, you have a fat ass.” Boy, could I hear the font style on that phrase going from normal to bold and italics.

Which reminds me again of Padma’s self-deprecating reference to herself as not being a poet but a puwet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mandala in the City

Padma Perez wrote a more spirited diatribe in defense of public art espoused by Kawayan de Guia, Kigao Rosimo et al when the powers-that-be not too recently decided to break up the sidewalk mosaics that the visual artists and some members of the community had laid out on Session Road.

Yesterday I took a slow walk from Chuntug Street down to Burnham Park, noting the piles of trash on a corner of Lake Drive. The weeklong rains suddenly stopped that same morning, and it felt different to stride normally unlike the past days when I gingerly avoided cataracts of water and mossy spots. Upwards my feet took me to Calderon Street; the same newspaper and magazine stands were still there, but I had stopped being their suki after I decided years ago that I would just monitor the local mags at the UP Baguio Library.

I made a right on Session Road and noted how wobbly some of the new “cobblestones” on the sidewalk were. Did someone try to save City Hall a few pesos by not laying on the cement glue in thick enough proportions?

At the entrance of La Azotea building I paused before a circular remnant of the mosaic. I have passed that way a number of times since the new sidewalks were put in place. This time I took a good look at the mosaic and marveled at the artists’ stubbornness in retaining it and not letting it be jack-hammered to bits. Talk of a sacred circle in the middle of downtown. Photo by BABETH

Friday, August 8, 2008

For the Love of Words

The SMS from Ed Maranan read: “Hey, BUTCH! CONGRATULATIONS! Wow! Painom!” In a flash I thought it was a missent message. I returned to the work we were doing in our web design class. On my way out of the UP Baguio campus, who should I see coming up the covered walk but Butch Macansantos himself with that cat-ate-the-canary look on his face?

“Did you just win something? What is it?” I cried without so much as a salutary “Hi!” He nodded and said telegraphically, “Yes. First prize. Palanca.”

“Poetry?” I asked, a question that on hindsight stated the obvious. He nodded, and it was as if the clouds parted and the long-missed sun shone on his face. (We’ve been having six days of rain.) We shook hands, I managed to pat his back, and I rode to town with two packs of peanuts to chew on while thinking how fortunate these two chaps, Ed and Butch, have been in the last few weeks.

After the second Baguio Writers Group (BWG) workshop for the youth in July, Butch, the main panelist, could have been borne out of the Pine Room on the shoulders of the participants, mainly college students from all over Baguio and Benguet. I’m not exaggerating because I keep the feedback forms. (He is shown wearing his trademark pullover in a photo above taken by EV ESPITIRU and awarding a book on contemporary poetry to workshopper Sacha Weygan after a raffle.) In last Tuesday's “Tanghal Panitikan 1” at UP, he gave impassioned readings of “Balsa” in his native Chavacano and “Raft” in English. There’s no other way to read one’s work, except the way he did, which was feelingly.

Ed has been tucking one prize/recognition in his belt after another (the Writer’s Prize followed by the Balagtas award). And he has been generous in sending us links to interesting websites he visits, including where to find in YouTube a video of the Puppini Sisters who popularized “Mr. Sandman.” If he can trawl all those sites, one BWG member surmises he must be online all day and most of the night so where in heaven’s name does he find the time, and how in heck does he get into that reflective mood, to compose so much poetry and prose with all the distractions the Internet offers?

I know the answer before Butch and Ed can say the “D” words: discipline, dedication. The former is hardly computer savvy and writes all his drafts in a spiral notebook (the Golden Gate brand when I last peeked in early 2007). There’s a lesson here somewhere, but strike me with lightning first before I proceed to my next paragraph.

The title of today’s blog is from Butch’s dedication written on the flyleaf of my copy of his book The Words & Other Poems (University of the Philippines Press 1997). I attended the mass launching of books by UP Press at the National Book Fair on Sept. 9 that year. I was seated beside poet Luisa Igloria. Butch came in, limping slightly, sat on our row and said he had just gotten off the bus from Baguio, crossed the EDSA overpass and walked to get to SM Megamall. I presented my book for signing. Without missing a beat, he wrote: “Dear Babeth, Yours for the love of words—and of mountains. The gusty gout, Francis ‘Butch’ Macansantos”.

When we next ran into each other months later, he half-laughingly told me I was the very first person to present his first book for autographing. He waited a long, long while before another buyer of his book followed suit. Ah, poets, where art thy readers?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Like Water for Baguio

Because I found the medium difficult (even the experts say so), I thought I had completely turned my back on watercolor after I submitted my final-exam plate to my instructor in my Painting 2 class in 2006. It’s a pity, I thought, because I’ve always loved water media’s softness, blurriness and the high probability of accidents even if it’s Antipas Delotavo wielding the brush and his subject is as hard-edged as the news aired on “TV Patrol.” When my plate was graded and returned, I was so in a hurry to dispose of it that when Mercy Fabros, my former Lamaze teacher, a feminist and an art collector, expressed interest in women’s self-portraits, I gave my work to her without rue.

There’s a Pinoy saying that goes: “Huwag kang magsasalita nang patapos.”

Over the past several weeks, I have been reviewing watercolor techniques under the supervision of the most exacting and yet patient painting teacher I’ve ever met—Norman Chow. Before I finalize a work, he would make me paint several small versions on unevenly cut sheets of Strathmore paper (master watercolorist Francisco Pellicer Viri dismisses that brand as “practice paper,” he being loyal to Arches all these decades).

Another watercolorist, Roland Bay-an, was right when he said you sometimes wind up more satisfied with the practice version than with the final piece. I wonder if this is the same with concert pianists. The comparison with music is a bit of a stretch, but that is how I feel about this “practice painting” I did of the old stone market of Baguio.

This is an early plug for the newly formed Baguio Aquarelle Society which will hold its first exhibition at The Manor of Camp John Hay. “Baguiong-Baguio” (to mean “very Baguio” and not a wish for rain on our parade) opens Sept. 10 and runs for two months. Apart from Bay-an, Chow and this perennial student of the arts, the other participating artists are Baboo Mondoñedo, who brought us all together for this activity, Jenny Cariño, Toottee Pacis, Merci Javier Dulawan, Patric Palasi and Rishab. More about each of them in a future blog. Abangan! Photo by ELMER KRISTIAN DAUIGOY

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Lioness in the House

Many things happened on the fifth of August. My youngest of two daughters Miranda Bituin Fernandez turned 21 so the first SMS I sent off on that stormy morning was to her. She answered back, saying she would take the 1 p.m. bus to Baguio and was just waiting for the rain to stop a bit.

That left me time to work on my contribution to “Tanghal Panitikan 1,” a spoken word event presented by the Department of Language, Literature and Arts, College of Arts and Communication, University of the Philippines Baguio (that’s a mouthful) that same afternoon.

After doing a raw translation of Jose Garcia Villa’s Lyric 14 (and feeling that the late Mang Larry [Hilario Francia] must’ve done an earlier, a better and a more polished version true to the spirit of the original), I texted my retired professor pal, ending my message with “Viva Villa!” (It was Villa’s birth centennial, too.)

She replied with a gentle reminder that Aug. 2 was lyric poet Angela Manalang Gloria’s 101st birthday. “Mabuhay ang Makatang Pinay!” the words on the tiny screen read.

So I turned to the collected poems of Ms. Gloria and worked on rendering her “In the Shadows” in Filipino. Here, Miranda, is my late birthday offering, a few degrees of separation from the matriarch of Philippine poetry in English.

Tulad ng balingkinitang dahon ng kawayan, nanginginig ako
sa hangin, sa loob ng maulap na umaga;
Tulad ng lupaypay na palmera sa tabi ng daan
Binubulong ng kaluluwa ko ang iyong pangalan—ikaw na napakalayo.

In the picture is Miranda, now a full-fledged adult and still looking fresh despite the six-hour trip, and her Tatay about an hour after she arrived in our drenched city. We headed for Mario’s for her birthday dinner. Born under the zodiac sign of Leo, she must have some traits of the dove and eagle somewhere, gifts from the Pope of Greenwich, the Anchored Angel, the inimitable Xoce. Photo by NANAY

When We Were Very Small

I remember the morning this snapshot was taken on Lola’s lawn. It was on April 1, 1962. The frisky baby in Mommy’s arms is Suzy who for some reason came to be called “Rototeng” by Daddy. He loved giving us strange names, but Suzy’s was the weirdest of them all. I imagine it must have been the way she sounded at that time, her sucking noises as she drank her milk or the way she wailed for something. At least I was just Babset to him, which is close to my nickname. Seated is my brother Junic (“Junric”) with a toy automobile. Dad holds Dennis (“Densis”). Junic works as a graphic designer in cold, cold Calgary; Dennis, an ophthalmologist, practices in Manila; and Suzy rotootoots it with her preschoolers at the Philippine Montessori in White Plains, Quezon City. Mommy is still renowned for her morcon and rellenong bangus, but if you ask her, she’d rather play mahjongg. Daddy is up there, probably teasing the archangel Gabriel and calling him, uhm, Gobleth.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fearless Eggie

Here's the entire article on Ms. Eugenia Apostol, founding chairperson of Philippine Daily Inquirer, part of which appeared in today's issue of the newspaper. The piece was cut due to space limitations. Chelo Banal Formoso, editor of PDI's Learning section, gave me permission to reprint the piece in this blog.

She kept her speech short and sweet the way she once wrote the breezy headlines and captions on the newspaper and magazine pages she closed. She went about the task briskly and snappily in the same way she decided to open the publications (Mr. & Ms. Special Edition, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Pinoy Times) and start advocacy work (the Education Revolution) that would alter this nation’s life.

This year’s recipient of the Ateneo Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan (public service award), Eugenia D. Apostol, 82, looked back during the awards ceremony on a make-or-break moment in her early childhood.

Apostol said when she was around three or four years old in Sorsogon, her mother left for church and her physician-father for work. When she saw the coast was clear, she decided to follow her mother, somehow losing her way. A kind woman offered her candy. Touched, young Eugenia followed the woman to the Albay-bound bus and sat with her. The conductor recognized the child as the daughter of the sanitary inspector and hauled her out of the bus, returning her to her father.

“Where would I be now without that alert bus conductor?” Apostol ended her spiel with the audience in stitches.

Vicente Tirol, whom she invited to be Pinoy Times publisher, asked her this before considering her offer: “Do you have any sacred cows?”

“Should I?” she shot back.

He said, “True enough, she never asked me or any of Pinoy Times’ editors to treat anyone in that manner. She was one for issues and causes, like the levy that (former President) Marcos imposed on coconut farmers. She not only wanted a story done on the issue right away, but she asked for follow-ups and expected the editors to stay with the issue until action was taken on it. Principle and persistence—these were her hallmarks as a journalist.”

Inquirer art director Lynett Villariba’s first encounter with Apostol was a case of mistaken identity. Her University of the Philippines professor told her to go to the Chronicle Bldg. where, she said, “the displaced (by martial law) news people were setting up a tame women’s magazine right under the noses of the military guards who were securing the place to ensure the printing plant was only taking commercial, not subversive, jobs.”

She went past labyrinthine corridors and checkpoints before knocking on a door. A gentle voice asked her in. She found a petite lady behind a big desk covered with papers and magazines.
“I am looking for Mister Eddie Apostol,” Villariba announced.

Ms. Apostol’s assistant put the young applicant in her place. After a brief exchange, the lady behind the desk told her to get started right away.

“That was how I was initiated into a media guerilla operation which marked Ms. Apostol’s ventures,” Villariba said. “She required a name plate, logo design or layout started on the spot, right after discussing how she wanted a publication projected in street sales, how it would be held in commuters’ hands on their ride to work. She waited for your creative juices to flow, telling you ‘No rush,’ but actually meaning in an hour's time, ora mismo, or the next day.”

Villariba said the Apostol publications (Woman’s Home Companion, Mr. & Ms., Philippine Daily Inquirer, the EDSA books) where she participated in are marked by “a spontaneous look, no feasibility study, just social sensitivity. She had a keen instinct. Her instant critiques were capped by generous praise, a warm pat on the back for a job well done coupled with a bonus. She made me know that she was happy with my work. That to me is the mark of a great life coach and career mentor.”

Lorna Kalaw Tirol, another baby of Tita Eggie (colleagues’ endearment for Apostol), said, “I met her when I was a senior journalism major at St. Theresa’s College. Bibsy Carballo, my teacher, told my class that the editor of Woman and Home magazine, Sunday supplement of Manila Chronicle, was looking for young contributors. Whoever was interested could go see her at the Chronicle building in Intramuros. I was the only one who was interested. I went to see Eggie (with my mother!), she asked me a few questions, then gave me an assignment.

“That first assignment led to others,” Tirol continued. “When I graduated, Eggie took me in as an apprentice. I was hoping to be hired as a staff writer. But the apprentice’s pay was measly (P25 or P50 a week) so I left after two months to teach at STC high school. I started writing for Eggie again when I went back to the Chronicle as a desk editor. When Vic and I got married in 1971, she was a logical choice to be one of our ninangs (godmothers) because she was my first media boss. Vic got Johnny Mercado, his first media boss.”

She said Apostol was “an out-of-the-box thinker even then. That’s why she gets along with Gilda Fernando. She’s a real maverick who likes to explore, blaze new trails and see how far she can go. A fearless risk taker, she dared take on Marcos and then Erap, no matter what doing so cost her. She just laughed off threats of libel suits, prison and being fed to the crocodiles.”

Tirol said, “She was also exacting and demanding but never arrogant and mean. She was thoughtful and considerate of her staff. Pusong mamon (soft-hearted). She would give generous help to those with sob stories. Pero nakaka-tense at nakakaloka kung minsan kasi makulit (she could make you tense and crazy from her demands). She wanted things done right away. Or started yesterday and finished tomorrow.”

From Apostol she learned “how to work with heart and soul; with integrity and an independent mind and courage. Her whole professional life, as a journalist, and now as an advocate of people power and of every Filipino’s right to an education, has been a priceless gift to the nation. Ateneo must be congratulated for having chosen wisely."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Retro Chic

One summer morning in 1970, three cousins, all in high school, got ready for Sunday worship at the United Methodist Church. As they waited for their lola and guardian to come out of the house, they struck a pose in her garden before an unknown photographer. The fourth cousin (in shorts) apparently planned on skipping church. Notice how she’s outfitted here. From left are: Allyn Valdellon, Tessie Romero, Embeng Lolarga and Telly Valdellon. Allyn was the first among them to leave the Philippines and settle in Virginia. Tessie is in windy Chicago, Embeng remains in Bagbag, Novaliches, Quezon City (good for you, sis!), and Telly has made it in New York. Luv those skirt lengths, sandals and shoes!

Miss Hawaii

She herself cannot recall how she managed to cross the brook and clamber up the rocks behind my grandmother's house in this outfit. But my sister Evelyn has been known to do anything for vanity's sake. Proof of it is here--another snapshot of Miss Skinny Maginny, taken in '68 or '69, in a mumu. Where's the luau, sis?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Her Boots Are Made for Flying

Many important people in the long, well-lived life of “cultural heroine” Gilda Cordero-Fernando (seated second from right) are missing from this photo shared by DJOK ADRIANO at the end of a buffet dinner hosted by the Ateneo de Manila University. The university had just conferred on her the Tanglaw ng Lahi award for achievements in the arts. An equally vital sartorial detail is a-miss: a peek of her ankle-high, off-red boots cobbled together by Marikina craftsmen underneath her Steve de Leon saya. If a GCF Fans Club finally gets going, here’s part of the core that will compose it (seated from left): lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto, theater director Nonon Padilla, art director Manny Chaves and couturier Steve. Standing are three women happy to witness Gilda’s latest recognition: one fat mama, feminist Anna Leah Sarabia and Ateneo Prof. Eileen Lolarga.

What the Letters "E" and "L" Signify

Once you got past the main pedestrian gate of the Lolarga-Valdellon-Romero family’s former summer house (it was sold a few years ago), you had to pass through a smaller and lower gate, unlocked all of the time. The letters “E” and “L” were there to stand for our late lolo, Enrique A. Lolarga, founder of the National Radio School and Institute of Technology. Two of his three sons carried the same initials: Enrique Jr., my dad, and Ernesto or Uncle Esting.

Our uncle married educator Erlinda Garcia who happens to share the same first letter for her given name. So all their children’s names began with the letter “E”: Eileen, Emelinda, Eloise, Emmanuel, Eleanor and Ernesto Jr.

My dad and mom were no different until they got to their sixth child who they thought would be their last. So she was baptized Genevieve (the “G” after my mother’s Gliceria). As for the rest of us, we were a series of “E’s”: Elizabeth, Evelyn, Enrique III, Edgar, Ellen and the two babies that came after Genevieve, Eric and Eugenia.

The more recent photo above is of Enrique III (more known as Junic) and his son Christian. The black and white photo shows Evelyn in her preteens, summer of '68 by her recollection, posing by her initials, still at the Brookside house. Her only child is named Carlo. The “E” tradition stopped with us.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

First of a Series of Brookside Babies

When word went around my immediate family circle that I had just put up a blog, the question from all was: “Why Brookside baby?” Friends and colleagues who don’t know my Baguio background commented that the blog’s name sounded like I was abandoned beside a body of water, like Moses in a basket among the river weeds.

My siblings and first cousins on my father’s side knew better. Our childhood summers and later, as we became college students, our semestral breaks were largely spent at 18 M. Roxas street, Lower Brookside, Baguio City. Our widowed grandmother, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga, built her retirement home in what was once a 1,000-square meter avocado grove.

The three-storey house was of modest dimensions. As the years went by and whenever she had enough savings, a room would be expanded or a roof and a fence added.

And yes, there was a brook behind the backyard. There was no budget for landscaping—my lola knew by instinct where this tree, that bush and those clusters of flowers should grow.

I am hoping that as I add more entries to this blog, I can recover more stories about those Brookside years. Meanwhile, among the first to get excited by the possibilities of this site in tying the scattered branches of our family together is my sister Evelyn Lolarga Trinidad, Embeng to us. We have a family code for “cute”; it’s “cute-at.” Embeng rang me several times, instructing me to open my G-mail and check if her cute-at photos were all in.

So for our buena mano Brookside babe, here she is, a few inches away from falling into Burnham Lake. She must have been five or six years old. Note the background. Yes, the boats then had real sails!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Couple at Midpoint

An old married couple—I don’t think he and I qualify for that description yet. You’ve got to reach a kind of steady togetherness covering all of 40 or 50 years to earn that title. Well, we’ve been together off and on for 29 years. On the 26th of this month, it will be our 24th wedding anniversary (I counted the five years we also became a couple—magsyota—on and off, too, that’s why I have an odd figure of 29 there). Who’d have thought we’d last this long? Certainly not me, always the one ready with her little maleta (and lately a backpack) to walk out at the slightest provocation. So here’s to us for enduring one another! We never had a song. How about the book, movie and song of the same title: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden? Photo by MAX FERNANDEZ

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Q & A with Jerry Araos

Sculptor-raconteur Jerusalino V. Araos, founder of the artists' guild Sanayan Lapat Kamay Inc. (SALAKAI), never fails to astonish me with his views on anything under the sun. As the first semester was ending in September 2007, he granted me an interview for my class in Sculpture 1 at the University of the Philippines Baguio. It wasn't a class requirement. I volunteered to do the work because I felt that we needed some kind of background about the subject we had just studied. All we had done at that point was execute plates in stone, wood, plaster and terracotta. We hardly had a theoretical/historical background on what it was we were doing. If I was presumptuous for thinking I could complement what our teacher had passed on to us, so be it. His photo was taken by GIGI LOLARGA. The picture of his sculpture, "Castranate," is lent to us courtesy of LIWA ARAOS. Here's the transcript of that interview.

If you're a woman and you want to be a sculptor, what does it take?

Louise Nevelson, one of the greatest American sculptors, is unmarried. Julie Lluch has a failed marriage. Sculpture is destructively jealous of other relationships. To be a sculptor requires singular dedication to the avocation. To be a sculptor or sculptress is to be a priest or priestess of the creative order.

Some say your kind of life is an emulation or a copy of the great artists' lives, full of drama, big gestures, bravado. What can you say about this?

I behave according to the urges that make me move from within. I am not affected very much by forces from without. Art is a concentrated expression of life. Art is a concentrated expression of experiences in life. Art is a concentrated expression of one's own lived experiences of life. Vicarious experience, when translated into art, is peeping tom art. I have lived a rich life. I have pushed my life through great sicknesses and demanding strain on my health. I have been a guerrilla and will always be a guerrilla. I am a writer, and I think freely. My passion is unbridled, and my appetite matches my imagination. They say bastos ako, that when I'm being bastos I'm being Bohemian. They flatter the Bohemians. The Bohemian cannot be creatively bastos.

What is the language of sculpture, and how do you express it?

The language of sculpture is a mixture of the grammar of my tools and the jargon of materials. The message of the sculpture must be a three-way dialogue among the sculptor, the material and his tools.

Are your resources, meaning, old pieces of wood, becoming scarce? What will you or the SALAKAI members do when the time comes that cutting wood or finding old wood will be close to impossible?

Old houses, whether mansions of the grand manner or humble huts, are being replaced by condominiums by the very rich and Italianate cottages by the beneficiaries of overseas domestic helpers. Whatever old houses are left in Manila and its environs must be preserved as historical landmarks and specimens of architectural expressions of the Philippines. I strongly believe in that.
Sources of secondhand lumber come from as far as the Ilocos, Cagayan and the Bicol region. Supply is dwindling, and acquisition is very competitive. The solution: Global warming is now felt worldwide. Cyclones, tornadoes and typhoons besiege the surface of the earth. In our part of the world, typhoons have uprooted trees. Here at the UP Diliman campus, many acacia trees have been uprooted. Some of my latest sculptural works come from them.
I compete with bakeries which use them (uprooted acacia trees) as firewood. When bakeries use them as firewood, the tree is converted into carbon dioxide which further destroys the environment. When my school uses them for sculpture, we practice carbon segregation (preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere). The chippings are used to enrich some of our gardens.

Question: Why don't you apply texture on the surfaces of your sculpture or do filigreed work on your furniture?

An old sculptural practice is putting texture on the surfaces of wood. This is done with the use of the V cut or the acutely curved chisel. This practice is an imposition of the sculptor's ego over the material. As I have said, the material has its own jargon, and I allow that to be expressed as intimately as possible. This is my way of romancing the wood.

You've always stressed the importance of an artist's statement. Among SALAKAI member you require us to be able to articulate our thoughts and ideas. Why?

An artist's statement is a prior expression of how the exhibitor understands his or her own work. This is the basis for an audience to judge whether the work on display succeeds in achieving the idea of the exhibit. Before this practice was demanded by a few galleries, it was usual for an exhibitor to simply wait for a critic to come out with a review and then quickly claim that what the critic said was what he meant. Sadly some critiques are rehashed clichés from other criticisms. Because of this the audience is left uncertain of his/her own assessment of the work in view. Other exhibitors say pag naintindihan ng audience, hindi malalim. This is bullshit.
The questions that must be answered by the concept paper are: What? – The project. What for?—The objective. What then? – Social expectation.
To aspire to be an artist is to claim to be a teacher. And it is a maxim, a social contract in education that if the pupil has not learned, the teacher has not taught. There are no failed pupils, only failed teachers. The statement which goes, "If I can say it, I should not have painted it anymore" is a lame excuse for dullness.

What do the holes in your sculptural pieces stand for? Nothingness?

Bakit may butas? Pampatanong. Ano yung pampatanong? Para yung tatanga-tanga may itatanong. Kasi tanong nang tanong. Wait, do you want to hear the reason why there's a hole? Sheepish silence. Does that mean yes? A few nods. Do you want my answer to be on the level of art theory? Stupid look from everybody. The purpose I put holes in most of my sculptures is to arrest visual speed. If that surface is simply a plain surface without holes, you take it on with one visual sweep of perception. If there's a hole, your eyes tarry, your look lingers, and then you begin to think, why is there a hole? The hole arrests visual speed, slows down and lengthens the duration of perceptual engagement between the work and the audience, initiates intellection from the audience, and encourages a discussion between the viewer and the sculptor.

I've noticed since the Hiraya Gallery days that you have always been present during the duration of your exhibitions. Please explain your presence.

A solo exhibit must be an original expression from the exhibitor. For him or her it should be an artistic invention. If a scientist invents a newfangled and hi-tech but low-end can opener, the inventor must be there to show the end user how the can opener works. The same applies for an artistic invention. Also a solo exhibit of fresh insight is like a newborn child. It needs constant babysitting. My marked presence in all my exhibitions is a practice in show tending. Being present in one's own show most of the time is standing up courageously to confirm one's artistic convictions as evidenced by the works.

What does one tell young, aspiring visual artists about how they can navigate the vicious art scene, especially in Metro Manila?

The art scene is an arena of war, a war composed of many battles. To win the war you must win more battles than your competitors. The most important battle in this war is the battle for space. For beginning practitioners my advice is for them to promote alternative spaces into viable art venues. If they succeed in this endeavor, they likewise promote themselves into viable exhibitors. Then galleries would begin to take notice of them.
There is a shortcut to what seems to be success. This is by making a monkey out of yourself. Many galleries develop their own monkeys and include them in their stables. When gallery owners talk to each other, these practitioners are referred to by them as monkeys. Galleries do not disrespect the rights of other galleries over their stables of monkeys. Unggoy ko 'yan, unggoy mo 'yan.
What is a monkey? A monkey is a practitioner who is recruited by a gallery owner to paint or sculpt like a well-known artist, but a monkey signs his name. This is tantamount to art imitation, a gray area in artistic legalese. There are many successful monkeys in the whole art scene. Many of them would like to rid themselves of their "monkeyness". Very few have succeeded.
Monkeys may make their mark and money in their own time. But art history will never forgive them.